You will melt the second alextbh begins singing on "Moments," a sultry R&B groove that opens the queer Malaysian pop artist's debut EP, The Chase. He slowly eases between low and high notes, luring you in with lyrics that weaponize all the same empty promises he's been told by former lovers. "The things uttered by the people who have hurt me in the past, I now use against the people I want sleep with," alextbh admits in a track-by-track breakdown of the EP.
This is the first taste of alextbh's overarching six-track exploration on The Chase, much of which is entirely self-written and self-produced. He explains that it "attempts to question the current norms of hookup culture and what it entails, and what it really means to insert yourself in this space and figuring out if there's a better way to navigate around it."
The title track arrives with a visual that alextbh says portrays "the moments after a casual hookup — melancholy scenes of the outside world juxtaposed with flashbacks of the experience veiled in feelings of disgust, like 'Why did I do that?'" In the song, he lyrically refers to the memory as a "another transaction" and, ultimately, a "sign of the times," explaining in the track-by-track that "a lot of queer people go through this persistent detachment in relationships."
Back in December 2019, alextbh first teased The Chase EP with "superstore," an acoustic bop with finger snaps that builds into a comforting, sunny chorus: "I'm never going to hurt you, babe [...] Let's make this promise, babe." Named after a gay club in London, it's a deceiving introduction to the project, which willingly delves into hurt, but in many ways a needed relief. "There can still be symbiosis between two individuals without resorting to being dishonest or ambiguous," alextbh says.
Hookup culture — especially in today's extremely disconnected, online environment — can be disorienting and unfulfilling. But for alextbh, creating The Chase allowed him to arrive at a feeling of contentment. "Maybe that's my resolution," he suggests in the track-by-track. "No need to chase something so perpetually unattainable." He continues, "I'm not here to demonize hookup culture. I think that's really myopic. Our generation has redefined what love and courtship means, and I think that's beautiful."
In an interview with PAPER, alextbh unravels The Chase EP even further:
What is it exactly that you're chasing?
This EP came from a place of emptiness. I went through countless heartbreaks and built my walls up in retaliation. I felt invincible trying to reclaim my power in the beginning — like, "Wow, okay this is how it feels like to be the other guy." I've overpromised in many casual relationships that I could care less about. I feel embarrassed to admit it, but yeah, I was becoming the fuckboy that I was conspiring against for a good part of my life. This EP serves as a reflection of that. Things were turning ugly and I had no choice but to put a mirror in front of myself and take a good look at who I had become.
And in the process of writing it, my walls became more and more porous. Like, I really wanted genuine affection. Isn't that what I wanted all along? Why do I have to resort to hurting other people? It's like I deliberately choose to take the path of destruction each time, not thinking about the consequences that I may face in the long run. Starting from my past relationships, where I'd cling on to someone who gives me the slightest bit of attention, to chickening out and ghosting people now. So yeah, I'm tired of chasing this unattainable idea of my perfect self — the perfect guy in a perfect relationship. I tried to bend reality to fit my narrative and look where that dumb shit got me.
How does this project differ from your past work?
alextbh started off with this whole "boohoo, he's a sadboi" schtick, but I grew out of it — maybe not for the better, but I definitely grew out of it. I spent a good amount of my career writing songs to beg and plead my way to be loved and that didn't work. Then I was like, "Time to fuck shit up!" And here we are. I look back at my work chronologically and see a boy that's just trying to take up space and navigate around life. I'm definitely still figuring it all out. Right now, I'm sitting comfortably in the "I don't know what I want, but I'm fine with it" domain. Maybe that'll change tomorrow, or next year. I don't know what the future holds.
"I was becoming the fuckboy that I was conspiring against for a good part of my life."
How are you dealing with quarantine?
I don't really know how, tbh. I'm not the kind of guy that has an ethos or mantra to stick to. I don't do any of that "breathe in breathe out" bullshit. I sort of just float around. It was difficult trying to calm my emotional roller coaster in the beginning of lockdown. One day I'd wake up feeling optimistic and the next I'd be running out of clean clothes to wear. And then things sort of plateaued fairly quickly. Like, I'm totally fine with a 5/10 kind of day. I'm content with the way things are. I try not to collapse in on myself, but if I do, I just let it be. I realize that's the quickest way I can escape the void and get back to work. That's when I'm creatively at my best, too. It's definitely a learning experience for me. 2019 me constantly travels around for work, and that's my definition of "busy." I don't "feel busy" these days, even when work is starting to mount. Work feels therapeutic now.
What main message do you hope listeners will get from The Chase?
To be content. I went from wanting to love someone, to loving the idea of someone, to not knowing what love means, to healing so I can love again. The Chase is a reminder that everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days, everybody knows what I'm talkin 'bout, everybody gets that way... something like that.
Stream alextbh's The Chase EP, below, and follow him on Instagram (@alex.tbh).