For Wils, coming out as gay had high stakes. As a rising pop star in Singapore’s music industry, he knew that his career would be put in danger as being LGBTQ+ is stigmatized and outlawed in the country.
“I was hesitant about coming out because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do what I love again, music,” he tells Out. “But I knew it was the right thing to do because I want those who ever feel hurt or upset because of their sexuality to know that you’re not alone and it’s okay to be you.”
So the singer, who formerly performed under the pseudonym "Wiltay," alerted his label that he was planning on sharing his truth publicly. Before he could, they dropped him, closed all of his social media accounts where he had amassed over 400,000 followers, and warned him that his career would be over.
“At that moment I had this deep feeling in my gut,” he says. “It was strange because it was scary, yet, you know, there’s something assuring in that type of gut feeling.”
Wils has vowed to persevere and build his audience back from scratch. After releasing the single “Open Up Babe” earlier this year, which served as his official coming out, he’s back with another track,“Empty,” which premieres exclusively on Out.com today.
We caught up with Wils to discuss the meaning behind the song, what life has been like since the ordeal with his label, and his message of hope for other LGBTQ+ Singaporeans.
Knowing the law in Singapore, what made you feel like it was the right time for you to let the world know about your sexuality?
In Singapore, there was always this sense that being gay was wrong. That took away so much valuable time with my family when I was growing up. I would always be worried about them finding out that I'm gay. I decided that being myself wasn't something I had to be ashamed about. Having a law that criminalizes consensual sex between two adult men just makes LGBTQIA people feel like they don't belong.
How did you find out you were being dropped from the label? What do you remember most about that moment?
I called my label and told them I was going to tell the truth and let my fans know about my sexuality on social media. They said that it would kill my music career. I went on my social media after and noticed that it was no longer there. They removed all of it, sent me a text saying I'm no longer part of the record family, and suggested that I stay in the closet if I even want a chance in the music industry ever again. I remember trembling and feeling so helpless. My body was numb. Then I heard an inner voice that kept saying, "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay... You did the right thing. It's gonna be okay." I now look back and think why couldn’t that inner voice be Lady Gaga crooning. “I’m on the right track baby I was born this way?” That would’ve calmed me down so much more!
In what ways did coming out change your life, beyond your music career, for the better? Any regrets?
The greatest thing I learned is that by being truthful to myself, it allows me to be truthful to others. I’m so much closer to my family now. I get to enjoy being with them and cherish the little things without thinking about the fear of whether they would accept me for my sexuality. I get to share this part of my life with them. I feel really grateful that they are so supportive of this part of me. I never would have had the courage to continue making music if it wasn’t for the love from my family and close friends. I intend to take them to their first Pride sometime soon. I want them to witness the happiness and joy of people when they can be free themselves and understand our community. I feel like the topic of sexuality isn't something that hinders me from connecting deeply with anyone anymore.
The only regret is that my label dropped me — employment discrimination is terrible and no one should be fired just for being who they are. Los Angeles is now my home and I’m currently an independent artist. I performed at The Abbey in L.A. last month and so many of my friends came to watch me. It was so touching to see the people I love there with me. I felt like I could finally be myself on stage, record the songs I’m passionate about, write music the way that my heart feels, and work with so many people who believe in me. It’s been such a heartening experience. I’m tremendously grateful that life keeps surprising me with so many wonderful people I meet and memorable experiences in this new musical journey.
What has the process been like to rebuild your audience after having all your media channels closed by the label?
It’s been challenging. I started a new Instagram account, @heywils. Nobody knows me in LA, and I love it. I can go out and enjoy a drink with my friends. In a way it feels like I’m starting from zero again. I was opening up for a show in a club the other day. I arrived early for the soundcheck and asked what time I should show up for the opening. The show organizer said “Anytime. Nobody’s here to watch you so just come as you like." It’s pretty funny because it was the truth. I went from performing in front of 40,000 people in the past to performing in a room of 15 people. If that’s what it takes to continue doing what I love, so that hopefully someday my music will touch someone’s heart or save a precious life, it’s worth every minute. Hopefully, a kickass manager or think-out-of-the-box label appears in my life and we make a great team and go on a new journey. I can’t do this on my own.
What's the inspiration behind "Empty?" What prompted you to come up with this song and to release it as the first one following the whole ordeal with the label?
“Empty" is about the loneliness of hookup culture. For me, the hardest part of looking for love is so many place an emphasis on casual hookups without meaningful connection. Sometimes the biggest challenge we have to face is the internal struggle we have with ourselves. “Empty” is about facing that loneliness when we’re looking for love outside of ourselves instead of within ourselves. With this song it was time to get back to where my heart really belongs — with the music — and let go of the ordeal with the label. Let's just call it an awful breakup where “we are never ever ever, getting back together,” to quote Taylor Swift.
How would you describe your overall sound, for people not familiar with your music?
Pop ballads with influences of EDM, alternative rock, and a hint of sweetness and liberation.
What message do you have for other LGBTQ+ people in Singapore and similar countries where being queer is outlawed?
Growing up in an environment where being queer is outlawed can be frightening, especially when you need a sanctuary to feel safe being who you are. There are communities out there that will love you for who you are. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help from the ones you trust. Be truthful to yourself and those around you. I love you for who you are. Being you is the greatest and most powerful gift.
Check out the video for “Empty” below: