You probably won’t meet anyone more fashionably flamboyant than Malaysian-born artist Dyan Tai. Currently residing in Sydney, Dyan makes extremely danceable pop that sounds like what you’d get if the music of Carly Rae Jepsen and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu came together to make an ardently LGBTQ-positive baby. As one of the few Malaysian-born artists who is out, proud, and making music about his experiences, we sat down with him fresh out of Pride Month to find out just what makes him tick.
Cover Photo Samuel Hilton.
So, who exactly is Dyan Tai?
I’m a singer-songwriter, producer and DJ based in Sydney. People might recognize my sparkly disco ball keytar, colourful outfits and big hair…and the spongebob tattoo on my left arm.
You grew up in Malaysia and later moved to Australia to further your musical career. When and how did you get into making music?
I grew up listening to a lot of pop and R&B e.g. Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, TLC but at the same time, I was classically trained as a pianist and violinist. I actually finished all my grades with Distinctions!
Eventually I started writing and producing pop music and in the last few years also found myself DJing on the side.
What was the reason for your move to Australia? Did it have anything to do with your strong identification as an LGBT individual (and Malaysia’s socio-political climate not being able to foster that identity)? Or was it purely for the music?
Back in the day, I actually moved for uni. I have an Honours degree in Science. But you’re absolutely right – as a child, I have always wanted and looked for opportunities outside Malaysia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Malaysia and I am very proud of my background and my upbringing. But before we even talk about LGBTQI rights and equality, as a young boy growing up in a conservative environment, I wanted the opportunity to express myself as an artist. I wanted to present myself creatively and have my opinions and music heard.
Your music seems inextricably connected to issues of sexuality, and you’re an artiste who’s clearly LGBT and proud of it. Would you say that this confidence is what defines your music, or are there other things that drive you too?
As an artist, my music has always been a creative outlet for me. It makes me very happy, keeps me sane and motivated but at the same time it also creates a lot of anxiety, fear and disappointment. What drives me as an artist are the feelings and emotions that I would experience at a certain point in my life. I have written about dating and meeting people through apps (‘Digital Kiss’), regret and depression (‘Time Machine’) and recently about our obsession with instant fame on social media and numbers (‘100K Fans’).
Have you encountered any prejudice against you for being out and proud? If you have, how do you deal with bigotry?
As a queer artist, yes I definitely think that there are some limitations to the type of audience that would listen to me or even pay attention to anything I release. I hate to say this but when you’re a POC (person of colour) and queer in an industry that is predominantly white, it makes things even more challenging. I used to really doubt myself. It made me very uncomfortable to share my music (which is something so personal to me). I was afraid to even apply for gigs. I wasn’t completely out and wasn’t ready to own who I am today.
I remember when I was on The X Factor back in 2014… I met one of Redfoo’s stylists from LA. He was an out and proud, and super talented gay black man who designed a lot of LMFAO’s looks. I was really inspired by his story and that’s when I told myself, let’s be real here… you’re not a skinny white boy with blonde hair and blue eyes. You’re not a bearded hipster and you will never be that type of performer, write that type of music, or cater to that audience. So I blinged up my keytar and developed an identity for myself as a performer. I’ve been trying to do things my way and find a place for myself in the industry since then. It is very competitive and challenging but at the same time, it’s such a rewarding experience and it allows me to stay creative and be who I am as an artist.
Who are your biggest influences in music? Give us some good tune recommendations!
As a DJ, you can’t go wrong with 90’s RnB and pop! That was my jam growing up in Malaysia. Apart from that, I actually really dig Gaga’s Joanne album though it has received mixed reviews. I also love female rappers – M.I.A., Lady Leshurr and of course Nicki Minaj. She’s the queen.
As someone who’s insanely fashionable, do you have any style tips for your fans and our readers?
Firstly, if you only shop designer, STOP RIGHT NOW. Check out your local designers, pop up shops, go visit an op shop near you, look at clothes online! Secondly, I always pair a crazy top (with bright bold colours) with something simple like black skinny jeans. Or you could go crazy with your pants but stick to a simple, white or grey top. Always have a good bottle of hair spray and BB cream. Last but not least, cleanse, tone, moisturise and use a good sunscreen every day.
It’s great to see a whole lot of body positivity in your music videos, especially the one for ‘Digital Kiss’. What other social justice issues, besides this and LGBT rights, are close to your heart?
I have lived in Sydney for over 10 years now… Sydney is such a great city and I am proud to be part of such a diverse community with different nationalities and backgrounds (which is very important for me as a POC artist to represent in my work). You do meet interesting (and very attractive) people all the time!
However, there is an increasing number of people in the population (including myself) who are happily single, secure and totally cool about it! I have written a couple of songs about dating and focusing on self-love and self-care and I’m hoping to record and release them by year end.
What’s an intriguing fact about you that not many people know, but should?
D I have a tattoo of Spongebob and Patrick getting married on my left arm… that’s my interpretation of same sex marriage and equal rights in a cute animated way. I also have cat astronaut (I call her a cat-stronaut) on my right arm.
Have you played any live shows? If you have, what are they like? And do you have any plans to perform in Malaysia?
I am currently a resident performer at Stonewall Hotel, which is one of the most iconic gay venues in Sydney. I produce live shows where I dress up as iconic pop stars and sing and play the keytar. I have done a couple of gigs in Malaysia… my last one at Pisco Bar. Hopefully I’ll be back very soon!