Now based in L.A., the 26-year-old artist recently joined forces with Grammy Award-winning producer Randy Jackson to tap into his globe-spanning influences and create a whole new take on dance-ready pop.
“Growing up I was exposed to a lot of Asian artists, whose lyrics were very poetic and dramatic and expressive with their imagery,” Wil says. “Then living in Spain, I got to know flamenco culture and learned all about different kinds of rhythm.” Also citing the emotionally charged pop of artists like Sia and Coldplay among his main inspirations, Wil brings that boundary-blurring, East-meets-West dynamic to his American debut single “What Are We Waiting For.” With its lushly textured EDM and Wil’s impassioned vocal performance, the melody-powered track is both blissfully escapist and poignant in message. “The song’s meant to inspire people to stop waiting for what they want to come along,” Wil says. “It’s about living in the moment and doing what you feel.”
Making big-hearted pop songs comes second nature to Wil, who recalls his parents singing karaoke in their living room when he was a kid. “I remember my dad loving Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ and my mom always listening to Teresa Teng,” he says, referring to the Taiwanese pop singer known for her romantic ballads. “I’m sure that all affected my own music in some way.” At age 13, after performing in a school talent show, Wil decided to give singing and songwriting a shot. “I realized that when you sing, you can evoke a really powerful response from people,” he says. “I fell in love with the idea of getting up onstage and making people happy.”
Wil soon got a guitar and taught himself to play by ear, an approach he also took in learning to play his family’s piano. Once he’d come up with a few songs, he began self-recording with the help of GarageBand and online tutorials (which also guided him on soundproofing his bedroom studio). “I always really loved singing at three in morning, because it was so quiet and peaceful then — although maybe not so much for my parents and sisters,” he says with a laugh.
While studying journalism and business at Monash University in Melbourne, Wil took classes in classical singing and continued writing songs on his own. Then, during his last semester of college, he simultaneously attended the Musicians Institute to push his singing, songwriting, and producing to the next level. “Studying there was an amazing part of my journey,” he says. “I woke up every day loving what I do, and it really helped me understand why I want to make music. For me it’s all about connecting with people.”
With his studies at the Musicians Institute and college degree complete, Wil met his family in Madrid for a weeklong vacation. “I was feeling so sad about going back to Singapore, so our last evening there I took my guitar to Retiro Park and just played and sang out my emotions,” he says. While at the park, Wil caught the ear of a passerby who happened to have connections in the music industry. “He stopped and clapped for me and put me on the phone with his friend, who turned out to be a music-video producer,” Wil says. After accepting an invitation for a dinner party that night, Wil met up with the producer and performed one of his original songs. “When I was done singing they asked, ‘What do you think of making a music video?’ It was all so bizarre, but I really wanted to go for it,” he says. “So I said yes and stayed on, and we made the video for my first single, ‘HOLA.’”
With its sunny melody and breezy back-and-forth between English, Spanish, and Mandarin, “HOLA” appeared on Wil’s full-length debut WTF (a 2014 release from Warner Music Singapore). Soon after putting out the album — which won Best Pop Album Of The Year at the 2014 Hollywood F.A.M.E Awards — Wil headed to Los Angeles to make another video, and ended up crossing paths with Randy Jackson while visiting a downtown L.A. studio. Intrigued by his culture-blending musical vision, Jackson asked Wil to send him a few of his songs. Within weeks, Jackson had begun managing Wil, and the two quickly got working on “What Are We Waiting For.”
In August 2015, Jackson joined Wil on a trip to Singapore to watch him perform before a crowd of 40,000 at Sing50 (a musical celebration of Singapore’s golden jubilee). On the same trip, the two attended the 26th Golden Melody Awards (the Taiwanese equivalent of the Grammy Awards), affirming Wil’s role as a vital new force in uniting Eastern and Western music. “One of the things that most inspires me to make music is combining all these different elements from all the different parts of the world I’ve experienced,” Wil says. “It really shows that music isn’t limited by language or culture. The emotion and energy come through no matter what, and that ends up bringing all kinds of people together in such a powerful way.”