Alex Bong, known as alextbh on stage, has been making waves in the Malaysian music industry with his unapologetically queer self
Raised in Bintulu, Sarawak, Alex's "R&B-infused Pop and Pop-infused R&B" proved that his decision to not pursue a career in Engineering has gotten him nearly 18 million plays on Spotify to date.
We met up with Alex to talk about his origins, his most vulnerable song, and his reputation of being Malaysia's queer music icon:
SAYS: Hi Alex! You've had an impressive run in the music industry so far. How did you first start out making music?
Alex: I was 14 years old when I first got an iPad as a birthday gift from my mum. I learned how to use Garage Band by making random sounds. It wasn't until 2015 when I took my craft more seriously.
I mixed and mastered my first single and put it on Spotify myself. I just wanted my songs to be in as many distribution channels as possible.
SAYS: What was your first ever single about?
Alex: I was in an online relationship with this guy, and it was long-distance. I was too naive to believe in it so just like any other online relationship, mine failed too.
I was so sad about it but after I wrote that song and put it out, I've never felt that kind of cathartic release. That's when I realised that maybe I should keep writing songs if that's an avenue for me to put my feelings out, store it, and archive it.
SAYS: All your songs are based on personal experiences. Is there something, or someone you've avoided writing about?
Alex: Yes. This is very personal. I feel like I'm not ready (to write about it) yet, but it's about my brother's death. I realised that I'm good at writing about how I feel in my relationships, but when it comes to family, that's something I haven't touched yet.
Who knows, one day I might go back to it.
SAYS: Tell us the story behind your most vulnerable song.
Alex: I would say it's 'Still Mine' because at the point when I was writing it, I realised that I've been doing this (relationship with a guy) again and again. What made it different this time was that we both know there's an expiry date to this. We both know it's going to end.
That was the point where I realised I should realign myself, find out what I truly want in life and enjoy doing things. That's why 'Still Mine' was the most life-changing song for me.
SAYS: You've been hailed as a queer icon in Malaysia's music industry. How do you deal with the hate that comes from it, given that sodomy remains a crime here?
Alex: When I was younger, my mum and I overheard some people talking about how effeminate I was. My mum stood up and told those people that at least I was raised in the right way.
It doesn't even feel like they're flicking me at all. My mind is set on trying to give queer people a platform to speak out on hard issues that are plaguing our community.
Nobody's ever pressured to come out at all, especially in Malaysia where it's extremely dangerous. It could be a life-threatening situation. But I feel like, I and a few other queer musicians in Malaysia, once we provide a platform for people to relate to it, I feel like it's much easier for some form of revolution to happen.
Slowly and surely, people will realise that we are more common than you think.
Alex will be opening for American R&B star Khalid at KL Live this Sunday, 4 November.
This feature is part of the #saysplaylist series, providing your playlist with a breath of fresh Malaysian air.
If you have any Malaysian bands, singers or songs that you think we should feature, let us know in the comments below!
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