When anders debuted in 2016 with the ominous single “Choosy,” his appearance was a mystery. The track made its way through the digital undercurrents of the Toronto music scene, as the Mississauga-born singer-songwriter was in and out of university while gainfully hustling on the streets. His prominence gained momentum, compelling the Chinese-Vietnamese R&B artist to put aside his enduring distaste for social media and being photographed, eventually allowing listeners to put a face to the rising star.
anders has been on a gradual ascent since his debut EP 669 dropped in 2017, his established spot in Toronto’s competitive music scene carved deeper with each release. His journey into the limelight burgeoned in 2018 as his vocals—mixed and pitched over saccharine production—reverberated across the globe through the 2018 single “Love No More” in collaboration with the electronic duo Loud Luxury. The song’s algorithmic pleasure made it a viral house party anthem, providing anders with a new audience to allure with his boastful flow.
His distinctive style, a tenebrous blend of pop and R&B under trappy production, has been refined on his new EP Honest, out today. With tinges of conceit, the EP indicates maturity—both lyrically and in its production—reflecting on loneliness, relationships, and catharsis in its nine songs.
With more eyes on him than ever, the 25-year-old says the days of “going to clubs five days a week” are behind him, now chiefly devoted to his artistry, legacy, and family. In a candid interview with Complex, anders opened up about his upbringing, fatherhood, and artistic evolution.
When you were growing up, what kind of music were you listening to?
I listened to everything growing up. I have immigrant parents, I grew up with a single mom, so she worked 10 to 12 hours a day and was never home. When she was home, she was never the kind of mom that would play music around the house so I was never exposed to music in that sense. A lot of people hear songs that their parents would listen to when they are growing up, and I didn’t have that because it just wasn’t a thing. So all the music that I was exposed to was through other kids that I would play with on the street. I remember the first time I was ever really exposed to English music, that my memory can remember, I was probably eight years old and some kids on my street had a burned 50 Cent CD, and they’re like, “Yo, listen to this!” That was the first time I remember hearing rap, and I loved 50 Cent because it was just like—what is this!? And I knew I wasn’t allowed to listen to it either.
Why weren’t you allowed to listen to it?
Well my mom is a Vietnamese mom, and you know, you hear the music and the content is what it is. She’s just so old school and wasn’t a fan of me listening to it, but she was never really home to stop me. But yeah, I listened to rap, and then all of my musical exposure was through the people that I knew. Even my older siblings didn’t really put me on to music, it was always friends or older kids that I would hang out with that exposed me. I had a phase where I listened to alternative music, at 12 years old I had every Linkin Park CD. And I listened to fucking rock at some point and pop music. Like literally everything, which is why I think my music is so diverse.
Has being a dad influenced your songwriting at all?
Yeah, now I think about like, ‘Do I want to say something like that?’ Like before, it was just kind of like, I just had a kind of ‘fuck you’ mentality, like I didn’t really give a fuck. I still don’t give a fuck, but you know, I got to think about being respectful to my child and the mother of my child. So just little things like that.
What point in your life is this EP focused around?
Everything that you’re hearing on Honest, I’m already past that point in life. I’ve already made this project and lived with it for a long time. It’s always like sharing a chapter of my life that has already passed. I have a kid now, and 90 percent of the music on this project is from before I had a kid. When I make a project, it captures that moment in my life, but I might not necessarily put it out in that same moment if that makes sense.
There is a cultural upheaval occurring around the world, as well as the rise in reported racially targeted hate crimes, most recently targeting the Asian community. How have you been processing the surge of attacks that have been going on?
It’s obviously heartbreaking seeing your people living in fear, and the elderly. Like, fuck—who fucks with old people? I can’t even understand that. No matter who you are, or what race, you got to be a certain kind of fucked up to even be able to do that. In all honesty, and it’s probably worse now because of certain things like certain stigmas placed around Asian people because of coronavirus, but this stuff existed before people brought attention to it. I always felt like Asians minded their own business and never wanted to cause trouble and never wanted people to feel bad for ‘em or anything like that. So back then when shit would happen, when something happened where there was some racist thing against Asian people, they would just not go there anymore rather than stand up against it. Do you know what I mean? I just felt like that was what Asian people were used to before. Now we have more comfortability to speak out against it and stand up for it.
My cousin was spat on while walking down the street, I think it was down Spadina. I just thought of how many times I walked down there with my groceries, and being attacked never would have crossed my mind.
I wish someone would try that on me, not because I want them to be racist, but because I’d put them in their place. You almost wish that it happened to me instead because that person would never fuck with another Asian person after.
Do you ever receive racist comments online?
Oh, all the time! All the time! All the time. I’d do a song with an artist, and the comments are like, “Why would you fucking do a song with him, he’s got corona,” or shit like that. I don’t really let social media or online hate get into my head. My skin is really thick, you can muster up the meanest things you could possibly say and I’d probably be unbothered by it.
Sorry you have to go through that, that’s awful.
[Laughs.] It is, but you gotta have thick skin. And you would be at it for the rest of your life if you’re just going to argue with people on the Internet that are being haters. Anybody miserable enough to be on a phone or a laptop just trying to hate on people—their life is already bad enough, I don’t need to try to put them in their place. They are already miserable, that’s why they do that. I don’t know one single happy person in a good place that goes out of their way to make sure somebody else isn’t. I don’t need to fight back, there is no point to it. You’d be trying to do something to somebody that’s already done to them.
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