International pop star Wils loses his record deal for being gay, starts over with ‘Empty’

In 28 states in the U.S., LGBTQ people can be fired for who they are. Transgender Americans face this threat in even more states. And, in fact, all around the world LGBTQ people are at risk of employment discrimination - a very pertinent issue that prevents LGBTQ people from achieving full equality.

Wils, an out gay pop artist now living in Los Angeles, had been performing to tens of thousands of people per concert while he was signed to a major Singaporean record label. When he told the record label he wanted to come out as gay though, they deleted his social media channels and, effectively, ended his career when by dropping him as a client and erasing his fan base. 

Now, Wils is starting over as an independent artist in the U.S. He welcomes the challenge - and the newfound anonymity that’s come with it - of rebuilding his career and sharing his story so that other LGBTQ people can be inspired to persevere.

GLAAD spoke with Wils about his new single, “Empty,” overcoming employment discrimination, and finding love (or, at least, trying to). Check out our conversation, below:

Tell us a bit about your story coming out as a gay man in Singapore, being let go from your former music label, and rebuilding your career in Los Angeles?

Wils (3)As I‌ grew up, I‌ felt so lost. I‌ loved my family so much, but I‌ couldn’t share the most important part of me with them. I‌ was terrified of letting them know I’m gay because I‌ was worried that they’d stop loving me for who I‌ am. I‌ didn’t know who to turn to. I‌ felt like I‌ couldn’t be overly affectionate or expressive or have too much fun because it would reveal my identity. I spent so much time worrying about my sexuality and people discovering it because I didn’t want them to stop loving me.

I‌ was let go from my previous label after I‌ came out to them. They removed my social media before I‌ could let my fans know. I was really upset because I‌ wished that we could have made a difference to many other’s lives, especially when, in many parts of Asia, being gay is still not widely accepted.

Rebuilding my career in Los Angeles feels like I am starting from zero again.‌‌ No one knows me here. I went from having performed in front of 40,000 people to audiences of 15 people. But it isn’t the number of audiences that I perform to that counts. If my song touches one person’s heart and changes their life for the better, that’s what matters.

Your new track, “Empty," tackles the loneliness of hookup culture. Why did you want to explore that topic? 

Sometimes we feel the need for a deeper connection beyond just the physical body, you know? It’s easy to get a spark, but it’s hard to keep a flame.‌‌ Sometimes, you just wish to get to know someone better. There’d be times when you have a deep connection in a hookup, and you’d wish for that to last. It sucks that ghosting has become quite a norm, too. It's awkward when you see someone you’ve hooked up with, but they won't even make eye contact with you in public.

In the U.S., more than half of LGBTQ Americans live in states where they can still be fired for being who they are. Why is it important for you to speak out about how this sort of discrimination in the workplace still exists around the world?
I‌ believe that anyone, regardless of their sexuality, deserves a chance to excel in their workplace. In Asia, workplace discrimination based on sexuality is still not widely discussed. In reality, people are getting fired because of their sexuality. And these people just want to perform their best. Like anyone, they deserve to be rewarded based on how well they do.

It’s important for me to speak about this sort of workplace discrimination so that this issue is brought to light. It is very difficult for anyone to have to hide their identity to protect themselves from getting fired. It’s like living a double life and that’s super hard. Your work life is ultimately part of your life. If you feel comfortable and safe in your workplace, you’d perform so much better instead of worrying about having to be fired because of who you are.

What advice do you have for someone who’s been fired for being part of the LGBTQ community?
Firstly… what a mother-flying-piece-of-jerky, whoever did that to you. You belong in a workplace that will embrace you for who you are, where you can excel. Go, honey, and flourish in an environment that deserves you. Don’t look back.

What support systems have gotten you through having to rebuild your career and fanbase, and also through navigating that “empty” loneliness of trying to find love?
DJ Ben Harvey! if it wasn’t for you, my voice wouldn’t have been heard to make a positive difference for us. Thank you for listening to me amidst your busy schedule. Thank you AWAL (A World Artists Love) for giving me and Independent artists the platform to share our music with the world.

My friends are the poke-fun, silly sort. Sometimes a 1 am, 1-on-1 catch-up beer is necessary. We’d be the ones falling off stools from laughing. We talk about how we’ll never get used to rejections. Having real talks with friends makes it so easy to just be. There’s just no bullshit and we go straight to the point about how we feel. We laugh. We can relate to how it can be hard to find a date that lasts these days.

Wils (2)

What’s changed about your music and also about you as an artist since you came out as gay?
LA‌ and NYC’s music scenes are getting me into more synth, EDM, and futuristic sounds, for sure. Artistically, I‌ feel like I've explored so many new areas that add spice to my music. I can express anything I‌ feel and there’s no more holding back.

Do you think celebrities have the power to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance? And do you think they have any sort of responsibility to do so?
Of course! Celebrities could help shape the way people think with their voices and influence. Yes, I‌ think every celebrity has the responsibility to make a positive difference with their voice, if they can. A sentence from them can help positively change someone’s life forever.

What’s are your ultimate goals for your life and music career now? Where do you hope it goes from here?
My ultimate goal for my life is to empower people to be truthful to themselves and find joy in the littlest things in life.

My goal for my music career is to bring so much joy and happiness to people with music. Building a community for people to feel loved, connected, and bonded. Making Asia a more inclusive continent for our LGBT‌QIA‌ friends. Asking Elton John and Ellen Degeneres to sit for a cup of boba with my Asian Mom and Dad. I‌ hope my parents will be proud of me for the decision I‌ made to come out to make a difference for others.

I hope that I’ll get to meet a kickass manager and record label that believe in my vision to foster a positive change in culture, to find joy, to bring smiles to other people, and to always remember that the difference between a sad moment and a happy one is just one more little thought away.

Follow Wils on Instagram, here.