Underrated and Overly Relatable

There’s a general consensus among polite society that more often than not it is better not to meet your idols in real life. 

With countless horror stories of rude, and often ill-timed, celebrity encounters, I’d be inclined to agree. However, I’d be wrong on many counts to disregard multiple success stories of lucky fans who met their favorite singers, actors, influencers and idols in real life — myself included. 

You see, when I was a clueless freshman trying to navigate the big, bad campus town that is Michigan State University, I didn’t exactly expect to meet one of the YouTube starlets I’d been following for years (technically only 2 years, but that still counts as multiple years doesn’t it?) With my comically bad sense of direction, it was quite a wonder how my path led to an impromptu meet-and-greet. Yet, with little less than a week’s notice, multiple internal pep-talks about acting normal and a last minute push from my friend — the moment arrived. Now the casual reader might be questioning ‘where is this rambly nerd going with this?’ and I promise, this will make sense in due time. 

As the stress of finals slowly fades from our collective conscience, we now approach Black History Month’s lesser known, often overlooked cousin: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). Originally just a single week designated by Congress, the entirety of the month of May is dedicated to celebrating the culture, heritage, struggles and triumphs of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community. 

While it is true that the APIDA community has a long way to go in terms of representation, there are still many new, up-and-coming Asian-American artists pushing boundaries and making headway into traditionally underrepresented spaces — one such artist is Will Jay.

Despite being a rare, hidden gem from the mainstream music tastes, the singer-songwriter has been consistently releasing music since 2014 — all of which are conveniently available on Spotify and SoundCloud. His smooth voice, reminiscent of the likes of Fred Astaire or Frank Sinatra, takes listeners back in time with his eponymous debut EP from 2016. Although his more recent releases have taken a more modern shift in genre, there is still the same consistently stable vocals and clear influence of music from a past age. Maybe I’m a tad biased, that might just be the starstruck freshman in me talking. 

Normally I’d try and preserve my last shreds of dignity and say it was a meeting of equals,  two performers with mutual respect. But let’s just be honest —the experience was horribly awkward. What was some random singer from LA doing in mediocre, pot-hole-ridden East Lansing on a blustery November weekend? Attending a conference apparently. Sorry, I should clarify, it was the annual Midwestern Asian American Student Union (MAASU) Leadership Summit and our very own MSU had the grand honor of hosting. As one of the attendees and average Joe with two left feet, I had the grand misfortune of performing. After spending a day rather cluelessly wandering for seminar to information session, the evening wound down with performances from both student groups (shoutout to CTRL+A, and RIP me) as well as some rather reputable guests invited by the conference organizers. One of these performers was Will Jay.

Honestly, at first glance, one might have mistaken him for a student who accidentally walked in — while neatly dressed and well groomed, he looked like one of us clad in a simple jean jacket and a pair of Timbs. What made this guy so special? Was it his impeccable manners, when he patiently endured a long line of fans waiting for pictures despite the fact that his flight was later that evening? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just the fact that he sang about things every single person in the room could relate to? At least as much as a bunch of broke, tired college students can relate to a successful singer who never went to college. Armed with only an electric keyboard, he left the conference room spellbound as he performed, not only his original discography, but also covers of popular songs and some of the upcoming music he had in the works for the coming year. 

As part of the APIDA community many of us live a hyphenated life — not quite belonging to either category of Asian or American. However, the strange hybridization of both worlds breeds a subculture where a third category opens up, and regardless of where in Asia one might be from, the shared experiences of being the child of immigrants is relatable to all involved. 

Songs like ‘I Can Only Write My Name’ by Will Jay touch on these shared experiences —of being fundamentally other. And, I suppose, everyone was a little in their feels already after sitting through a days worth of seminars on what it means to be Asian-American and the impact of our community. While there are many themes in his discography that touch on the unique experiences of the Asian-American community, what makes Will Jay’s music so appealing to a wider audience is the fact that most of his songs are about the more innocuous details of the human experience.

In his array of singles and collabs, Will Jay has a song for everything. There are songs for those in love like ‘Gentleman’ and ‘Gangsta’ that do a wonderful job of subverting stereotypes about toxic masculinity while simultaneously reminiscing about old-school chivalry and a simpler, more innocent kind of love. There are songs for those who are seriously single such as ‘Never Been In Love’ that manage to make romantic late-bloomers less self-conscious and more self-positive. He has songs for the blah moments of the fan experience like “One of Many” and even amusing satirical songs like “Anti-Social Media.” There are even songs about the annoying green monster in all of us like “Must Be Nice” and about  the melancholy of leaving one’s childhood behind like “Homesick.” The sense of raw vulnerability in every song lends a sense of honesty, and dare I say intimacy, to the music Will Jay makes. 

Even when the singer confesses to not being perfectly honest in the material of his previous works, the genuine feeling of imposter syndrome painted by the song “Lies” makes him all the more relatable and endearing to the audience. 

While it may be hard to believe that we’re already halfway through Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s also nice to be reminded of artists, activists  and average people that define what this month really stands for. With small steps, Asian-American artists work to make strides in an industry where they deserve to be seen. Hopefully there comes a day in the future when what we perceive as mainstream is a little bit more colorful  and a little bit more diverse. And just maybe our new chivalrous leading man will be someone like Will Jay.