“2020 is the year I cried the most,” singer-songwriter Shye admits. Not a surprising pronouncement on the turbulent year we’ve left behind, perhaps, but the 18-year-old Singaporean was facing challenges of a more personal sort – heartbreak and anxiety – and channeling her experiences into her debut album, ‘Days To Morning Glory’.
“2020 was really about growth for me – I was figuring things out, making mistakes, getting hurt, learning from all of that – and a lot crying in my room in between, of course,” she says. While most Singaporeans were busy picking up new hobbies and trying to stay sane during the country’s lockdown (dubbed a ‘circuit breaker’), Shye says she “thrived” in her time cooped up at home – though she missed performing. “I really love doing my stuff live. Sure, you can be all comfortable at home and behind a screen, but nothing beats the vibes of performing live,” she says.
It’s a pity the world has yet to experience ‘Days To Morning Glory’ – one of NME’s best Asian albums of 2020 – in a live setting. By blending teenage sorrows with a distinct pop sensibility and catchy hooks, Shye has crafted a repertoire of nostalgic electro pop tunes, gently morphing out from the experimental lo-fi bedroom pop fuzziness from her previous material. The title track is a sweet bop about childhood memories like being the last one to get picked up from school, Barbie movies and morning glories on Hillside Drive while ‘Sometimes’ enters ’80s synth pop territory.
“It takes time to write a body of work that shows some kind of growth”
Shye is relatively new to music. “People somehow think that I started out playing the piano or came from a musical household but music only came into the picture when I started putting stuff out,” she says. Instead, it was dance that Shye was first passionate about. She cites ballet, Chinese dance and tap dance as some of the activities that kept her preoccupied till secondary school. She also took up theatre when she enrolled at the School Of The Arts.
“The whole music thing… it was all very accidental,” she recalls. “I hate to say this but I’ve always been very shy – and was very self-conscious in school and when performing [for her theatre course] because of my acne.” But it was during her very last theatre production in SOTA that ‘musician Shye’ came out.
Shye found a particular comfort in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspect of a stage production – from the sound design to writing songs for a musical. She volunteered to work on the music and, with no previous knowledge of music theory, started mucking around with a keyboard. Soon after, she began experimenting on GarageBand and it boosted her confidence to see these little songs on Soundcloud get some spins – but she didn’t know that people were really listening.
Still as grateful today, Shye felt that the turning point was when her song ‘One Fine Day’ ‘blew up’ overnight on Spotify. That song was also her ticket to entering Vans Musicians Wanted in 2018, a music competition for budding musicians in Southeast Asia. Shye won the Singapore showcase and went on to perform in Guangzhou, China. She recalled, “I couldn’t even process what was happening. I only had one proper song out!” Winning was only the beginning for Shye. She admits that it still feels surreal to label herself as a musician, but winning the showcase opened her up to more local music and a lot of different influences.
And if you’re curious about what a talented teen like Shye grew up listening to, it really was pure, unadulterated pop. “I was a die-hard Swiftie and a huge Shawn Mendes fan. I used to do the tight curls and all,” she exclaims. “Also, I was so angry when Shawn and Camilla Cabello started dating. I’m fine now!”
Was she influenced by any of the music her parents listen to? Not really, she says – her dad’s obsession with techno and trance music puzzles her, while “my mum listens to a lot of classical music. I still listen to Taylor Swift and I love K-pop… I really don’t think I’m influenced by the stuff I listen to.” She does cite fellow bedroom pop musicians like Clairo who inspired the movement, encouraging her to “trial and error more” when it comes to music. “So it was even more surreal when I opened for her show in Singapore,” she says.
A standout track on ‘Days To Morning Glory’? It’s hard to choose one, and even Shye doesn’t have a favourite: “I like all the songs, and I’m proud of them.” Though quietly confident, she’s also humble and speaks with a sense of wonder, circling back to how crazy the journey has been and that she’s grateful for all the support she has – from her mum, her brother (who never talks about her but has hyped her up at some point, she says) and especially her friends and fans.
They’ve all waited years for new Shye material – a necessary wait, so her growth could manifest in the record. If she had released ‘Days To Morning Glory’ any earlier, she jokes, it would mostly, and painfully, be preoccupied with “‘this boy not liking me but I like him’ kinda themes.” In her words: “It takes time to write a body of work that shows some kind of growth.”
Shye has developed as an artist, too, moving past her early covers and SoundCloud releases to become a “bedroom dream pop darling”. While she sees the need to retain some of that distinct sound that catapulted her to recognition – at least for now – she’s having so much fun experimenting, gradually learning and developing a solid personal sound. Deadpan, she says, “After all, I’m only 18 and I’m still learning a lot. I’m still dumb – and still drooling over boys.”
Shye’s album ‘Days To Morning Glory’ is out now