Garnering over 40 million streams globally with the song AAA this year, this Malaysian singer-songwriter has had an extremely productive 2020

Sipping coffee with the delicious scent of pastries and coffee grounds wafting through the air at a cafe in Petaling Jaya, singer-songwriter NYK (full name Nicholas Ng Yungkit) and I are having a long overdue catch-up session. With the pandemic putting major social activities on pause, NYK laments that it has not been easy for musicians who rely on live gigs for income. 

The 27-year-old was slated to appear at the annual Good Vibes Festival this year but the pandemic has scrapped the plan. In the past, he has performed as opening acts for and alongside the likes of HONNE, James Arthur and The Sam Willows.

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In a year of uncertainties, one thing is for sure: NYK isn't about to let the pandemic bring him down and stop him from doing what he loves most. In fact, he's kept himself busy, making the most of social media and online streaming tools in place of the usual live performances.

"You lose a source of income and a platform to market yourself when you can't play at live gigs," says NYK, who adds that plans for an international tour were also shelved. "It's a challenge to promote your music at this time. It's a challenge creating music too; I have to work with my producer in Singapore completely online, which was rather inconvenient because of the time lag and scheduling issues." 

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If I reach a certain point when I can do shows overseas and pack venues, it will be a huge deal for Malaysia and the arts scene here. Even if I don't reach that stage, I can take heart that I'll be part of the movement, and hopefully the next generation would be able take it even further.

NYK explains that it's a matter of adapting. "It's important to have the discipline to write no matter what," he stresses. "It doesn't matter if it comes out bad. It's good to just continue writing because what if you have a writer's block for two years? I guess if you’re Beyoncé, you can afford it. Most of us can't afford to be stuck for a long period of time if we want to build our careers."

Which is why even in lockdown, NYK managed to complete an EP, which was released last month. Entitled Salt, the music took inspiration from recent life experiences, which he admits: "clearly there wasn't much of it this year," he chuckles. "We’re staying home, working from home, working out at home, baking banana bread... it’s not terrible but it’s not great. Most of the songs in the EP were written last year; only two songs—Bakery and Adore—were written this year."

The title of EP is derived from the term 'salty' used to describe people who aren't happy or are annoyed about something. NYK explains that he's "essentially just commenting on a lot of different things; toxic relationships, influencers, and dishonest friendships."

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Above The fierce fashion brand motoguo provided their pieces for the 'Adore' music video

Another win for NYK this year was having Malaysian fashion label motoguo dress him and the cast for the Adore video. "There was a major party scene in the video and we wanted to elevate it with amazing styling and clothes, and I thought motoguo would be the perfect partner to work with."

NYK reached out to creative director Kinder Eng. "He was really nice. Despite the short notice, he immediately agreed."

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NYK admits that he's still experimenting with his sound, but there will always be a semblance of pop. "Pop is very fluid but you definitely have to stick to a sound and that's what I'm looking for." Heavily influenced by Joji and The Weeknd, he aspires to create pop music with a blend of R&B and hip-hop.

"I've had a lot more creative control over this EP than my last one," he says, adding that it's completely made-in-Malaysia. His last EP was a Swedish production with Sony Music, produced by the same people behind The Chainsmokers' song, Paris.

"The production value for that EP was undeniable, but I had more control with Salt. I knew exactly what I wanted and I got to work with some close friends of mine."

With palms pressed together and a far-off look in his eyes, NYK says that his next music will definitely be influenced by how life has been changed by the pandemic. 

"We're definitely seeing a lot of changes in our everyday behaviour, whether it is wearing masks, working virtually, or the way we travel. You're potentially seeing the whole landscape of this world change. These changes will definitely be reflected in my music."

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