“what the fuck is this?”
i showed my violently straight white male roommate the video on my tiktok for you page: one of mad tsai’s promos for his music video of stacy’s brother. mad tsai innovatively reworked the original stacy’s mom into a queer narrative that features an addictive pop-rock style and a plethora of sexy men thirstrapping. as we stared at him passionately making out with a white man for millions to see, i knew that he was the perfect candidate for our interview series.
mad tsai is a 4th-year music industry and english student here at ucla. from hudson beach, florida, his music traverses the global stage of tiktok and reaches the hearts of bedroom pop fans, hopeless romantics, and the lgbtq+ community (all the same people, basically). here at radio, we wanted to explore the socio-cultural impact of his music and the importance of queerified music today. we also wanted to understand how the intersection of his ethnicity and sexuality played a role in the conception of his music and any musical plans for the future.
following our deep and enlightening conversation about songwriting, g*y people, and lowkey trauma (?), i am very very excited to share this interview.
Mad Tsai: *Being interrogated.*
Mickey and Sabine: Where were you on January 14th?
It was January 6, actually.
So you knew where you were at that time? Yeah. Where were you?
The Capitol, yeah.
Okay, that’s good. That’s all. Any other questions? No? I think we’re done. How are you today?
I’m good. How are you guys?
We’re good. Fantastic. So tell us about yourself and your journey through your music career.
Yeah. Originally, I never really planned to get into music. I got into UCLA as an English major, and I was planning to become a journalist. I really loved doing music, and I loved writing music when I was a kid, but I didn’t really know if there was an avenue for me to do it. I started writing songs when I was 13, but I was very shy. I didn’t have any friends, so my only other option was to be in my head and write songs as escapism if anything. I look back at those songs sometimes, which were recorded on my shitty out of tune piano at home. And it was recorded on my Generation 1 iPad, by the way. Sometimes I look back at those recordings, I’m just like, Damn, I ate that as a little 13-year-old because I was figuring out my shit. I don’t have anything figured out fully, but I’m treading along and trying to figure out who I am as an artist.
So what changed between your first year of college and now? How did you eventually start becoming a musician?
The funny thing is when I got into UCLA, I really wanted to take music classes. I didn’t really love being in a dorm because I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t bring my keyboard in… I literally had multiple breakdowns about how I could not write songs, and I didn’t have any time or place to write any music. And then I think my tipping point was, funnily enough, there was a songwriting class at UCLA that was offered, and I desperately wanted to be in that class because that was my Hail Mary in a way of being like, Okay, now I could have a chance to do what I really want. There was an audition process, and I submitted it, and I was so proud of it. I was just like, Okay, I’m so excited to get into this class. And I got rejected. I remember being so heartbroken I didn’t write a song for three months. And it’s hilarious because I did get into that class eventually. It’s funny because I think I was at the end of my rope of music by the time of that.
That’s real, man. Was COVID when you started posting on TikTok?
Yes. I remember it was, I think it was just the very beginning of 2020 when I started my account. And this was when people were still transitioning from Musically to TikTok. So I was just like, TikTok, that’s for little kids, right? I’m not going to join that. Finally, I started watching TikTok when the pandemic started, and I was like, This is fun. And then I think the first song that went viral for me was this song called Young Nights that I posted. And it was a song that I wrote on the very last day of high school about how fucked up my high school experience was.
Now we’ll sidetrack a bit and discuss questions related to our theme. So one of the questions we asked you is, why is it important to make queerirified music or music relevant to the LGBTQ community? Because you have made songs about being very open about your sexuality, like boy bi and Stacy’s brother. What do you think is the purpose of making music like this in the 21st-century landscape?
When I was doing my first EP, I released Boy Bi as the first song. I think I released that song because that was blowing up for me then. But also, at the same time, I knew in my heart I was just like, I feel like a lot of people resonate with this. I think the funny thing about that song is I looked back at it, and I was just like, Wow, these lyrics are so forward and in your face about everything. Do I write like that now? Not necessarily. But at the same time, I think it was the introduction for many young queer kids to be introduced to the subject. Sometimes people need to speak about those experiences, and that’s okay because I was very much struggling with that. God, I wish when I was 13 that, there was a pop star or artist exploring these subjects in an unapologetic, unabashed way. I think that’s very important.
Yeah, of course. Because as a queer Asian person myself, I feel like my sexuality has been such an important part of my life because I’ve been so confused about it for such a long time. And especially with societal factors that make you feel like this feels like shit. There should be more art or music at least tackling these issues in general.
Yeah, no, most definitely. I think I got a lot of judgment from a lot of older queer people about my songs being like, This is cheesy. And I was just like, So what? There’s enough space for us. I don’t take anything back for what I did with Boy Bi and Stacy’s Brother.
Do you feel like your sexuality and ethnicity affect how you conceive and create music?
My first project was very much about figuring yourself out, and a lot of it had to do with sexuality. And I think the second project that I’m going to put out is very much about coming to terms with who I am as a person and really looking inwards and trying to figure out where I want to go from this point. Because as someone who is queer and Asian, that’s not an easy experience. That’s not an easy experience to grow up with. When I graduated high school, I had this idea of what my youth should be. And when I looked back, it wasn’t like that at all. I felt really disillusioned, so I think in this next project, I was trying just to piece back parts of myself and rewrite the stories where I just defined my coming-of-age story and just wrote myself into that narrative.
Cool. Now, let’s move on to the future of your music. So can you tell us about any upcoming plans you have?
Yeah. So I am going to release an ERP this year, probably before the summer. The next single off my project is coming out in a few weeks. It’s called In My Head, and I’m really excited for it. The music video is also amazing. It’s probably one of my favorite music videos that I’ve shot. Think the one thing that I will say is it’s a sequel to Stacey’s Brother in a way.
Yeah. It’s like you have a Mad Tsai cinematic universe or something.
Yeah, MCU. And that cinematic universe. I wrote all the treatments for the music videos myself and did a lot of the production work myself. So it definitely is building a universe in some way. And I’m embedding little Easter eggs wherever. If you do look in all the music videos, I hide little Easter eggs of future songs in the next project. I hid a Stacey’s brother Easter egg in the music video for Boy Buy, so I had that two years in advance.
That’s really cool. Lastly, is there anything else you would like to add to the interview?
Go stream in my head and watch the music video for it. Assuming that this will be out when the music video is out.
And look out for Easter eggs.