Cover Gareth Tong talks to Tatler about making it in Hong Kong (Photo: Aisha Causing/Tatler Hong Kong)

Ahead of his three upcoming concerts at Star Hall, the singer-songwriter and producer tells Tatler about evolving his sound, working with Mirror, and what he’ll be wearing on stage

Gareth Tong is a talented individual on the rise.

The 22-year-old singer-songwriter and producer, who goes by the stage name Gareth T, broke onto the Hong Kong music scene with his song Boyfriend Material—an English song with a soft indie sound—in March 2021. He’s gone on to write more music in English and Cantonese, not only for himself but also for the likes of local boyband Mirror.

Last month, he released two singles with accompanying music videos—Buzz Cut and Happy Tears—and announced November Rain, his three concerts at Star Hall this weekend.

A headlining concert is a first for Tong, and he shared with Tatler at the Warner Studios last month how excited he is about his upcoming debut solo performance. Sporting a freshly dyed red buzzcut with eyebrows to match, and an oversized embroidered hoodie that’s part of his old merchandise, he spoke candidly about his experience making music in Hong Kong, his fast-approaching concert, inspirations behind the stage costumes and more.

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How would you describe your genre of music?

There’s a difference between making a pop hit and making something that you personally like. Right now, I’m trying to balance making pop songs that I feel like most people will like and making songs that I think are personally challenging or experimental.

Your musical style has evolved between Boyfriend Material and Buzz Cut. What influenced that evolution, and has your personal style changed to reflect that too?

Buzz Cut is the second coming of Boyfriend Material. [The latter] was an introduction to [my world] a year and a half ago, as that soft boy that sang acoustic music in English. Although I was shy, that was me morphing my style to be more appealing.

Now I’ve passed that phase; I’m more honest, and now I'm breaking out of the shell and becoming who I want to be. [Style wise] I'm more influenced by hip hop these days.

How have you coped with your rise to fame in the last two years?

I’m taking it in stride, and I'm doing the best I can to cope with everything that comes along with it. At the core of everything, I’m still the same person.

I started making music when I was in secondary school, and I haven't stopped making music since. I'm a firm believer that if you focus 100 per cent of your efforts into something, meshed with luck or good fortune or whatever, you will reach a certain amount of success.

When I was 16 and 17, I was working every day. Back then I would go home, grab dinner, go to the studio till late, go to class in the morning, then go to the studio again to make beats. It was a hustle; I did my 10,000 hours then, and now I’ve reaping the rewards of everything I did.

How do you feel about the rise of boybands and fandoms—aka the “Mirror effect”—in Hong Kong?

It’s an interesting case because I know a lot of them personally. I’m not a boyband person, but I think it’s a good thing that there's a resurgence of people that are passionate about music.

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Hong Kong concert culture puts a lot of emphasis on stage presence and presentation. Could you give us a hint of what you’ll be wearing?

We're going do something like a Halloween costume. There was this one concert I did recently where I did like, pineapple Darth Maul hair [with black, spiky tips]. I was in full black with leggings, chains and a tank top.

I’m just trying to build a character, but I'm also a minimalist to some extent. I like to build architecture on my body, be flamboyant in that sense. For this concert in terms of outfits, the mindset is that we're trying to pimp out a Halloween costume.

Glasses are a signature look for you—are there certain styles you gravitate towards?

I mainly choose them based on how well they fit my face. I don’t even know what brand these are, they’re my mum’s. I’m not big on brands—just [whether] they have a prescription!

What are the benefits and drawbacks of success in Hong Kong?

The city is so small that it's not too hard to see the ceiling. Once you see the ceiling, I feel like a lot of people [get] complacent, [but I want to know] what's beyond the ceiling. The ceiling is tall, but I need something higher to get to.

There’s so much I feel I haven’t touched on, and I could expand outside Hong Kong, using English as my main language. But the truth is, you can’t make it in Hong Kong without understanding [Cantonese] and making Cantonese songs. Yes, it’s a small demographic, but if you can’t cover it, you don’t get the whole market.

How do you feel about your upcoming concert?

I won't be nervous until the day prior. I feel like dress rehearsal will still be fine, but it’ll really be the moment when I step on stage for that very first song, where I’ll think, “Damn, we got everything set up, now it's time to do a good show.”

I feel like that's the moment when I'm going to be the most scared. I'll be going through a range of emotions during those three days.

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