In this interview, the singer-songwriter shares his personal journey of creating relatable songs that evoke powerful emotions, creating a sense of community among listeners, and making them feel a sense of connection and validation.
Here’s the thing about being a newbie in the industry: it’s a daunting experience. With all the great musicians coming before you—making history and making breakthroughs—it’s definitely difficult to establish your name in a crowded field with such fierce competition. Everyone wants to get everyone’s attention.
Aside from dealing with rejection and financial struggles that come in the initial stages, no one actually knows if you’re going to make it. There’s no promise of a light at the end of the tunnel—even if you put your heart, hopes, and dreams into it.
But Thomas Ng believes otherwise. If fame is the ultimate goal of music, isn’t that too superficial to encapsulate all the emotions, feelings, stories, and messages you want to convey? Though multifaceted and subjective, music is a powerful expression. Hence, beyond recognition, it should serve its purpose and meaning: to connect with people.
Connecting with Thomas Ng
Thomas Ng, a multitalented Boston-based singer-songwriter, is an emerging artist who has been gaining international attention because of his ‘Duet Me’ videos and soulful sentimental compositions on TikTok. Growing up in Hong Kong’s diverse and vibrant scene, the young artist developed a love for contemporary music, hip-hop, and a particular fascination with Michael Jackson’s music.
“I got really inspired by Michael Jackson. Well, I actually got to give credit to my mom because she saw that I can dance, so I got to be like Michael Jackson.” As an avid Michael Jackson fan, Thomas realized that in order to follow in the footsteps of the King of Pop, he had to learn how to sing.
Eventually, this childhood dream developed further into a certain kind of liking. Like many other teenagers, Thomas fell in love with a girl, and to potentially get himself a girlfriend, one way he thought of winning her heart was to serenade her. “So, I started picking the guitar and instruments and stuff like that. That’s how it started.”
Revolutionizing the Music Industry
With over 235K followers and millions of views on his renditions and R&B vocals on TikTok, Thomas Ng has become one of this generation’s up-and-coming stars. Growing up seeing the likes of Tori Kelly, AJ Rafael, Dave Choi, and other OG musicians on social media—doing English covers and eventually creating their content and production—inspired him to pursue music in a non-traditional way. “I grew up watching a lot of Asians do English covers. I’ve always wanted to do that. So, I started on Instagram and then moved to TikTok during the pandemic because I was really bored. With the fast-paced content and algorithm fit of TikTok, I felt that the music that comes my way is cool.”
By addressing the boredom he felt, Thomas Ng went viral with his ‘Duet Me’ series, which even captured the attention of celebrated American rapper, singer, and actress Lizzo. Social media platforms allowed Thomas to connect more with people and even collaborate and work with them. “I love hearing how people think and how they write. So, I really blew it through, like the tracks I produce, and then just kind of seeing how they would like to sing on top of it—piece over it.”
Setting the Tone, Dynamics, and Balance with Work and Life
Aside from music, other things that occupy Thomas’ feed include food, fashion, and many other interesting things. And he was a student too, back when he started his journey with music!
During the pandemic, he began tinkering around with TikTok as classes at his university, where he studied music, were held online. “So, I was always at home, and I always could, like, work on music and stuff. While [the situation] wasn’t great, that was a huge change for me because I was able to make content literally all the time. Like, simultaneously.”
Staying at home allowed Thomas to do what he likes to do without having to get distracted and move from one place to another. He even recalled having to make content for TikTok and stuff in between his classes.
But like many other artists who juggle work, passion, and studies, having that balance is rough. “Finding that balance was kind of hard [now that we’re meeting in person again]. But it’s just like every time I had free time, I would always try to get things done as soon as possible.”
While it’s true that hustling through his studies and passion is quite challenging, Thomas finds the support of his friends and family truly helpful. Despite having his family in Hong Kong and him staying in Boston, Thomas knows that he has been dearly supported since day one. “They are very happy for me, and I learned a lot of new things. They are curious about my experiences and stuff too, and I’m grateful for them.”
Developing His Music
With so many musicians aiming to hit the charts, Thomas prefers to offer a more soulful kind of treat to his followers and fellow music lovers. Knowing music’s ability to affect emotions and its capacity to heal invisible scars from battles secretly fought, he wants to make his songs more relatable to people.
“Basically, we make music for other people that are not able to express their emotions. Like an outlet. Because I feel like words can’t really describe everything. And sometimes, music can describe even without words. You can hear it. There’s a wider spectrum of emotions at different tempos and different styles.” This is the kind of boundary that Thomas would want to come through with the future of music.
Despite the demand of mainstream audiences for what is trending, Thomas remains faithful to his goal of delivering quality music that is pure and raw—one that deliberately comes from the heart. Doing this not only caters to what people want to hear but also allows him to become more creative in conveying his intentions.
Sure, there are times when he gets conflicted, particularly now that he is already building his name, but Thomas hopes to strike a balance at all times. “Of course, there have been moments—a lot of moments—of conflict. And I feel like every artist who tries to make this their career will have this moment of conflict. But I think I’m beginning to try to strike a balance between the two.”
Being a Gen-Z Artist
Producing music with the internet offers an unprecedented level of creative freedom and control, which were not openly made available to musicians back then. Now, artists like Thomas are fortunate to better connect with followers, particularly on TikTok, and even collaborate with other artists and songwriters.
Establishing connections with people on this scale even made Thomas more comfortable with the industry, now that he has found people who are genuinely interested in the things that he does. However, he also admits that he entertains the other side of the coin too. “I feel like the most challenging part, other than the business side, which is like marketing, is developing your sound and really finding yourself. Everyone needs to take their time with it. The biggest challenge for me is finding that sound, being able to sell that sound, and being able to find people who connect with me on that basis.”
Nonetheless, as someone who creates music to convey his thoughts and feelings, Thomas acknowledges that in one way or another, as people living on the same planet, we all have a kind of similarity. The song or lyrics need not be totally relatable, but the overall feel can still get through to people at a certain level. “That’s why I always start with me. It’s always me. Then, I just kind of think about everyone else afterward.”
Navigating Through the Difficulties of the Music Industry
For someone so young, Thomas has already reconciled that everyone has their own perspective on things. Instead of sulking in frustration, he welcomes criticism, knowing that an outside-kind of point of view will help him grow. “Sometimes, if I do a post and there’s like a little too much autotune, I get comments like ‘too much autotune,’ and I see that as ‘Oh, okay. I got you!’”
Thomas openly welcomes criticism, particularly from those whom he truly trusts, be it in music or not. This is a way of gauging them as a person. These kinds of relationships also help Thomas stay inspired to make songs, as there are times when he gets lyrics, situations, and feelings from the people he interacts with or from events that recently happened to him or the people around him.
In one of his songs, Thomas delves into the hardships and suffering of his friend, who struggled with mental health and even relied on medication to pacify his gnawing thoughts. “I just wrote the song because it’s like me saying that someday, we can be in a position where you won’t ever need it again.”
As Thomas puts it: “Everybody dreams of seeing [or creating content], but it’s not easy to put yourself out there.” Truly, pursuing one’s passion is sweet. But it takes a brave heart to hurdle through the difficulties because now you are in a position where you are already a public personality.
Most recently, Thomas dropped his newest track, Heart on Fire, a very vulnerable song about being in a “situation-ship”—of wanting to let go but holding still. “It’s like your heart has too much adrenaline, burning with passion despite being in an unrequited love situation. There’s a pain to it. Kind of hurts.”
In this age of complicated relationships, Thomas wants to bridge the gap by probing through those undiscussed emotions and pushing the boundaries of what Asian artists like him can do and offer to the music industry. Though a new breed, Gen-Z artists like him can bring a fresh perspective and energy into the entertainment business, thereby helping shape the ever-evolving landscape of society and influencing a generation that is more connected to themselves and the people around them, as strengthened by innovation and technology.
Assisted & coordinated by Mary Jane Manglicmot, Niccole Mendoza
Shot on location at In the Studio SG