Beat Of Their Song
ELLE Singapore|November 2021
They say musicians are a different breed, and we concur. The best songs that are put on repeat are the ones that are written from the heart, and five local singer-songwriters share their journey with music, and how life experiences — be it heartbreaks or gender identity — have shaped the way they approach their croons
Chelsea Tang

ESTELLE LIM, 29

On never losing sight of her goals

She grew up in an age when people still listened to music on radios. During car rides, Lim’s parents would put on disco music, and when she turned five, she’d already performed multiple carsingalong acts — to the likes of the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. The idea of performing, on stage, in front of an audience while singing her lungs out thrilled her. “I would be singing out loud in the car and my folks would just let me,” she says. “Even as a kid, I always knew I wanted to sing professionally one day.”

It’s a childhood dream that bears a resemblance to that played out in American teen sitcom Hannah Montana, which sees teenage girl Miley Stewart/ Hannah Montana (played by Miley Cyrus) living a double life as a student and a famous pop singer. Not surprisingly, Lim did indeed love the Disney Channel production; her musical endeavours were heavily influenced by television, her music-loving parents, as well as her voracious appetite for radio.

Known best by her internet moniker Estelle Fly (a name she signed up with for Facebook then), Lim’s songwriting journey began in secondary school, when she started writing toplines (the melody of a song) and lyrics off the top of her head. “Nothing materialised as I didn’t know how to [back then], but I was always singing to myself along school hallways, or whenever I was alone,” she says. Of course, this was during the mid-2000s, when the realm of record-and-upload on social media had not come into existence yet.

Her passion took her on an unconventional journey into the world of music as she sought to find footing in the industry. At the age of 18, Lim — who also has a strong dance background — debuted as a member of Singapore’s first anime idol group, MYnT, which quietly disbanded the same year. She then went on to become a part of Sea*A, a Singapore-Malaysian Japanese idol group, which focussed on producing anime music. Under HoriPro, one of Japan’s largest talent agencies and independent music publishers, the group released four singles, one mini-album, and a full album. Her illustrious Sea*A stint would last till 2013, when the members parted ways.

“I really wanted to try writing my own songs, and actually try pop and R&B music locally in Singapore,” she confesses. “Half the time I didn’t know how or what I was doing, but the idea of knowing [that staying true to my passion] would eventually lead me somewhere definitely kept me going.”

In 2018, her debut single Blue was released. A smooth, groovy piece of bubblegum pop about unrequited love, it is laced with honeyed vocals and is hummed even years after. “This song was about being with someone you genuinely messed your chances with, and how although you’ll always be willing to give [the relationship] another shot, deep down you know you don’t deserve that second chance,” Lim says.

Most, if not all of her songs are written about love, like Just Friends, Get To Me, and Strangers in Passing. Lim’s songs — and songwriting — are what she sees as “an odd way” of verbalising [her] experiences with discovering what love really is like. “Love is a force that’s so powerful,” she says. “No one can truly say they’ve experienced it the exact same way as someone else; it challenges the morals and values you thought you held.”

Her most popular single to date is Love Like This, which dropped in 2019, and has amassed close to 500,000 streams on Spotify. The lyrics tell of a toxic relationship which develops into an unhealthy obsession. “You’re consumed by your own need to be loved by someone, to the point where you’ll hurt yourself in the process,” Lim says. The catchy tune quickly caught on and established her as a local musical talent that is a force to be reckoned with.

If a listening party of Lim’s songs makes one want to do the shoulder groove, or get on their feet to dance, that’s probably the effect the singer was going for. “I wanted to sing and perform songs that made me want to dance, so I hope whoever listens to my songs would want to dance to them as well,” she shares. With 11 years of experience in the scene (she turns 29 in December), Lim is not slowing down. She strives to be as multi-faceted a musician as possible — like her musical role model IU, who sings, writes, produces her own songs and acts. “Her songs always tell a story, and the texture and emotion in her voice just resonates with listeners in a special way,” she adds.

To that end, Lim is steadfastly following in those giant footsteps — she has her second acting gig in a local English drama that’s to be released in the near future, and is working hard towards checking off her bucket list goal of producing a track for a game or an animated show. “Call it an eyebrow-raising goal if you’d like,” she laughs, “But I really do love games and animated cartoons, so it’ll be a dream to achieve something like that one day.”

LIN YING

On always being authentic and true

How many eight-year-olds can claim that they’ve written poetic eulogies for their dead hamsters? Lin Ying can safely put her hand up.

Written in an alternative rhyme format (which probably came naturally for the then tween), plastered with classic gradient rainbow Microsoft Word Art, and inked on printer paper — Pearly My Precious Hamster and Fabulous Furry were possibly the earliest poems that Lin could remember writing. “I didn’t put much thought to it till recently, I think that [these poems] really might have been the root of all my songwriting,” she says.

Singing and songwriting naturally converged when she picked up singing as a teenager, as American Idol episodes started airing on Singapore television. Coupled with her piano background — “I’ve been playing since before I could remember,” Lin quips — these things began fitting together like puzzle pieces, in a way that was so natural it seemed like it was meant to happen.

“It became a sort of mechanism for me to process and preserve all the things I feel and experience,” she adds. That’s always been the main motivation behind her future music endeavours, and even for a genius songwriter like herself, Lin confesses she wasn’t always able to put a finger on these exact words. “I see singing, songwriting, and music as entities that aren’t just necessary to my existence, but also something I find great joy and fulfilment in.”

Many would know of her first video on YouTube to be a cover of Blood Bank by indie folk band Bon Iver, and was uploaded in 2014. Seated in a dimlylit room, peacefully singing into a mic, Lin’s initiation to online exposure — its pretty and ugly sides — began even earlier than that. At 16 (that’s in 2010), she’d posted a cover of Bruno Mars’ Grenade, and remembered receiving her first ever hate comment. “It was something like, ‘Wow, your eyes are so weird when you sing, you remind me of a ghost I saw in my nightmare climbing through my window’,” she shares. “I learned early on how mean people can be online.”

That video’s not up on the site anymore, taken down to make way for Lin’s greater milestones. There was no denying her clean, angelic voice; her identity was tied a lot more to her music than her physical appearance. She doesn’t “lose sleep” over superficial critiques — but takes an entirely different stance when her music is concerned. The truest parts of herself are in her songs, she says, noting how hard it is not to take it personally if someone whose opinion she respected “wrote a detailed essay as to why they felt my music was derivative, or dishonest, or unfaithful, or pretentious”. “[I’d spend] a couple of days paralysed in bed, probably,” she adds.

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