“From now on, it’s just about living truthfully,” the singer formerly known as Wiltay tells Billboard. “It can only go up from here.”
For a few years, Willie Tay was considered a rising pop star in Singapore’s music industry. Performing under his pseudonym Wiltay, the singer amassed a legion of more than 300,000 followers on his Instagram and was well on his way to a breakthrough in the music industry. Earlier this year, that all changed.
Tay privately came out as gay to his family and friends before deciding to tell his label, Warner Music Singapore. “I was worried about losing my job, whether I could continue singing and all of that,” he tells Billboard. Sadly, the singer was right to be afraid — the label dropped Tay almost immediately, along with deleting his social media accounts where he had managed to find a considerable audience.
But now, Tay is ready to take back his own career. The singer released his new single “Open Up Babe” on Tuesday (April 23), now under his new stage name Wils. The video for the new track shows Tay dancing around a set of cliffs in Los Angeles with his lover, as he sings about being honest with yourself.
Tay spoke to Billboard ahead of his single’s release about coming out on his own terms, being dropped by his label, and the status of LGBTQ rights in his home country of Singapore.
This video serves as your official coming out — what drove you to make this announcement a music video?
So, about two years ago, I was trying to write a couple of songs, and I just felt like I couldn't be myself, being in the closet. I felt like it just affected a large part of my life, like hanging out with friends and family, I was just constantly living in a lie. I decided that I was going to take a two-year break, and I'll find myself and who I am and unlearn the fears I had since I was a kid. So ultimately, when all was said and done, I came to that point, and I decided that this was the best way to let my fans know.
What do you think is the message that you were trying to get across in the song?
It's about being truthful to yourself, and that sometimes, when we live in fear, we're not able to enjoy the truth and the beautiful things in life. So it's about finding that truth and accepting yourself. From there on, you just have to focus on living in the moment and enjoying life.
You revealed your sexuality to your label, Warner Music Singapore, and sadly you were dropped. What was that like in the moment?
I came out to my family because I didn't want them finding out through the media that I came out without letting them know. It's almost like a way of protecting them from getting a heart attack. So I came out in January, and I decided that I wanted to sing truthfully. It was terrifying, because before I came out to my label, I was worried about losing my job, whether I could continue singing and all of that. So I finally came out to my label and said, "I really want to be an openly gay singer, and I think that's going to help a lot of young lives in Asia."
They were like, "No, we're not going to be able to do that because we have our reputation at stake." I think they were probably worrying about their stock dropping. So they removed all of my social media and dropped me from their label to be protective about their clients and sponsors. And I get it, that's all OK, they just don't know how to handle things like that. I think that will change, eventually. I just feel so liberated — the fear of that happening, it's off of me now. From now on, it's just about living truthfully. It can only go up from here.
You were talking about how part of the reason that this happened was because the label was in Singapore, which as a country, has a pretty dark history with homophobia. How did that contribute to your mental state that led to your eventual coming out?
There's a law in Singapore called Section 377a of the Penal Code, which says any consensual sexual acts between two men can be criminalized. There are a lot of gays in Singapore, and it's OK to live as a gay man, but it's just not really spoken about. That has led to a lot of bullying in the society. Like lesbians are being raped by men, and the men would say, "Oh, what can you do about it? Shame on you." That led me to feel that … it's upsetting to see that people have to live through being bullied just because they are themselves. I didn't want that for anyone, and I didn't want that for myself.
What are you hoping fans can take away from your new video?
I'm really confident that my fans are going to love me for the way that I am. I'm hoping that they'll be able to learn to live truthfully with themselves — it's not just about sexuality, it's about everything in life. Be comfortable with yourself, because when you accept yourself, you can just be the best version of yourself.