Alextbh is Malaysia’s number one pop treasure. His brand-new release The Chase perfectly encapsulates his identity: smooth, vulnerable, and unapologetically queer. Paving the way for queer musicians in a conservative society, Alex has never been shy to stand up for what he believes in. Despite his hometown Kuala Lumpur outwardly condemning members of the LGBTQ+ society, Alex utilizes his music to inspire change and bolster equality.
Fresh from the shower of acclaim for The Chase, Alex and I chatted, thousands of miles away, about change, sexuality, weddings, birthdays, and funerals (respectively).
First of all, how are you doing, all things considered?
Great! My days feel like a consistent 5/10 lately. But I’ll take this over the non-stop emotional rollercoaster that plagued me for a good part of 2019.
Why the moniker Alex ‘tbh’?
I was about to hit the upload button on SoundCloud, but I paused because I wanted a playful stage name, and that was the first thing that came into my mind. I guess I used to say tbh a lot? It was a phase. I wish there was some deeper meaning that I could tie to it like “oh I’m honest in my work” or whatever, but like it ain’t that deep tbh.
How do you think you’ve evolved since the smash hit “Stoop So Low”?
Sonically, I’ve definitely explored the pop side of things more. I always tell people I make pop-infused R&B and R&B infused pop, and that is still the case today. I think I’ve made so much lyrical progress, though. I left behind the whole “why don’t you love me back” sadboi schtick for a new narrative. And yet, there are so many emotions in the spectrum that I have yet to explore. It’s exciting.
I love that you use your platform to incite change. What do you think is your biggest superpower, in terms of inspiring change?
Making bops. Like, bops that have the right amount of appeal to reach a broad audience and yet distinctive enough that it feels personal to the listener. One of my fans said it best when she said listening to my songs is like staring into the mirror, and at times you don’t necessarily like seeing the reflection.
As a queer journalist, I see the importance of championing and supporting queer creators, especially queer creators of color. Which queer musicians are you loving at the moment?
Thank you for recognizing that! Knowing you’re queer gives me a sigh of relief if I must be honest! I think I feel less restrained. But yeah I‘ve been listening to Arca’s new stuff and 100 Gecs. I quite like Saro’s songs too. We need the queer community to take up more space in the R&B genre!
Congrats on the incredible EP! Did you expect the project to take shape in this way?
Thank you! In a way, yes. I always wanted the dark R&B pop sound and I’m glad I went that route. I just didn’t really know what to talk about at first. It’s like there was a void in me and I couldn’t find a way to express that feeling. It wasn’t until I wrote “The Chase” that the feeling of emptiness made sense. All the other songs in the EP were then modeled around that track.
i-D named you as “Malaysia’s first queer-pop star.” How do you feel about being elevated into queer icon stature?
It’s a humbling experience! I never expected the press to approach me in that way, so it felt intimidating in the beginning– I’d really like to prove to them that I’m proactive and rightfully representing my community. I realized I’ve found my footing in the queer community since the start of my career — I’ve always been writing songs about boys. That made me feel less anxious about the whole queer icon thing. It also helps that I’m constantly surrounded by absolute queer legends all the time. Whether it’s people I’ve worked with, or my friends doing drag — everyone is always serving.
How would you sum yourself up in three words (other than musician/producer/twink)?
Weddings, birthdays, funerals…because I’m the main event.
Does location influence your music in any way? Do you feel a sense of Kuala Lumpur in your music?
That’s an interesting question… I don’t think so, when I write songs it’s always subject first before anything. Like, I don’t tie them down geographically except for “Superstore” where it’s about a gay club in London. Maybe “The Chase” gives off that sentiment the most. Listening to it just takes me back to the late-night drive back home after a hook-up.
I loved your set at Club Quarantine! How do you feel the current state of the planet has affected the music industry? Is there anything that you feel has particularly influenced a change in your music?
Glad you enjoyed it! Music has always been political, but I think the tone is more prominent than ever this year. H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” brought me to tears. I just feel such a deep, honest connection with her. It made me think about Black Lives Matter beyond George Floyd’s death. This is a wound that’s passed down for generations and even as POCs we tend to get desensitized by that. Music is a good medium to remind us that there’s so much work to be done. It speaks directly to the listener, to me. And I want to reciprocate that message in the future in my work too.
The “Ok wig” series really got me thinking about the LGBTQIA+ community in terms of slang/communication, and how heterosexual people most likely have no idea what we’re saying most of the time. What’s your favorite slang term?
Sis. The word is so unthreatening and yet straight guys flinch when you say that to them. It’s fun to watch.
I’m glad that “Moments” is getting the buzz that it deserves. Can you explain the concept for the video?
It’s about my reality getting distorted. All the words uttered to me by the people in the past, I now use against the people I wanted to sleep with. It’s an empty promise.
The outro for The Chase really ties together the production for the whole project. What inspired the production for the EP?
I have Maths Time Joy to thank for his production behind The Chase. The EP attempts to question if there’s a better way for us to navigate around hook-up culture without getting anyone hurt. Hooking up is my way of numbing the pain and evading my responsibilities, but I soon realize there was a void in me, and I was starting to lose touch with reality. I like how the EP sort of ends abruptly with no definitive answer. Like, I don’t just delete Grindr and stop hooking up, even though I know being on it constantly is bad for me. I’m still trying to learn and grow.