The Steps That Tabitha Nauser Took To Be On The Cusp Of Greatness
Looking back to see what led to her ascendance.
BY Wayne Cheong | May 23, 2017 | Women We Love
After the release of her song “Bulletproof”, it would seem that Tabitha Nauser, is on the cusp of greatness, but her ascent has been several years in the making. We time travel to see what led her to now.
On January 5 this year, a post by Tabitha Nauser appears on my Facebook feed. It’s an image of an open Notepad and, in it, she writes that she’s leaving 987FM and her last show will be Friday, which is the following day. There was no hint or indication, nothing that led up to this decision, as far as I can tell.
While her employment is at an end, her Facebook post suggests the start of something else:
new beginnings. #newsingle #bulletproof #comingsoon
Her single “Bulletproof” drops on February 17. The music video starts with Nauser staring into the distance with a steely gaze that burns holes into the camera. Mood lighting galore. A low bass and rhythm sets the scene before Nauser’s vocals slink in.
A video posted by Sony Music Singapore captures Nauser’s peers as they listen to “Bulletproof”. They have not been told that Nauser is the singer. Their comments include:
-"Is this Beyonce's new single?"
-"Sounds very Rihanna. Sounds super Rihanna."
-"It's pretty good."
-"Wow...this is like 50 Shades of Grey is about to start or something.”
Editorial meeting: Zul Andra, Editor-in-Chief and hobbyist troll, asks if it’s possible to feature Nauser for our Woman We Love section. It doesn’t take long to reach a consensus.
Calls are made, favours evoked, bargains struck. Finally, Sony Music Singapore gets back to us via email. We give a potential date for the interview and another for the photo shoot.
Read up on Nauser; some things I know, others I didn’t. I know that she placed third in the final season of Singapore Idol. I know her father, Andreas Nauser, is an Executive Chef and her mother, Saras Naidu, was a Miss Singapore contender. I did not know that she sang the theme song for the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics with Sean Kingston and Stevie Appleton, among others. I also did not know that she studied at Republic Poltechnic, nor that she is a sneakerhead.
My cellphone tingles. It’s Alfred from Sony Music Singapore. He wants to know if we will also be shooting Nauser during her interview. Her photo shoot is next week, I remind him. “Sorry, I mean, will there be a videographer during the interview?" he replies. Pause. "Because if there's filming,” he continues “Tabby’d like to prepare for it.”
Ah. Uh, no. It’ll just be a normal interview.
“Okay, cool. She can dress down then.”
Basic idea for the article: we’ll revisit Nauser’s neighbourhood in Woodlands, where she grew up because what’s more vulnerable you “bulletproof” when you’re confronted with your past?
(Later, looking through this, it feels like the very height of douchebaggery that I’ll have to defend what I’m doing with my article.)
For research, I scour through articles on Nauser. I also watch a lot of her performances. In between all that, I leave dumb comments on my friends’ FB pages and watch cat videos. This is part of my process.
Metal sunglasses by H&M; leather bracelet (worn as a choker) by Atelier Swarovski.
We meet at the McDonald’s at Woodlands MRT. I'm sweating a little, though I'm unsure if it’s nerves or due to the big, bastard sun in the sky.
Nauser isn’t hard to spot. In fact, she sticks out among the lunch crowd. She is in a cap, the latest Fenty PUMA by Rihanna zipped sneaker boots, jeans and a goddamn leather jacket. She’s decked out in black. Even when she’s dressed down, it’s still to the nines. Accompanying Nauser is Alfred from Sony Music Singapore, and Adam, Nauser’s creative director and personal assistant.
Given the weather, Nauser suggests getting a drink from a nearby Koi. Milk tea with pearls. 25 percent sugar. She is a creature of habit. “I probably tried three other things on the menu but I always return to this. You have no idea how obsessed I am with Koi.” She would later ask not to include her mania with Koi in the piece. I make a mental note of that request.
While waiting for our order, Nauser is approached by two teenage fans. She obliges them while I hang to the side with Alfred and Adam, watching Nauser gamely pose for photos.
The last time she was back in Woodlands was four years ago after relocating to the east. She moved twice, all within the area. She stayed at Woodlands Circle before relocating to Rosewood Condominium, and finally in the Marsiling region near The Woodgrove, our final destination.
She’s big on family. “My cousins were my sisters before I even had a sister.” They hung out at their grandparents’ place each weekend. They don’t hang out as much now. People grow up, get jobs, life intrudes, priorities shift on a list. “But we make it a point to check in on what each other is doing.”
Nauser winces when I mention her age: 25. “It’s five years to 30,” she avers. “That’s crazy. Time flies.” She came into that age several weeks ago, and wears it like a new cape, strange to the touch.
She’s not terrified of getting older, but she does think about it often.
“I always thought that I should be doing more. I’ve felt that way since I was a kid.” That’s why she left radio; it taught her a lot, it was fun, but, after a while, she didn’t feel like she could contribute anything more to it. She felt it was time to go back to the one thing that she was meant to do: singing.
Nauser points to a coffee shop up ahead. “[My cousin and I] hung out here [during our secondary school days]. We’d order Milos. The food was shit but the fries were really good though. I’m not sure if they’re still the same. Two dollar fries and they were…” Nauser holds out her hands, the space between them resembles a footlong sub. “Huge”.
Gesturing in the general direction of Block 370 where her cousin once resided, Nauser says: “I lived across the road so she would either come over to my place, or I’d go over to hers.”
Her father grew up in the mountains and always urged Nauser and her sister to play outside. Her mother, on the other hand, would rather they stay in. Look at the scratches and the bruises that they get from their horseplay, I imagine she’d say. “My father,” Nauser says, “had a different perspective on raising us. And I think he wanted boys as well.”
He taught them how to ride the bicycle when Nauser was three; rollerblade when she was five. Tennis, badminton… Nauser also sprinted competitively in school.
Her parents thought that Nauser was a “goody two shoes”. “But that was because I was really good at being sneaky,” she says through a smile. “They had no idea what I was up to.”
“I’m a bus girl,” Nauser says. “I take public transportation when I can.” I ask if she also takes Uber. She’s trying to cut down on that, comes the reply. Adam says that, in a month, it can run up to SGD2,000. Even with promo codes.
What about trains? “Oh, she gets recognised a lot on trains,” Adam says. “The getting recognised bit is fine,” Nauser clarifies. “It’s being photographed on the sly, and then only finding out about it later on Snapchat or Twitter that’s kinda creepy.”
Nauser has always been a private person. Being a public figure doesn’t change that. Maybe people are intimidated, but she’d prefer it if you just asked if you could take a picture with her.
In writing this piece, it hits me: we make lists, whether we want to or not. A set of instructions; enumerated tasks to cross out throughout the day; an array of goals to accomplish. While simplistic in form, a list can do so much more, like tell a story.
And so, even at an early age, Nauser knew what she wanted. It would be the start of her own list. Numero uno: enrol in Evergreen Primary School. Why? Because it had a good choir programme. But there wasn’t any space for her. Second on the list was experiencing disappointment, that the universe does not owe you any favours. Against her better judgement, Nauser enrolled in Admiralty Primary School until Evergreen called, saying that a spot had opened up and if she would like to fill it?
Nauser jumped at the chance.
Her parents didn’t pressure her academically. They provided for their children. “Then again,” Nauser adds, “we’ve always done pretty well for ourselves. The only thing that I sucked at was Mandarin. I told my mum that I needed tuition and she said that it wouldn’t help.”
This was in primary school?
“No. My Mandarin was pretty good in primary school because of the hanyun pinyin. Then, when I went to secondary school, I was screwed because they don’t have hanyun pinyin and I had to recognise characters.”
Halfway to our destination, my T-shirt is soaked as it sticks to my body, wet and cool under the sun. Nauser, however, hasn’t even broken a sweat.
I asked Inch Chua, another musician, if artists adopt a personal timeline in putting out his or her own music.
“Depends on what each artist holds as a priority,” Chua replies. “It boils down to the philosophy of why you’re an artist. If you’re a punk rocker, you write and produce music at the speed which the political landscape shifts and address those issues as they come. If commercial success is a priority, catching the fame wave and riding it for as long as you can is massively important as well.
“Sometimes, you ride the wave just fine. But, you know you can’t control the wave [and] it just… comes to an end. You just gotta go back out to catch the next one.”
What do you think about Tabitha Nauser?
“She’s a gorgeous girl with an immensely powerful voice,” Chua says. “[She’s someone] you can’t take your eyes (or ears) off. It always left me quite puzzled to know she hasn’t released her own album before.”
Singapore Idol was a trial by fire. Nauser had sung most of her life, but here was a chance to parlay that talent. She gained allies on that show, suffered small defeats.
“After Idol, we were looking for that big break. You must sign with someone. And the first thing that came along was Hype Records. I thought they would be helpful, but they pretty much [screwed] up everything for me.”
The lack of gigs prompted Nauser to split from Hype. She found herself back at square one. But while a setback like this might be daunting, it just reaffirmed Nauser’s stance that she shouldn’t depend on anybody.
Then her parents split up. Her dad didn’t know if he wanted to remain in Singapore and her mum contemplated moving to Denmark. “It was messy,” Nauser says, “because everyone assumed that I would be following my mum to Denmark.”
At that time, she also landed her first job at Starwood Hotels & Resorts after graduating from MDIS. Her dad had cut her off financially, so Nauser needed a source of income.
Her job scope: arrange hotel stays for customers who called, which included booking a room, drafting an itinerary and arranging airport transfers.
She hated it and quit after four months. Back to square one.
But she called in a favour from someone she met at Singapore Idol. “He thought I’d be a good host for a football show, but I was 17, too young at the time.” That man worked at Mio TV and got Nauser her first TV job.
An exclamation issues from Nauser when she spots Loy Kee, the chicken rice restaurant, at The Woodgrove. “It’s still here. My sister and I used to hate this place.” Why’s that?
“My mother knew the lady who worked here and she would hang out here every single day.”
This jaunt through old haunts fills Nauser with a sense of nostalgia, longing. The landscape remains the same but, at the same time, it is alien to her. The idea of being cocooned in the past is inviting but she understands that she can never go home again.
We enter FO.H Café. The cool air-conditioning is a welcome balm on my face. My fitness tracker chimes, indicating that I’ve beaten my previous walking distance. We park ourselves down to finish our conversation.
So about your parents’ divorce.
“I never expected something like that to happen. In my eyes, my parents were the perfect couple. They were people that I looked up to.” Nauser lowers her eyes for a second. “But I guess every relationship has its cracks, and they always kept their misgivings from my sister and me.”
She was 20 by then and Nauser got a clearer sense of the world.
“Shit happens,” Nauser says, not ruefully, and without irony. “Even if you’re not expecting it, you just need to bounce back from it. Life goes on, right? You can’t keep harping on about it. You can’t blame the circumstances or other people.
“You can make a choice to fix whatever it is. And move on.”
She’s moving down the list. She performed at the after-party for the White House State Dinner for Singapore in Washington, DC. She worked on two musicals, Hotpants and Rent. She’s signed to Sony Music Singapore. She’s planning a tour, she’s working on a full-length studio album. Where she is now on her list would be anybody’s guess, but it’s far from over.
If anything, this is where she needs to be.
This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, May 2017.