When Singaporean indie-pop darlings The Sam Willows announced their hiatus in May last year, it felt inevitable. The band’s two most prominent members, siblings Benjamin and Narelle Kheng, had already established independent projects, while their more elusive bandmate Jonathan Chua had moved behind the scenes to launch music production company Zendyll Records. At the time, the fourth and final Willows member, Sandra Riley Tang, was making moves to release her long-awaited solo debut.
Performing under the moniker RRILEY gives Tang the chance to reinvent her image and sound. Stepping away from the Willows’ brand of euphoric pop, Tang offers a bolder, sleeker and more stylish sonic palette that could better represent herself as a solo artist.
After one and a half years in the studio, ‘Alpha’ was finally born. It’s a solid debut that draws inspiration from charismatic modern pop greats such as Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and Demi Lovato. Much like her idols, Tang is a woman with a big voice and an even bigger personality – and they all shine through on the EP.
‘Burn’, the first single which Tang dropped in 2019, is a promising start to ‘Alpha’. “Burning up alone, I don’t need a chaperone, no / Better watch me, baby, ’cause I’m on fire,” Tang proclaims, a dramatic declaration of self-worth and independence. The track was co-written by Tang with fellow Singaporean singer-songwriters Daphne Khoo, Linying and Sam Rui, alongside frequent Gentle Bones collaborator Josh Wei, who also helmed most of the EP’s production with Yves Rothman.
‘Burn’ is more than just a feisty opener. It’s a self-assured introduction to a new era for Tang. RRILEY’s confidence spills over to tracks like ‘Love Me Like A’, a flirty dance-pop gem (“Ain’t that just what I deserve / Say you’ll give me all your world”) and ‘mmm bye’, a nonchalant kiss-off to bad exes (“And don’t turn on the tears / I’ll drink them up and say ‘Cheers’”).
But there are moments on ‘Alpha’ when the unabashed persona stumbles and loses some of its edge. Although genuine, the cheery and sparkling ‘High’, a love song about an intoxicating romance, does the opposite of its intended effect: it leaves you feeling more sober than before. ‘Romeo’, on the other hand, is a lacklustre R&B-tinged track that never really reels you in.
‘Alpha’’s saving grace comes in the form of ‘Fire’, a saucy banger made in collaboration with Malaysia’s very own Zamaera. Indebted to female-led pop anthems like ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Lady Marmalade’, ‘Fire’ is a brassy floor-filler that’s deliciously fun from start to finish. Tang is in full control while Zamaera lends a hand as the delightful hypewoman, showering corny compliments: “You don’t need no Tabasco, you don’t need no Sriracha! You ain’t no need some garlic chilli sauce because it’s so spicy up in this building!”
The EP proves that RRILEY has the potential to join the ranks of Indonesia’s NIKI and Malaysia’s Yuna as the region’s most desirable pop acts. Already standing on the Willows’ legacy, Tang’s got a head start to becoming a bona fide superstar, and ‘Alpha’ lays the foundation for her solo ambitions, one of which, hopefully, involves dominating international waters, too.
- Release date: August 7
- Record label: Sony Music Entertainment Singapore