Photos: Camelia Ting, Shawn Tok via Facebook
Video: Vanessa Lim
Shawn Tok, who emerged champion of the televised singing competition Campus SuperStar in 2007 at just age 13, has returned to the scene with a five-track English EP, Chapter 22, almost five years after his debut record, a full-length Mandarin album entitled Travel With Time.
Chapter 22 was released digitally on January 8, also his 22nd birthday, and it entered at #2 on the Singapore iTunes album chart, behind Blackstar by David Bowie and ahead of 25 by Adele.
The EP set Shawn’s parents back close to $10,000 and featured the work of his National Service acquaintances and fans turned friends, who contributed their talents in production, videography, photography and more. Shawn helmed the production of Chapter 22 and managed and planned the record from Australia (where he’s based), from selecting the tracks to the recording arrangement and the album art design.
Shawn Tok and Joshua Goh
Making the EP was his way of saying hello to adulthood, something meaningful when he looks back on it in future, Shawn said, but it might have had a different titled had it not been delayed. The record was supposed to have coincided with Shawn’s 21st birthday, but it was difficult doing the project while overseas and having to juggle various aspects of his life, he said.
Plus, the University of Queensland student said he’s always preferred English music, even during his Campus SuperStar days when he performed hits from Jay Chou, JJ Lin and MayDay. He readily named American actress and singer-songwriter Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as his music inspiration — “I really, really look up to Beyoncé in every way because she’s an all-rounder,” he said — and he listed jazz, rap and hip hop among his favourite genres.
But Shawn said he hesitated for a long time before committing to producing an English EP. “It’d been 7 years since I won the (Campus SuperStar) competition,” he said. “And I didn’t know if I should do it or how the response would be, so it held me back … I’m glad it turned out well.”
“I think we should do everything we can in this lifetime, and we shouldn’t hold back.”
Besides singing, Shawn has branched out into acting, with roles in the 2008 telemovie Heng or Huat, Channel 5’s Seven Days in 2010 and Okto’s Dream School the following year, among other projects. “I actually want to do everything,” he said. “I want to do acting, singing, hosting, everything.”
“But when it comes to something to focus on it’s definitely music, because performing is the only thing I picture myself doing for the rest of my life.”
The drive to do everything got Shawn enrolled in film and television studies, as well as media communication, at the University of Queensland, where he’s completed his first year.
“I wanted to be a director at 17 because I wanted to do short films and I like to do studio stuff and lighting,” he said. For some of his own shows, the singer would set up his own backdrop, engage dancers and choose their outfits, he said. “I wanted to take charge of everything to give it a complete feel rather than (leave it) half-done.”
He has two more years of his studies to go, and whether he decides on singing, acting or photography for his future is up in the air.
But one arena he hasn’t set out to conquer is reality singing competitions, which ironically gave him his start. Shawn said he wouldn’t enter another one. “It’s not just you (who’s) involved, it’s your whole family,” he explained.
“It’s tiring and I don’t want to go through the whole thing again,” though he added he hadn’t put as much thought into it when he signed up for Campus SuperStar in 2007. “I was 13, so just go,” he said.
But considering the exposure it brought him and also the nudges, the glances and getting recognised on the streets as far afield as Venice and Switzerland, would he go through with Campus SuperStar again?
“Maybe not,” he said after a lengthy pause. “I don’t know, so many things happened.”
“Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t, I don’t know, but at that point, it was a yes.”
Chapter 22 is available now on iTunes and at all Beesket outlets from January 16.