For 24-year-old YouTube sensation William Singe, singing is his remedy for overcoming heartaches. Born Liam Anthony Singe, the Australian-bred crooner has used his mesmerizing vocals to reel in millions of YouTube views through his popular covers of Drake‘s “Hotline Bling”, Zayn‘s “Pillowtalk” and Bryson Tiller‘s “Don’t.” Once Singe burgeoned into a full-fledged YouTube cover star, RCA Records took notice and offered him a deal last July.
Now, Singe is slowly segueing into an original artist. His first offering “Rush” is a lush, slow-burning track that finds the singer seeking a woman to be his safe haven in love. As he currently travels across the United States for his Changes Tour with his YouTube counterpart, Alex Aiono, Singe is aware of the hindrances that he faces. Not only is he hoping to remove the tag “YouTube sensation,” he wants to become a mainstream staple.
While in New York for his concert, Singe sat down with Billboard at the Playstation Theater to discuss his success as a YouTube cover star, signing with RCA Records and creating original music.
When did you first fall in love with music?
Since I was a little boy. I was raised by my father who was a singer, songwriter, guitarist and bass player. His brothers all did the same thing so I was kind of always raised around the music.
So your parents were definitely supportive of you jumping into the music game from the beginning?
It’s cool ’cause my parents are like a lot of people’s parents that are supportive of such a childish dream. Especially in Australia, it’s so hard to reach this level of superstardom. Not only my level, but this level of superstardom that you guys reach over here [in the United States]. To have some parents that stuck by me and pushed me through [was great]. They made me work hard for what I want. I was really blessed being in that family.
Was there a particular moment when you decided to pursue music full-time as a career?
I think I was about 14 or 15. I was always on my MacBook Pro and I just started recording and producing. So from that point on, it’s just been music. That was the only thing that I really put my time and effort into. Even in school, I used to get kicked out in every class except music. I was always at the top of my class in music.
Which skill came to you first: producing or songwriting?
Songwriting was definitely first. I started singing and then I was rapping then I went back to singing. As I was growing up, I just taught myself piano and guitar. And then, I just taught myself the program, like mixing. You can do a lot when your mind is that open as a kid. You just absorb everything like a sponge. It was just easier back then. It’s hard to do it now. As you get older, it’s hard to retain all that information.
What made you decide to switch back from rapping to singing?
I guess I was like, a lot of people can rap.
You can definitely rap. You’ve shown that side on a few of your covers.
Every now and then, but I’m more of an emotional person, as well. I like to sing R&B slow jams. It’s always been my thing. For me to go back into singing, it was like a no-brainer.
When you were younger, you auditioned for X-Factor in 2012. Talk about that whole experience.
It was a learning experience for me coming off those TV shows. No one really knows what’s going on in the background but we ended up getting signed for Sony. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and I just kind of wanted to do my own thing. I kind of had to break away from it and rebuild myself as a solo artist again.
How old were you when you signed with Sony?
I was about 19. I thought I had it all, man. You think that when you’re that young coming off a TV show, you signed a deal, and you think you’re going to be super famous, but that’s not how it is. You have to work. You always gotta work. You can’t rest on your laurels and I learned that. That was the best lesson I learned.
What made you decide to transition over to YouTube and perform covers?
I don’t know. I just started doing the covers and uploaded them just because I was bored. [Laughs] I was like, “Oh, this sounds kind of cool. This is my version of this song. Let’s put that out.” Then, it started getting traction and I was like, “Yo. People are starting to actually f–k with this.” I just got back on and started pushing content out every week.
Do you remember the first cover you recorded?
The first cover? Shit. I can’t remember, man. [Laughs]
You have an abundance of covers including Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t.” It would be hard to remember each and every one.
Yeah, I have a bunch of covers out there, but now I’m trying to focus more on the originals because I’m getting excited to start releasing that stuff and transitioning over from a cover artist to an original artist because I want people to know that I can hold my own in this industry, too.
What’s the biggest misconception you’ve dealt with about being dubbed a YouTube star?
It’s funny because a lot of artists will look at you and say, “Oh, this guy is just another cover artist. Like, whatever.” You kind of lose your credibility, but really, nah. I’ve been writing my own songs since I was 15. The reason I did the covers was because it helped me practice my mixing and producing skills, vocal techniques, everything. I can smash that out within a day, but for my originals, I like to take my time because I’m a perfectionist. It’s a little part of me and it needs to be genuine. I want it to be 50 times better than the covers are so it kind of annoys me when people just say, “You’re a cover artist.” But I’m an engineer, I produce my own stuff, I mix and master — I do it all, man.
What was the first original song you wrote?
Dang. I couldn’t even tell you. It was probably something wack. [Laughs] It would have been singing. I think it was a slow R&B joint called “Falling in Love.” I was like 15.
You have your first single titled “Rush.” How did the song come together?
“Rush” was crazy because we were just chilling at the studio house that RCA put me up in, where Bryson Tiller actually recorded Trapsoul. It was a crazy house with dope vibes. I needed to get some shit out there so we were just sitting around and then my manager Julian kind of threw the idea out. He said, “What do you think of this song?” He played “Crush” by Jennifer Paige and it was like a pop song but I was like, “Yo. This chorus? We can do something heavy with this.” So, from there, it was me, my manager Julian Petroulas and another guy called Sebastian. We started writing the song but we changed it from “Crush” to “Rush.” It’s actually quite like a personal song to me because if you read the lyrics, it gets a bit deep. We had this 17-year-old producer from France come over to the studio and we made him sit down with the production, as well. It was done within a couple of days and we got it off to mixing and mastering then we started shooting the video.
Take me back to the day you signed with RCA. What was going through your mind?
It started off stressful. It started off as the worst day for me — it was raining and everything. I was like It’s a bad omen but by the time I got into the office, everyone had good vibes. The sun came out and everything kind of fell into place. It was just like really a surreal moment for me. I think it was a surreal moment for just like Australians in general, because it’s so unheard of that we can come out here and just ink a deal with a record label. It’s hard.
You’re already dealing with the stigma of having to be a YouTube star. Now, you’re also an underdog because you’re transitioning from Australia to the States. What’s that kind of pressure like for you?
I’ll walk into places and tell people I sing R&B and they’re like, “You’re Australian, bro. You can’t do that.” I’m like, “What do you mean I can’t do that? Music is music, bro.” It’s whatever speaks to me so I think it’s cool coming over here and being Australian. It kind of sets me apart from everyone else — the accent, even the culture. The way people are back home is so different from the way people are here [in the U.S.]. People notice that my mannerisms are a lot different [compared] to Americans, as well, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I think it’s a good thing. If they put me as an underdog, I’m just gonna show them I’m not.
But, back home, you’re known like Drake. What’s it like walking down the streets?
Well, I don’t get to spend that much time back home anymore. When I go back home, everyone shows love. It’s crazy, man. It’s crazy to just come from your bedroom and just to be able to go to these shows now and just see 1,600 to 2,500 people just standing in front of you, waiting to hear you sing. It’s a blessing, honestly.
Which three would you choose as your favorite covers?
My top three would have to be “Talking Body” by Tove Lo. I don’t know why. I just think it was a really good song. “Pillowtalk” by Zayn. I really enjoyed that one because I made it like a slow jam, baby-maker. I did enjoy doing Migos‘ “Bad and Boujee.” It was sick. I love hip hop, bro. That’s my sh-t. If I can find a way to R&B out but still keep the swag, then it’s all good.
Jumping back into your original music, do you feel as if you’ll be able to toss in some raps here and there on your debut project?
For sure. I definitely think I could, but the thing is I stopped rapping with an American accent when I was like 18 to 19. I started rapping with an Australian accent so, if you’re gonna rap, I feel like you gotta be 100 percent true to your character because that’s what the whole game is about. I don’t know how Americans will take me rapping in a Australian accent. [Laughs]
A lot of fans often try to pit you against other YouTube stars like Alex Aiono and Conor Maynard. Talk about the constant comparisons you’ve heard, especially with you currently being on tour with Alex.
I just think it’s funny because we all come from the same cloth with the YouTube thing but it’s like comparing Trey Songz, Chris Brown, August Alsina and Bryson Tiller. They’re all in that game. We’re all in this game. We’re all going to get those comparisons but we just have to deal with it. We’re all friends, though. We all text each other all the time like, “Did you see that reaction cover? They said my video is terrible. How funny is that? They said you killed me.” [Laughs] But it’s all just fun and games for us, man. I just want to see them do as well as they can. I hope that they want to see me do as well as I can. That’s all I care about at the end.
Were you surprised to see the cover of Drake’s “Fake Love” go 25 million-plus on YouTube?
I was surprised at how big it was, but I wasn’t surprised about it doing well, though, because I watched the video. I was like, “The vibes are there, man.” [Alex and I] both vibing with each other. We’re working off each other energy wise. People are going to see that and they’re going to enjoy that. It was pretty crazy though.
Do you see yourself possibly saying goodbye to covers at one point in your career?
Definitely at a point but I still enjoy other people’s songs. If someone writes a good song and I’m feeling it, I might just have to. Like I said, music just speaks to you in a way and if it does, then I’ll just have to. But I do want the focus to start coming on my original music as I start to release more and more. The covers will kind of cut back a little back more. I think I’ll still be on it but at a point, there’ll be a time when I’m like, “Nah. It’s time to refocus on my stuff.”
When can fans expect your debut album?
Definitely before the middle of this year. I’ve just been literally working on singles, singles, singles. So, hopefully, I’ll get an EP out by the middle of this year and then we’ll see what happens down the line. It’s definitely gonna be me. I have a ratchet side. I have an emotional side. It’s everything in between. I’m excited. I just want people to kind of find out who I am through my music because I’m not the most outgoing person. I’m kind of timid in person but when I get on stage, I’m a different character.