Meet 21-year old bisexual Singaporean artist Lewis Loh, more popularly known by his stage name LEW. Today (23rd September) is Bi Visibility Day, which does exactly what it says on the tin: giving bisexual people visibility, a yearly celebration of bisexuality. It was created to give spotlight to bisexuality – and the issues bisexual people face – in a bid to make them more visible. We sat down with LEW and talked all things love, music and Bisexuality!
Ony: How long have you been a singer? Who are you’re musical influences? How would you describe your sound?
LEW: I think with music for me its split into two parts. The first one is like lyrics so songwriting and then the second one is like the complete package like the whole musician thing and personality and everything. So I think songwriting wise my two inspirations are Passenger. I love passenger and the second one is Birdy … it’s been a crazy year as I’ve got to meet both of them. I got to play my music for Passenger as well, it was a really cool experience. Then in terms of vocals I really love Jessie J… and Lorde.
Ony: Last month you released your debut album Lullacry that gives us an insight into your experiences and past relationships. What was the process like really opening yourself up and how has the audience received it?
LEW: How the album came about … well all the songs were written within one to two years and they range from different experiences, different relationships and also sometimes different perspectives but the main driving factor is it all revolves around different kinds of love.I think most musicians write about love because it’s so prevalent in so many situations, it’s a very real emotion and it also hits the spectrum, there are so many things you can write about when it comes to love. For me I’ve kind of made songwriting my way of catharsis and releasing energy so because of that reason I only kind of write more sad songs, because when I’m happy I want to keep that energy in myself I want to live in that moment. So for me every time I write it’s because I’m in a very raw state and because I’m feeling something very deep and I want that feeling out of me so what I do is write…and when I get to see it on pen and paper then I feel like I’ve locked that emotion away. I encapsulate that feeling into a space, so I don’t have to feel it any more and it’s out of me.
Ony: Being an openly bisexual singer in Singapore, what effect (if at all) has this had on your career?
LEW: I will just give you a quick story. So I grew up in Hong Kong I was 17 when I came out to my family, friends and school mates. Obviously that was really hard, but I would definitely say I’m in a much more fortunate position than most because first of all my parents aren’t religious so explaining it to them wasn’t trying to explain how religion is wrong. It was more like explaining to them the biological side. Also, I went to an international school and we had a class about current affairs discussing things like LGBT, HIV and sex education and we were forced to talk about it – you only got a good grade if you talked about it which was really good. In my year when I was about 12, there was already people who had come out as transgender, they kind of paved the path for me and so for me it was really easy… not easy, but it was easier because there was other people who took the initial bold move.
But when I moved to Singapore I had to go back into the closet, my cousins told me when you come to Singapore don’t tell anyone that your bisexual and that kind of hurt me because I thought they were not okay with it, but I think it was because they loved me and were worried for my safety. Singapore is a lot more conservative, a lot of the controversial stuff like racism and LGBT aren’t spoken about. It’s just like let’s not talk about and if we don’t talk about it doesn’t exist. Also the religion here is either predominantly Islam or Christianity or Buddhism, and that has a huge impact.
I was coming to Singapore to do compulsory national service in either the military, as a fireman, as a paramedic, or as a police officer – most of the people there are males and most are militants – you can imagine their mindset on a lot of things. I was selected for the police force. During the first 3 weeks there was training. In my squad there was 36 of us, all males between 18 – 26. We were in the bunk one day and someone made a joke, in the way that straight guys like to make jokes – he said ‘Lewis likes dick’ and I was like well ‘I’ve done it before’ and they were like what and that was just me going whatever I’m just going to be honest with myself. I was surprised because they didn’t take it negatively, they were interested because they hadn’t talked about this stuff before, so they had a lot of questions like, how do you know you like guys and then I quickly explained to them and basically I talked to them as if it was a normal thing because I think that is how to solve the problem, you talk about it like it’s a normal thing, you don’t add extra fuel into the fire because if you do that makes it a big dramatic taboo. After the whole thing 5 other guys came out, some of them came out to me, some came out to everyone else.. the thing is these guys are 23/24 and they’d never spoke of their sexuality or themselves and how they feel because you’re supposed to be a police officer your supposed to be alpha male, buff , big, strong.
Monday to Friday I was a police officer, then Saturday and Sunday I did my songwriting, I performed and my persona was completely different I could show my tattoos and my piercings. I could talk however I wanted with no filter. But when you put on the police officer uniform you’ve got to be something else – I get it as well – because if I was a citizen and I saw a police officer with tattoos and piercing I wouldn’t be convinced but that’s just social expectations. So then I finished my service last year December and I’ve been completely myself.
Ony: What was your experience of coming out like, were you family and friends supportive?
LEW: My parents only found out 2-3 months after my post on my Facebook. My parents are divorced and I told my dad first because I knew he could handle it a lot better. He is very well travelled and he’s experienced lots of different cultures. When I told him he was like why did you choose this and made out like it’s a choice. The good thing with my dad is he very open minded that he’s willing to adapt and understand new things. I just sent him a bunch of links and asked him when did he choose to be straight and he said he didn’t and I was like it’s the same thing.
When I told my mum there was a lot of shouting and crying, I told myself I wouldn’t shout because if I reacted with anger it wouldn’t help with the communication, I just talked to her. At first she wasn’t okay with it, it was only after I kept bringing it up and kept talking about guys in front of her, it just became a normal topic. I think then she realized it was not just a phase, it was not just me being rebellious for fun. My mum stays in the US, and every time she leave she would leave Singapore she would write a me a little letter wishing me stuff like I hope you find a good girlfriend, I hope your find a girl that you can marry – until this year when she wrote I hope you find a good partner. For someone at her age to make this small change, it means she cares enough to want to change for me, to want to understand.
Ony: To a young person struggling with self-acceptance and worried about coming out, what would your advice be?
LEW: I would say that we are all unique and because of that you should never feel apologetic for being yourself and I will not advise them to come out without seeing the context because it’s not so safe come out when you’re ready and come out when you know yourself.
Ony: Last week, Dear Straight People released a music video in which you are covering Home a popular National Day Song. Why is this song and the accompanying music video so important?
LEW: Every year in Singapore there is a new national day song, not really the national anthem,a song to celebrate the year but they do not feature people of the LGBT community – it always straight couples, or kids, families of different races. Actually in Singapore a lot of resources go into to racial harmony and everyone coming together, except if your LGBT. The whole point of our cover was to make people talk about it. It’s just sharing love, and also the positive of it for people who are in the LGBT community to share something that they feel really represents them and not just another national day video without them.
I think this song is important as every year you expect the national day video, but when our cover came out it came out it was surprising because it’s something you would not expect on your feed and the first step to trying to integrate a community is to create friction in order for people to realise that there is a problem. Then they can work towards fixing it – so by making this kind of statement it created a discussion – even the negative discussion is good because at least there are people talking about it. Some open minded people have wanted to learn more about it or even more importantly the closeted people in this community can see that they are not alone in this country and I’m hoping that one of listeners or one of my friend see that I’m so comfortable and that they should be comfortable to. I’ve had a few people who’ve messaged me because they see how comfortable I am with it and they want to be that comfortable.
Ony: Lastly, what would your message be to those Singaporeans who don’t understand and discriminate against the LGBT+ community?
LEW: I hate you… no I’m joking. I would say that …. A world where everyone gets along is a choice and only through being open minded and understanding what you don’t know is how we will achieve that. to sum it up just find it in yourself to want to know more about what you don’t know and through that hopefully they’ll learn to accept.. Accept that people are amazing.
If you love @LewLoh‘s LGBT National Day Song cover of ‘Home’ as much as we do tweet us at @MTVStayingAlive . MTV Staying Alive supports LGBTQ communities around the world. Here’s one of our projects run by two very inspiring people in Kenya.