Singer Ze Rebelle has become a “hot” but somewhat reviled name since her single Slumber Tetek razed across the Internet, shocking the more conservative and earning her severe condemnation in return.
It wasn’t just the lyrics of her single that rubbed people the wrong way. It was her demeanour and her barely-there attire that many regarded as extreme, seductive and way too sexy for everyday consumption.
For all the outrage, Slumber Tetek received 50,000 views in the first 24 hours of its release on May 16.
And while there were rave reviews aplenty, there were more reproofs and being a Malay, Ze Rebelle could not escape the sharp tongues of the more conservative in Malaysian society.
Intrigued by her persona, FMT Ohsem had a one-to-one with Ze Rebelle recently and found her to be a rather warm, modest and talented young woman.
Ze Rebelle is hard to ignore. Whether it’s her heavily made-up eyes, fuchsia-blonde streaked hair or hot purple shorts, she definitely earned herself second, if not, third looks from everyone around.
Choosing to be different
“Maybe it’s just the way I wish to express myself. I don’t really care what people think. This is me,” Ze said confidently.
The 24-year-old from Subang Jaya, whose real name is Sarah Zainal, said that although she was relatively young to be in the music industry, she was an old hand at it.
“I’ve been in this industry for 15 years. From the time I was in secondary school,” she said, telling us about a commercial she appeared in once and her eventual debut as a solo artiste a few years back.
“During my first gig around 1999, I was approached by the group Too Phat. So I did a few more gigs while still schooling and became a solo artiste,” she said.
She said pursuing a course in audio engineering after completing her SPM examinations helped her delve deeper into the field of music.
“I released my first album, Shameless.
“Then I explored the world. I went to Australia and Europe, and met a lot of people and was exposed to music tours. I learnt a lot about music then, dance music and touring,” she said, telling us she is fluent in Japanese as well.
All that exposure paid off because Ze went on to receive back to back nominations for the AIM Awards and VIMA Music Awards, as well as others in the music industry. She also topped the Hitz.fm charts and appeared on MTV.
Since of late however, her songs have strayed from the mainstream, and taken on an increasingly unconventional style.
Select audience only for the electro-pop genre
After the launch of Shameless, Ze found herself having to adapt to the intense criticism she received.
However, she was also gaining popularity not just locally but internationally.
Apart from Slumber Tetek, she released a multitude of other songs, more or less in the same vein of her earlier work and just as shocking.
It didn’t surprise her therefore that she was not as popular as others in her era. When taken in the context of her 15 years in the music industry, her influence was rather limited.
Yet for those who find Ze vaguely familiar, it could be because she was a participant of Malaysian Idol Season 2, although she did not go on to win it.
“I honestly don’t know why. Maybe because my music video was not conventional. My music, even who I am as a person, is not suited for mainstream audiences.”
So who does Ze perform for?
According to Ze, electro-pop is still too new a music genre to be taken seriously in Malaysia and likely does not have a big market.
Despite the odds stacked against her here, Ze is adamant about sticking with electro-pop, simply because it’s what she likes doing, and the international response to it has been encouraging.
“I love to experiment with and analyse this genre. It’s a reflection of who I am,” she said.
She also vehemently denied that releasing a video that dwelt on controversial subjects was a deliberate attempt to gain publicity as many have alleged.
“I don’t make songs and videos with the sole aim of infuriating anyone. I don’t crave that kind of excitement or attention. No…
“I am also not bothered about the condemnation I’ve received. I don’t even pay attention to it. Thinking back though, it’s better to feel anger than to feel nothing at all, right?”
Thought-provoking song lyrics
For Ze, the song lyrics she pens are as spontaneous as the interactions she has with her friends.
“Fact is, through my songs, I’m encouraging discussions. For example, condoms. Why is everybody so shy about it? When I write a song, some start talking about it, and my only hope is that the discussion goes in the right direction,” she said.
However, she concedes her songs are not about sending out a positive message but more about getting the attention of people.
“I am not a teacher who educates people with positive messages,” she says.
Ze also says her electro-pop songs were “free” in terms of its lyrics.
“If I made electro-pop songs with ballad lyrics, it wouldn’t sound right.”
A victim of cyber bullying
Has Ze ever been affected by what she reads online about herself or her music?
“Okay, I welcome comments but some comments like ‘kill yourself honey, you do not belong here’ or ‘go die’ do affect me.
“I see it as a form of cyber bullying, and it just does not sit right with me.
“I just don’t know what kind of people say things like that, especially in the open on social media.”
Before winding up the interview, Ze had this to say to her haters.
“Ze will continue making music for those of you who like it… for those of you who don’t… switch off! It’s that simple.”