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September 28, 2022
Local pop R&B singer-songwriter WANYI is set to break new ground in 2022 with releases of songs reflecting on her journeyed story as an independent artist and on overcoming heartbreak.
The Hong Kong-born-and-raised Singaporean musician dreams big in her career, with a devotion to singing dating back years to her youth in Hong Kong.
WANYI fuses influences from American dance-pop music, U.K. house and garage music, and R&B-soul into her singles and EPs that exude joy and good vibes.
“I have always known that I wanted to do music. From the age of 10, I began to love music,” the professional musician told The Beat Asia in an interview, “At school, I didn’t know if it would be a viable career or something that I could do full-time, but I knew loved it.”
The Beat Asia delved deep into the life of Celine Ng, the musician behind WANYI, to explore her passion for songwriting, musical expression, and a new phase for WANYI, set to debut this year with the release of new singles.
Raised on Hong Kong Island to Singaporean parents, Celine saw her life intertwined within the rich cultural fabric of Hong Kong, inspired by the creative passions of her peers and classmates, first at Singapore International School in Aberdeen, then at Chinese International School in Tin Hau.
Since early teenage years, Celine has flexed her skills in singing and stage performance. She was represented in her primary school choir and competed in interschool Hong Kong music festivals and competitions.
At 14, Celine wrote her first song, writing, recording, and producing with a local Hong Kong studio. Here, she caught the bug, infected with a desire to become a singer-songwriter. “It came quite naturally. I recorded the song and worked with the engineer to curate the track to my liking. I didn’t know it then but I was already learning to produce.”
For a personal studies project in middle school at Chinese International School, 15-year-old Celine endeavoured to construct her first EP, writing, recording, and producing four tracks, comprised of one original song composed by herself and three covers.
“I titled it, ‘A Change is On Its Way.’ It was very heartfelt and existential. I was a very angsty teenager (laughs). No one could understand me, and music was the only thing I felt like I had control over.”
Celine pursued studying music further in high school, before dedicating her university studies to songwriting and performance at the prestigious Boston-based Berklee College of Music in 2015.
“I loved Berklee and constantly being around other creatives,” she said, referring to the wealth of “crazy energy” and innovative artistry surrounding her friends and classmates. “Going to Berklee you definitely get exposed to a lot of different kinds of music and personalities.”
Studying at Berklee in an accelerated program for three years, which saw the Singaporean graduate in summer 2018, Celine sought to move back to Asia to reconnect with family and friends, planning to elevate her career in songwriting.
"There are a lot of things that you need to make it, in any industry. First, you need a good support system. I have one here [in Hong Kong]. I'm very close to my family, so it was really important for me to have that."
A mini “gap year” break after school took her to Taipei to “figure out what she wanted to do,” leading to her first and largest break in the industry: producing a viral song for the Chinese TikTok, Douyin.
“My friend, a rapper called Cloud Wang based in Chengdu, reached out and said he had a friend working at Douyin. At the time, Bytedance had just bought TikTok, and they were looking for a singer to record an English version of the Chinese song 学猫叫 (Xué māo jiào / Say Meow Meow) for the new platform as part of their campaign.”
Celine tweaked the translated lyrics and travelled to Shanghai to record the track, with the song releasing in December 2018. As of June 2022, the song has garnered over 1.7 million listens on Spotify, much to the surprise of Celine, who is thankful for the “break” that cemented her confidence to pursue other projects, but under her new artist name, WANYI.
“Previously, I was very willing to try anything, any genre, and I was not too particular about what I wanted to do. During the experience [of releasing Say Meow Meow], I realised I do care about what I put out,” Celine said in earnest.
This pressed Celine to adopt her anglicised Chinese name of WANYI – a translation of 宛儀 (wǎn yí) – and produce music under this new identity. “WANYI to me feels like a safe space and allows me to freely express myself and explore creatively. It’s a name that means a lot to me because it was chosen for me by my grandmother, and family is important to me.”
“In my childhood, I was really inspired by Max Martin, Westlife, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. It was good writing and hooky melodies. I love that in pop music and wanted to emulate this genre.”
She independently released singles throughout in 2020 for her first EP, titled “Twentysomething,” a collection of five songs that Celine refers to as a reflection of her feelings towards love amidst entering her first long-term relationship.
In creating this EP, she broke new ground working with an international team, and writing and producing with new collaborators, such as Nick Sheldon at Ultra Records. Production began in February 2020 on a month-long trip to London, which Celine was forced to cut short to return to Hong Kong to work on the project online amidst the spread of COVID-19 in the U.K.
Celine’s heartfelt and romantic singles released in 2020, “Meet Me Tonight,” “All In,” “Our Escape,” and “Loved You Once,” were compiled into the five-song EP with “Angel Eyes.” “Twentysomething [comprised] of a lot of what I was going through in those two years [of my relationship],” Celine said. As of June 2022, her EP has over 667,000 streams on Spotify.
She thinks of herself as more of a singer-songwriter than a traditional producer. “What does being a singer-songwriter mean to my story? It means being able to pour my heart into the demo (a first draft of a single), being able to create the heartbeat [of the song] and make it feel alive.”
“I love songwriting,” Celine commented, “the whole concept that you can start the process with nothing and, by the end, create something.”
The singer-songwriter attributes the process of creating a song – first, formulating the chords, melody and lyrics, then adding all the instruments and making the beat - as a therapy session.
“You can literally sit down and say, okay, we’re going to write a song. How are you feeling? You get to know someone better and you get to create something together. And at the end of four-ish hours, you have a song. The whole idea that you just can go into something with no expectations and come out of it with a product that is tangible, that you can listen to, really inspires and motivates me.”
Celine is constantly writing and producing songs, having spent the end of 2021 and the first six months of 2022 producing a series of upcoming single releases. “I’m working with an entirely new team. We’re really international. I’m working with SCTR who’s an amazing producer from the Netherlands, Ethan Johnson who’s a producer in New York. Roisin is one of my favorite co-writers, she’s in Arizona and New York. The rest of the team is all over the place, in New York and Los Angeles and Taiwan.
2021 saw the singer go through “a bad breakup” that left her searching for ways to heal. “I was really heartbroken,” she said, “music was one thing that made me feel better. My new songs are all about healing and growing.”
“I am a firm believer in music being a healing force. It’s therapeutic to me, it’s like an escape. Post-heartbreak, I was relying a lot on my girlfriends - we would grab drinks, eat, and have a good time to try to forget. The clubs we went to, [Cassio, Faye, Shuffle, Dragon-I], had a lot of good dance music which helped me get out of that headspace.”
Celine said she is inspired by pop artists such as Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, and R&B singer H.E.R. in their vocals and energy, and other artists like Kaytranada and SG Lewis in their production. “A lot of their songs give me a sense of comfort when I’m going out and connecting with people. I’m still learning self-worth and standing up for myself. At the end of the day, I just want to feel good. I've tried to channel that into my music, and I hope that people will really vibe with it.”
With plans to release songs periodically in the second half of the year, Celine tells fans to spot the story within each song. “I wanted to be more experimental with each song sonically. This time I was really inspired by house music, funk and UK garage.”
“I want to make music that I would want to listen to when I’m out with my girlfriends.”
When asked what having her music on Spotify and being featured routinely in playlists curated by Spotify Asia meant, Celine said, “It’s an honor! For Spotify, I love that [my music] becomes a tangible thing. People can see it, it exists! It is also a way to share it and it’s just a platform [for music] at the end of the day.”
Keep your eyes peeled on WANYI’s socials for timings of music releases over autumn and winter of 2022 and into 2023.
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