Over a Zoom video call one afternoon in November, Aisyah Aziz, the Malay singer-songwriter, speaks to me from within her home. What struck me instantly was her casual, confident disposition, perfectly set off by her head of bold, vivid yellow hair cropped into a pixie cut. In a loose, white T-shirt, she is snacking on a pack of roasted almonds. Her face, devoid of the graphic, daring makeup looks she often wears in public, is dominated by wide, round eyes, softly angular cheekbones and a pointy chin. Her speech is laden with Singaporean colloquialism and often ends in laughter, conveying a sense that the 26-year-old doesn’t take herself too seriously; one is instantly put at ease by her relaxed presence.
Another notable trait of Aisyah is how she likes to answer almost exclusively through anecdotes. She recounts instances to me as though she’s thinking out loud, her self-referential responses — “And I was like… And she was like…” — marked by a spontaneity in word choice and in her animated facial expressions.
This hyper-candidness might lull one to imagine that her career as a musician, which she embarked on at age 19, has been an easy course.
She was teaching me how to speak, which was funny… So, at 24, I was learning how to speak.
In 2015, Aisyah launched her professional music career in Malaysia after finishing sixth in the Malaysian reality singing competition Akademi Fantasia. Her most loyal fans know her for her vocal skill in Malay pop, a recognition she still acknowledges now, saying, “I know that I sing better in Malay.” It would be two years later that her sultry voice, which tends to trail off in an idiosyncratic rapid vibrato, would receive critical acclaim on a regional stage. She bagged three awards at the 2017 Anugerah Planet Muzik (APM) awards: Best Collaboration for the independently released track “Tanda Tanya”; Best Singapore Song and Best APM Song for her duet with the Malaysian singer Haikal Ali, “Senyum Saja.” In the same year, she won the award for Singapore’s Best Asian Artist at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, where she also performed live.
In February this year, Aisyah released a live EP in English, titled “Sugar,” with a full live performance video hosted on YouTube. Within a dimly-lit studio, she sings five tracks that register a sensual, mature sensibility. In the title track “Sugar,” she is the mistress to a lover who must leave to go to his family by daylight. Atop a round, red velvet carpet, she kneels, sits and stands, moving freely throughout, laying down her heart with her long, wavy hair undone.
This is not the same Aisyah who was ridden with anxiety over two years ago. Aisyah didn’t seek professional treatment for her mental health then, even though her speech therapist had suggested it. “If my anxiety was stopping me from singing, then my anxiety had to go. It was that easy,” she says. “I did not choose anxiety over music; I just didn’t know that it was anxiety.” She identified her triggers and worked backwards on her own and with the help of people around her. “Almost immediately after that, two, three weeks later, I did a two-night show,” she says. “From not being able to sing for 15 seconds, to doing two nights.”
If my anxiety was stopping me from singing, then my anxiety had to go. It was that easy.
The Aisyah who sits before me that afternoon in November has certainly found confidence in her own skin. “I think every instance in my life, from then till now, has shaped me in some kind of way, big or small,” she says. She has gone through a lot: a transformative yet perplexing time in Malaysia — “a lot of the times when I was in Malaysia, I don’t think I was in a clear headspace, or in a space where I knew what I wanted to do,” she tells me; her first commercial breakthrough in the region; the fraught transitional phase that came with her return to Singapore. And now, on to the present — Aisyah is just getting started, and deems herself a “late bloomer who is still very wide-eyed and learning.”
Photographs by Stefan Khoo
Creative direction by Jack Wang
Styling by Jenine Oh
Subjects (clockwise from top left): Benjamin Kheng, Yung Raja, Tabitha Nauser, Aisyah Aziz and Jasmine Sokko.
(Benjamin Kheng and Yung Raja) Grooming: Sha Shamsi using Dior Makeup and Hanz de Fuko.
(Tabitha Nauser) Hair: Den Ng using L’Oréal Professionniel, Makeup: Fiona Bennett using Fenty Beauty.
(Aisyah Aziz) Hair and Makeup: Manisa Tan using Dior Makeup and Keune.
(Jasmine Sokko) Hair: Samuel Sim at Hairloom, Makeup: Larry Yeo using Charlotte Tilbury.
Manicure: Rebecca Chuang at Fluttery Tips.