Homegrown singer-songwriter Beth Yap aka Bittymacbeth is not your typical pop star.
Talented, honest and fiercely independent, this young trailblazer is unafraid to speak up about important causes close to her heart. Just take the launch-cum-benefit show in support of her latest single ‘Trace (Comfortable Sympathy)’ for instance, which she used as a platform to raise funds for an anti-human trafficking charity organisation – all while celebrating fellow females in the music scene with up-and-comers Marian Carmel and Kyla T on the performance bill.
In an industry that Lady Gaga infamously dubbed a “F***ing boys’ club”, the Berklee College of Music undergraduate doesn’t hold back on sharing her struggles dealing with the rampant sexism as a female musician currently based in Boston – on top of being Asian and the stereotypes that come with it. But instead of letting it get to her, she channels the negativity into what she does best: music with a cause. And if you’re not already listening to her, you may want to sit down for this.
Read on for our full interview with Bittymacbeth where she opens up about breaking gender norms and how she hopes to recover humanity through music.
Hi Beth! It’s been two years since you last released new music. What have you been up to in between?
Shortly after finishing up my last album Beauty For Ashes, I started school at Berklee in the beginning of 2017 thus I’ve mostly been trying to adjust to the new environment. You get exposed to a lot of fresh talents here, so I guess I was also trying to teach myself how to see music with a renewed perspective. Other than that, I’ve been working hard on writing new material and ‘Trace’ is kind of the first project in this new series that I came up with around the start of my Berklee journey.
You’ve co-produced ‘Trace’ with Korean producer DAMYE. How did this collaboration come about?
I think it’s really important to find the right people to work with; who believe in me and my music. For DAMYE, I met him at Berkley because we happen to go to a lot of the same jams. He then asked if I could help him with a song he was trying to pitch to a Korean indie label, so I did – and he got signed! He was gonna drop out of Berkley so I suggested working on something together before he leaves, hence ‘Trace’.
‘Trace’ is the first single of the four-song suite you’re working on. Can we assume we’re expecting three more collaborative tracks to come?
Yeah! The upcoming collaborations are going to be similar in the sense that I’ll be working with a producer to elevate the production on songs I’ve written. The next release will be with an American producer and it’s probably the poppiest track I have right now. Then there’ll be something that’s a lot more jazzy and chill with an Australian producer, before ending it off with a funky, R&B tune that I’ve worked on with an Italian producer. It’s a departure from the organic, acoustic vibes in Beauty For Ashes, and moving towards a more produced sound that showcases different faucets of my musical influences.
Among the four tracks, which would you say is the closest to your heart?
Probably the last one with the Italian producer. Between Berkley and the single launch, a lot of things happened in my personal life – I’ve lost friends and missed out on big opportunities because of what I suppose were my principles. I had all these questions about how my life would have been any different if I hadn’t done this or that. I spent time wondering about that a lot and for a while I was very bitter about things. So I wrote this song to remind myself to not dwell on the past and allow my experiences to be a standpoint for growth instead.
What kind of message do you hope to spark with your music?
That there are a lot of difficult things we have to go through, and that it’s important to acknowledge each other’s challenges and do whatever’s in your own power to help them out. Especially when you’re in a place of more privilege, you have a greater responsibility to make things better for others. Through these songs, I want people to know that they have a listening ear. I may not be able to fully understand their situation, but I can empathise with what they’re going through.
Is that why you came up with the idea of linking your single launch to a benefit show?
I think a lot of us are unaware of the trafficking issue in Singapore. People think we’re totally clean, but what they don’t realise is that trafficking works in three ways – a country can be a source country, a transition country, or a destination country. If Myanmar is the source country for trafficked victims, then Singapore can be either a transition or a destination country for them. It happens a lot with domestic helpers and construction workers, and we’re enabling it to happen.
officially made the final donation of $2130 to @hagarsingapore today, swipe right to see how that went (⊙ω⊙) thank you everybody who made this possible, i can’t this stress enough. every single person plays a part. modern slavery concerns everyone, check out this site that shows tells you what your “slavery footprint” is: http://slaveryfootprint.org if you suspect trafficking activity going on (e.g. in a maid agency), please alert authorities and good orgs like hagar to put a stop to the exploitation.
If I were to do a launch for ‘Trace’, I want to be able to help in a tangible way – thus partnering up with a charity organisation to raise awareness about this issue. I feel like the first step is for Singaporeans to be aware so they can ask the right questions when they sense any suspicious activity.
During the launch party, you also took the opportunity to feature fellow female artistes. How important is it to you that we celebrate women in the industry?
Sexism in the music industry has become more apparent to me when I was in the US. I used to attend these recording sessions, and bands that are made of only males were more likely to question me, a female, about their score than the other male players. I’m sure everyone makes mistakes, but they would just come down more harshly on me.
A college prof told me this story. The Boston Symphony Orchestra were conducting blind auditions as they had a big problem of male to female player ratio. Despite people going behind a thick curtain to play, it still didn’t improve the ratio. Someone then suggested getting them to remove their shoes before going on stage – and after that, the ratio became almost one to one. Because people just had these subconscious biases after hearing the sound of their shoes and judging them based on the gait of their walk. It was then that I realised, women do it to other women too. So I feel like we just need to remind one another that we all have something to contribute and to give each other equal opportunities.
Have you ever thought about advancing your music career in the US?
I’ve thought about it, but with a more developed music industry, it also comes with more competition. To be completely frank, being Asian doesn’t help either. In the US, Asians tend to be in the back-end roles and although they are doing well for themselves in their respective areas, it’s much harder for them to be a recording artiste. Besides, Singapore is a nice gateway to other countries – a lot of my peers are able to tour regionally and internationally without being based overseas. The community here is also a lot more tight-knit because everyone knows each other so it’s much easier to get help.
Lastly, what do you hope to achieve in this new phase of your career?
I’m working towards rebranding myself and coming into my own as an all-rounded artiste, be it songwriting, performing or producing. I started out as an indie one-woman band, but now I want to move towards a bigger sound with a production team – in a way that’s contextualised for the new generation of audiences while still remaining true to my musical self.
Listen to Bittymacbeth’s newest single ‘Trace (Comfortable Sympathy)’ prod. DAMYE here.