YouTube singer-turned-performer Elizabeth Tan has taken over the local music scene with her recently released single “Knock Knock”, which is currently one of the top songs played on local radio stations.
As a Chinese who sings in Malay, Tan fully utilises this versatile quality to her advantage to gain popularity among the Malaysian community.
Tan who is also a talented ukulele player, started to gained recognition in the entertainment industry through her unique rendition of Joe Flizzow’s “Havoc” which gained over 9 hundred thousand views.
The 22-year-old singer with a seductive voice has many creative covers of many local and international songs on her YouTube channel which boast equally as high views too. This has led her to be personally recruited by renowned Malaysian singer Faizal Tahir under his label, Faithful Music Malaysia.
In an exclusive interview with TheHive.Asia, Tan peels off the layers to tell us more about herself.
Hi Elizabeth, tell us how did your music career first start?
Honestly, it wasn’t something that I planned, it just kind of fell on my lap. I posted up YouTube covers for fun when I was studying in Texas for 2 years and somehow one of my YouTube videos went viral and lead to another opportunity, and now, here I am.
Why do you want to be a singer and who is your musical influence?
Growing up I never thought that I would be a singer. I always wanted to be entertainer but I thought I’d be a TV hostess or an event host. There’s was once, I joined a talent competition in 2013 at Publika where I won first place for singing and that put a thought in my mind that this could actually, potentially be a career for me. That’s when I started to post up my video covers but it really wasn’t because I want to get into the entertainment industry to be a singer, I was just going with the flow. Honestly if I could, I really want to be an actress. I love acting, so hopefully one day I could potentially move my career toward that direction. But for now, I want to focus on singing.
My musical influence is definitely Yuna. I grew up listening to Yuna since I was 15 in high school when she was still on MySpace. I just love her voice, her sound, her style and she really was a big musical inspiration. Even right now, a lot of people say that I sound like Yuna, and for me it’s not a bad thing since she is my idol, it is really a compliment for me. But hopefully, I get to find my own sound.
How did you get discovered by Faizal’s label?
I started off with a management called Paranormal Talent, my manager is Prishan. Prishan and Faizal are distant friends. I think Faizal noticed me from my YouTube videos “Selamat Hari Raya” which went kind of viral. So Faizal contacted Prishan and things started from there.
Tell us a about your recent single, “Knock Knock”. Did you write or compose it yourself?
It’s a funny story. I didn’t write it or compose it, I only sang in it. When I met Faizal for the first time, he actually had a different song for me, it’s a ballad called “Setia” and I’m not really into ballads because it’s not my style, I’m more into the upbeat kind of songs.
So, he met me only once and then he wrote the song for me. Basically the song is about me, telling the guy what he must do and not do, like don’t make empty promises and show it in your action. He said that it’s called “Knock Knock” because when he was writing it, someone knocked on his door, and it inspired him just like that (laugh).
Being a Chinese, why did you decide to release a Malay language single?
Because my first YouTube video which went viral was actually a Malay song that was composed by me called “Maafkan Aku”. It went viral on Facebook with 2 thousand over shares. I was so excited at that time because it was my first viral video. Then, I realised that people in Malaysia would rather hear me sing Malay songs because my English covers didn’t do as well.
From then on I decided to try that direction and started doing more covers of Malay songs. The next Malay song that went viral is called “Pencuri” and then “Havoc” also went viral. Since all the songs that went viral are all Malay songs, so I think as a career point of view, going into the Malay market direction right now is the best choice.
Do you think it is hard for you to strive in this industry, seeing that you have to compete with other Malay singers?
I think my main selling point right now is that I’m a Chinese singing Malay songs, so in that sense I have a very big asset, until another Chinese singer comes up and starts singing Malay songs as well. So I guess I don’t really see it as a competition, competing with other Malay singers.
The only struggle that I see is that my Malay isn’t that great. So, when it comes to interviews, meeting other celebrities or going to an event where I have to speak fluent Malay, it really is a bit of a struggle for me, but I’m learning and hopefully I’ll get there.
Will you release songs in the English language anytime soon?
Right now, we are focusing on a Malay market. It’s a career-based decision, but hopefully in 3 or 4 years later, I can release some English songs as well.
Will there be any upcoming singles or album? Can you tell us a bit about it?
There is an upcoming single targeted for release probably by the end of May. Also, a third single is already recorded. It is actually a duet with Faizal. That third single is actually the first song he wanted me to sing (“Setia”). I’m actually excited for that one because that one sounds really great, Faizal makes every song sound great. As for an upcoming album, not really. For now, we’re planning to just focus on singles and hopefully compiled them all into an EP.
Have you ever planned on composing or writing your own songs?
I do plan on doing that. But Malay isn’t my first language so it is kind of hard but I will try. Within a period of two or three years according to my agreement with my label, we will release three or four of my original songs. So look out for it, hopefully you guys will like it.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what the second single is about?
It was supposed to be for Mother’s day, but I don’t think we’ll make it on time. But the song is about love, mothers and family.
You recently released a music video for your song which has over 900 thousand views, congratulations. But, how do you feel about the video after seeing the feedback left by your fans?
Honestly when I first watched it, I didn’t understand the storyline either. So I understand where all the people who are commenting coming from. When we were performing I thought it was really cool, but when I watched it I was like, “Hmm why is this person doing that, why is that person doing that?” because even I didn’t really understand it. But overall I think it’s a cool music video and it is my first music video, so I am proud of it.
I heard that you will be acting as well in “Usop Wilcha: Menghonjang Makhluk Muzium”, what role are you playing?
It’s a horror comedy film that is inspired from “Night at the Museum”. I’m the one who brings the “hantu-hantu barat” like vampires and werewolves as well as the wax figures of Sultan Agong and Sultan Melaka to a Malaysian museum. So at night, they all come to life and there’s like a big battle at the end.
How did this happen? Who approached you?
It’s a crazy story. I had a gig at The Curve and Abang Usop was having dinner there with my manager Prishan. Prishan heard that he is having this new movie coming up so he said, “You know I have a talent Elizabeth, she’s very new in the industry, can you give her a cameo role in the movie, she doesn’t need any dialogue in the movie. Maybe you can just show her face a little bit.” So Abang Usop said, “Okay sure, bring her here.” So I went to the table and he looked at me and he was like “You have the face that I’m looking for and I want you as my main character,” and I was like “You haven’t even seen me act,” then he was like “No, that can grow on me, don’t worry.” So that’s basically how I got the role, I didn’t have to cast for it or anything, I got it just like that, it really is a blessing.
Have you always wanted to act?
Yeah, it never occurred to me that I enjoyed acting so much until I got into this entertainment scene. But when I think back about it, growing up I always locked myself in my room and stood in front of the mirror where I would come up with scenes of my own and talk to myself as I pretend that I’m acting in a movie.
When I watch movies or TV series, I would repeat the lines after the actresses to make sure that I can get the right expression or intonation. I was also in my high school drama team for two years playing the lead, and when I got into the scene I realised that I actually enjoyed acting more than singing, it completely slipped my mind because I was so caught up in the hype of singing as everything was happening all at once. But now they’re settling down and it started to hit me more that I would actually prefer to act. But singing is not bad either, it is fun. I am blessed to be able to have singing as my career.
If you had to choose only one between singing and acting, which would you pick?
Definitely acting, I love acting a lot. I don’t know why I like it so much. I guess it’s because when you’re acting, you get to play a character or a role that you cannot play in real life. You get to say things that you cannot say in real life because it would be awkward to say them in real life, and you go to different scenarios where it may not be based in real life as well. Its fun having to carry out those scenes and I also love memorising scripts. I don’t know why, but I just love getting scripts and going back home just reading the lines over and over again, memorising it and practicing it in front of the mirror.
Back to your singing career, is there anyone you would like to work with, local or international?
I don’t know if Yuna is still considered local but I would love to sing with her. Amir Jahari, I love him so much, his songs are amazing. Internationally, there’s just so many. John Mayer would be a dream to work with, every girl’s dream to be exact, and also maybe Michael Buble.
You started your career on YouTube, do you have any advice for those who strive to go into the music industry?
For me, I guess YouTube is definitely the way to go right now, it is such a huge platform, it’s online, it’s free and it’s available to all. So many artistes have been discovered through YouTube. Justin Bieber for example, he’s such a huge star right now and he started from random YouTube videos.
So if you guys are planning to get into the entertainment industry my advice to you is put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of comments or criticisms. Any form of criticism that you can take constructively, do take it constructively. Take it in a positive manner to see how you can improve yourself. Never see yourself as the best or already there, because we always have more things to learn and even I have to remind myself that every day. It is easy to get caught up in your own little world but remember that it is a big, big world out there, and there are always people who are better than you. Unfortunately, that is the truth. So, never stop learning, never stop practicing and never stop working for it, because hard work pays off. So all the best to you guys, and don’t be afraid.