An Interview With The Singaporean Director, Actress and Singer-Songwriter ANNETTE LEE On Her Latest Single and Balancing Her Busy Career!
Meet Annette Lee! She is a Singaporean director, actress and singer-songwriter best known for her work with the popular Singapore-based humor platform SGAG / Nubbad TV. Finding that delicate balance of her passions, Annette has been working hard on her sophomore EP (produced by Nashville-based Colton Price and Jerricho Scroggins). The first single and title track is called “Songs For The Underdog.”
In a time where social media constantly reminds us of our inadequacies, it’s easy for most of us to feel like the odds are stacked against us. “Song For The Underdog” is Annette’s anthem for the kid who was never cool or smart enough.
The EP will be accompanied by a 3-part web-series ‘You Only Debut Once’, with the music telling the story of a fledgling artist trying to start a music career in Singapore. The series was inspired by true events (K-Pop idols Beaunite) and follows a struggling singer, Kandie Pok (played by Annette) who is trying her best to make it as a “KPOP Star”, 7 years after she and her friends have a brush with cyberbullying. Series trailer dropped via Instagram – watch here.
Learn more about Annette Lee in the following All Access interview-
*When it comes to your music, what are you most excited for this year? How has 2020 been treating you so far?*
I’m definitely most excited about the new EP I’m releasing this year! The title track ‘Song For The Underdog’ as well as the 2nd single off the record, Gold, have been launched, and I’m so happy that people are loving it! And in the midst of all the busyness, 2020 has been treating me great so far!
*Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be a musician?*
I’d say I’d always had dreams of being a musician growing up since I loved music since I was a kid – but I never thought it’d be a viable career path, especially in Singapore where there isn’t a big music scene at all. So I studied filmmaking in college and ended up as a video content creator, while still writing music as a hobby.
One day, however, just to try my luck, I put together a bunch of originals and sent them to a producer I liked (Ed Cash). I figured he probably won’t reply to me anyway so why not haha.
But he replied to me the next day, said he liked the songs, and we soon made plans to get it produced with him and his brother Scott Cash in Nashville. So that was probably the closest ‘moment’ in which I felt it was possible to pursue my dream of being a musician!
*What do you think motivates you day in and day out? How has that changed over the years?*
I find creatives, like myself, to be pretty self-motivated. If I’m inspired to work on a new creative project, the idea itself excites me to keep me motivated! It hasn’t changed much over the years, as I’m still a creative through-and-through, but I’d say that when I get letters from fans that tell me how much my music has helped them through difficult times – it definitely gives me that extra encouragement to create work that shines a light to the world.
*How do you think your hometown has influenced the kind of music that you make? If not, why is that?*
I like writing about being human and the honest questions that come along with that, so how I think my hometown influenced my music, would be through the interactions and experiences I had over here.
*Growing up, how important was music in your life? Was your family and friends supportive of this career choice? If you weren’t a musician today, could you see yourself doing anything else?*
My dad loves listening to music, and I was introduced to music since I was a baby when he constantly had The Beatles, Michael Learns To Rock, Queen etc. on repeat on cassette. That early exposure definitely made music a natural part of my life. My eventual pursuit of music was met with a bit of concerns from my friends and family initially, but I guess they knew how passionate I was about it and figured I’d make it work somehow! Haha.
If I wasn’t a musician, I’d definitely devote my life to filmmaking. I cannot see myself doing anything that is not creative! Haha.
*What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What has been the best part*
I’d still say the biggest surprise has to be that day Ed and Scott Cash replied to the email I sent with my demos! I really didn’t think they’d reply an email from a tiny nobody from the tiny country from Singapore but they did. So that was really cool.
I’d say the challenges I’ve faced were mostly in the early days. There were so many reasons to give up. For one, I got fired from a bar gig once, after my first night of performing because the bar owner didn’t like my singing. I also applied for many local music competitions and mentorship programmes (in Singapore’s small music scene, that was one of the only ways to get to know local music producers and get music made) but constantly got rejected. There were so many more but I’d say those were welcome challenges though, because it made me keep practicing even harder, and the latter was what motivated to even send me demos overseas when it didn’t work out locally – which turned out to be a blessing in disguise!
The best part of everything though, has to be the joy of creating music, and the joy of knowing that my music connects with people.
*What was it like working on your upcoming sophomore EP and your producers, Nashville-based Colton Price and Jerricho Scroggins? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?*
It was such a precious opportunity and it was so much fun working with them. Like I mentioned, what I listen to in a certain period would always influence how I’d like my songs produced – and I was actually listening to a lot of Korean R&B at the time!
I sent that to them and asked if they could incorporate subtle traits of K-R&B into the music and was afraid it would be too much to ask – but they put in the time to really find out what I wanted to achieve and I loved how everything turned out.
*How do you think your first single, “Song For the Underdog” prepare listeners for the rest of your EP? What was the inspiration for this song?*
Growing up, I always felt like the odds were stacked against me – I was never the cool kid, definitely not a rich kid, my family was dysfunctional and I was constantly falling ill – the list goes on.
Yet I’ve seen times in my life where I found victory after pressing on, despite the odds being stacked against me, and that inspired me to write Song For The Underdog – with the aim to encourage anyone feeling like the tortoise to the hare in the race of life.
The other songs in the EP also discuss overcoming struggles and doubt, and I feel Song For The Underdog, the title track, encapsulates that hope best, and is a song that could make a world of a difference for someone out there who could be in the gap between gaining their biggest win ever (if they’d just press on a little more) or giving up right before the finish line.
*Are you planning on making any music videos to the songs on your EP?*
Yes! I have a lyric video up on my Youtube Channel for ‘Song For the Underdog’, and I’ll be releasing another music video for ‘Gold’ soon, then another one for ‘Crossroads’ when the full EP is out!
*Tell me about your web series, ‘You Only Debut Once’? How exactly does it connect to your EP? Where did the idea to create this series come from?*
‘Song For The Underdog’ is actually the theme song of the webseries ‘You Only Debut Once’ and I wrote it while working on the story of the show.
So the show was inspired by a true event that happened in 2017, where a bunch of Singaporean teenagers formed a ‘kpop band’ and uploaded a Kpop debut video online and became viral overnight for all the wrong reasons. Brutal cyberbullies were calling them ‘cringey’ and ‘ugly’ and even sent them death threats, causing them to disband and retreat into oblivion.
I’ve always loved rooting for the underdog, and my heart went out to the girls because their stories resonated with me so much: they were girls with a dream being told they’ll never make it – a lot like who I was growing up. So I wondered what would happen to them 10 years down the road: Would they still be chasing their dreams? And that inspired the premise of the web-series, as well as ‘Song For The Underdog’.
*How have you been able to balance your time as a singer-songwriter and your work with the Singapore-based humor platform, SGAG/Nubbad TV? Which gives you the most joy now?*
I get this question a lot, and the honest answer is – I just don’t have a lot of fun… HAHA.
But I guess for me, work is my fun. I’m so passionate about creating art that I love spending time writing new music and stories. I know this sounds like I live in a cave but on the contrary, I love being around people too – being on set is actually my favourite part of the filmmaking process because I love seeing people come together to recreate a reality, and I do take time to meet friends every now and then.
And it’s so hard to pick which gives me the most joy because I’m so in love with both! Haha.
*How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music? What if anything has stayed the same about your music-making process?*
I used to have stage fright and I never liked public speaking. I was a bedroom singer my whole life, and I would always be nervous performing. When I would do part-time gig at bars and cafes during college, I preferred doing the ones where I was merely background music – where patrons would mostly be having conversations and not paying attention to me.
It took me a long time to learn and grow and be comfortable on stage, so I’d say that’s where I’ve grown the most. I still feel a little nervous before a show these days, but not nearly as badly as the past!
*How do you feel about social media? What do you think social media has done for your career so far?*
Social media has created so much inauthenticity but has also given people the freedom to showcase authenticity. It’s a tool and how we use it is so important, and I always try my best to be as authentic as I can through my social media, and that is a really important way to connect with my fans because I want them to be able to understand, follow and identify with my journey as an artist, but more than that, as a human being.
*What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?*
Chance The Rapper or Kanye West! I’ve always wanted to work on a song with a rap verse and they would be a dream choice.
*Where would you love to hear a song of yours played?*
I love films – so I’d say I’d love to hear it being played in a movie!
*At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?*
The world can be a cruel place to live in, I want to use art to bring light to a world that’s getting increasingly darker. The world needs hope, and that’s what i want to spread in my music, and I hope that’s what people take away from it.