As anthems for the growing pains of Gen Z, an air of vulnerability comes through in Gareth.T’s soft melodies, a style that can be traced all the way back to when he was in primary school. That’s when he started playing piano and violin, “like normal Asian kids would,” he told VICE over a video call from Hong Kong. The musician was sporting a new look to match his latest song “buzz cut,” which was released as a single in mid-September but serves as a sonic and thematic extension of his debut album to be honest, that dropped in May.
“[It’s like] how Walter White in Breaking Bad cuts off all his hair. It kinda gives you the same feeling… you start to mold into a different person,” he said. In the song, he opens up about his complicated relationship with his brother, going on to reveal: “I got a buzzcut just like you / You know no one could ever fill your shoes / So maybe one day you'll come through / Maybe now you'll think I'm cool (you think I'm cool) / ‘Cause I don’t see you at all and we're both growing old / So come home, come home.”“[The song was] the final thing I needed to fix before I could move onto stage two [as an artist],” he said.
Gareth.T grew up in Hong Kong and learned all he knows about music from YouTube tutorials. He says, “YouTube is my biggest teacher.” Before touching the R&B he’s known for now, he was surrounded by classical music from his mom. Then, a detour into Western hits—like Eminem and Rihanna—and Canto-pop (Cantonese pop music) stars like Endy Chow, Leo Ku, and Eason Chan. He draws inspiration from art, music, and videos before his time, and puts them into context today. Dripped in nostalgia from a TV-era Hong Kong is the music video for the song “勁浪漫 超溫馨 (hyperromantic),” which features scenes inspired by Cantonese dramas, karaoke-style credits, and shots of mahjong games in restaurants. The ballad tells of young love. Translated into English, the lyrics say: “We haven't really used the internet that much this month / Staring into her eyes is more entertaining than spending time browsing YouTube.”
It reminds us of romance from our parents' time, while passing on the vanguard to the internet generation. “Why rush to bring me to Japan / There are 50 kinds of matcha in Causeway Bay,” the song continues.Confidently championing his own music, Gareth.T said the track may be one of his favorite Cantonese songs in the last five years. Once internationally popular, Canto-pop’s influence started to decline in the 2000s. But the genre that previously only consisted of catchy ballads, soft rock, and triple threat groups that dance, act, and sing, is now making a resurgence with different styles, as young people look to local acts for a sense of pride and identity.
Gareth.T is representing today’s generation while improving on the old guard, placing more emphasis on lyricism and, when it comes to rap, flow. It’s no wonder he’s grown a following online, with his biggest hit “boyfriend material” clocking in at over 12 million listens on Spotify. Here, global R&B influences from the likes of Justin Bieber, Usher, T-Pain, and Akon come through in soulful vocals and electronic melodies. To an upbeat flow, he nods to the woes of today’s dating culture, and raps: “It’s color crew necks for the moment ‘til I don’t, yeah / I keep on running out of swipes, so Tinder Gold, yeah / ‘Cause sticking to real life is too damn slow.”
He experiments on Instagram with unreleased tracks, sharing lyrics typed out on the Notes app and voice memos that are not fully mastered yet. “You’re not ever gonna hear it no where else,” he said, and takes these moments as chances to connect with fans and show his authentic self. With more independent players in the music scene, he hopes to change what it means to create, drawing a fine line between giving people what they want and what he calls “spicing up the lunchbox.”His album to be honest, is a culmination of that. Touching on relationships with his mom, brother, success, love, and honesty towards yourself. He blends in pop-charm with funk, poetic lyrics, and gentle instrumentals.“The album wasn’t only musical but borderline cathartic,” he said. With a greater sense of control and direction, Gareth.T is ready for more. “Before I would say I am honest, now I would say I am blunt.”He plans to mix 2000s R&B with Canto-pop for his next track, again taking cue from the past while ushering in the new generation. Follow Sarah Wei on Instagram.