Top image: Zachary Tang/Rice Media
Sneaky Sushii endears himself to the glitterati of Singapore media simply as Jay, no first or last name, placing him, whether intentionally or not, in the same league as other one name creatives—Adele, Bono, Madonna, Sting—at least where moniker is concerned. The only thing he’s willing to divulge is that ‘Jay’ is part of his name and not something obscure he plucked from thin air.
“I think it stems from insecurity,” he lets on when I ask why he wants to keep his real identity secret. “I worry people will search for me on Facebook or Twitter. Yes, now that I think about it, it’s insecurity. Or maybe I just want this cloud of mystery around me, and for some reason, I gravitated towards not revealing.”
Neither does he let on his age. Well, at least he tells me not to mention it for this article—he worries about relatability. “The whole social media scene is such a young people’s game, you know.”
“But wouldn’t being public about your age be to your advantage, wisdom in experience all?” I persisted. “I don’t know, man,” he shrugs.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, meeting Sneaky Sushii in person is nothing short of a miracle. The date of this interview had moved on my editorial calendar as many times as the nation has been in and out of all the creatively-named phases since July. Today, I’m finally sitting with him over coffee at the beautifully decked-out Birds of Feather at Amoy Street, chatting like we’re long-time friends, meeting only by the grace of aligned stars.
To call Jay a YouTuber is such a grave disservice—that is, if you can call what he does for his 171,000 subscribers merely content creating. Perhaps on the surface, yes. But dig deeper into his videos, and you’ll come to realise that he’s in actuality a one-person, one-platform, social commentator in dogged pursuit of clarity.
In ‘Jamie Chua’s Illegal $10 Million Dollar Closet’, he opines on obscene wealth vis a vis a voiceover of what he imagines Jamie would say if she were honest. Jay peppers the monologue with such gems as “I’m just a regular girl, living a regular life. Maria, is my twenty thousand dollars Pu-er tea ready yet?” and “Oh, these peasants sure are a peculiar bunch”.
In ‘INFLUENCER VS SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT’, Sneaky attempts a TLDR of the Jade Rasif versus MOH saga that dogged Singapore back in May this year. In the five-minute video, he methodically breaks down the public relations nightmare (for the big G, that is) for his viewers who, if the comments are anything to go by, are intelligent, intellectual, and capable of witty sass.
“What were you like as a child? When you were in primary school,” I asked, mid-sip of an iced latte.
“I grew up in Yishun my whole life. As a child, I remember being happy and very cheerful. Everyone wanted to be my friend,” Jay shared. “There was one particular incident I can recall which, for some reason, etched quite firmly in my mind. You know how when you go for recess in primary school, you have to line up outside and hold hands with your partner? I remember everyone jostling and wanting to be my partner until the teacher had to step in and partner with me instead.”
Jay remembers being a very popular kid in primary school. He attributes it to having an extroverted personality and caring little for what people thought of him. “I didn’t judge anybody, so there was no prejudice. I even talked to the quietest boy in class.”
Puberty changed all that. The charming personality which came almost effortlessly to him in primary school vanished. “I became a clam in secondary school, especially when I was in Sec 3. I reckon it’s because of my complexion—I became very reclusive,” he shared.
He tells me he’s still trying to break free of his shell, though he admits he’s much better now than from a few years back. “It’s still an ongoing journey, that much I’m certain. I mean, I had to get over this shyness nonetheless if I wanted to be on YouTube.”
“How did you do that?” I probed.
“Self-help books and meditation. I also do a lot of visualisations and manifestations,” Sneaky went on.
“You seem very sceptical,” he asked, half grinning at my look of surprise.
To be fair, I was admittedly surprised. Jay was the last person I expected to put utter faith into such 21st-century practices like meditation and manifestation. Maybe I expected him to be hyper-logical, especially after an eight-minute video mocking the woo-woo world of Chiropractic adjustments. Or it could be just me taking a brush and painting assumptions broadly with it.
Jay went on to explain that manifestations and willing things to happen can be considered a sort of religion for him—he attributes a lot of success in his life to this practice. It all started when he was 21 years old and going through some of the ‘darkest times of my life’.
Before I could ask him to elaborate, he quickly said he didn’t want to delve too deeply into it.
“I remember feeling super depressed about everything around me,” Jay narrates. “But then something clicked, and I decided I don’t want to be like this anymore. I started reading many self-help books, desperate to climb my way out of this black hole. For some reason, I gravitated towards the law of attraction.”
Since then, life’s been pretty good, Sneaky adds. “I do get why people think it’s a fucking gimmick. But, I don’t know, man. If you are desperate enough and you truly believe it, you can manifest the things you want in life.”
There was something peculiar I noticed about Jay in the first few minutes we met. As we were exchanging convivial pleasantries, a server came up to ask for our order. Almost immediately, Jay snapped out of his joyful demeanour and switched to a front I recognised as being transactional. He wasn’t demanding or difficult—not in the very least. But the seamless, almost effortless switch felt like something borne out of practice, though the reason for it is something I can’t quite place, at least not yet.
“I don’t think I’m the same person as I am on YouTube,” Sneaky explains when I ask if his real persona is the same as when he’s in front of the camera.
“I exaggerate myself a lot more in videos. It’s like a comedian, Zat. Every word, joke, and sentence is intentional. It’s the same when I script my videos. Every sentence is meticulously crafted in a way that delivers the most entertainment.”
“I just want to make the best video for my audience, and to do that, it’s not merely enough to be myself.”
This refrain of ‘making the best video’ keeps cropping as the interview goes on. And it’s not an act he puts on just to be politically correct. Oh no, sir. Jay is the furthest from being politically correct—it’s something he takes extreme pride in. For Jay, his audience is his life force. They’re the reason for his fame and success.
“I guess it’s because I’m a consumer of YouTube too. So I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a video. I think it’s just basic respect that you should be giving your viewers your very best and keep them entertained.”
In fact, the wonderful world of YouTube is not unfamiliar to Sneaky. Before Sneaky Sushii, Jay had another YouTube channel, ‘Sushi Films – Fortnite Movie’, where he creates elaborate worlds, stories, and plots based on the Fortnite games.
That channel has 322,000 subscribers, with his most popular video peaking at 8.2 million views. His last video there was published on 29th May 2019, two months shy of his first official video on Sneaky Sushii.
“With my current channel, I feel like I haven’t blown up yet, at least not the way I did with my first channel. I have yet to gain thousands of subscribers every day. When I do get to that point, then I will start to lose my shit. But you see, I’ve already had that dopamine hit, seeing my view hit close to 9 million. I want that for Sneaky Sushii too.”
Irreverent, off-the-cuff, uncensored
Thirty minutes into the interview, I’m frantically going through all possible angles from which I could approach this article. What could I possibly write about someone like Sneaky Sushii who readily describes himself as an internet troll, has zero controversies to his name (*looks disdainfully at all the fallen Singaporean influencers), and is generally well-loved by his loyal subscribers—his ‘merch’ sells out quickly at launch.
I’m starting to entertain the idea that perhaps Jay is exactly the type of YouTuber many Singaporeans aim to be. Someone who speaks his mind in front of the camera, jokingly calls his viewers ‘fuck face’ as a pop culture reference to Sylvia Chan’s leaked WhatsApp messages, and in videos, seldom pleads for subs and likes.
“I don’t give a fuck about what people think about me. When I see hate comments, it goes in one ear, and then out the other,” he explains when I asked what was the worst thing anyone has said to him about the work he does.
“People have made fun of my complexion, how I look, everything. Those things don’t matter anymore. If you like my video, watch it. If you don’t, you’re free to watch something else.”
Surprisingly, this blasé approach to likeability has not affected the work he does with companies who align with his brand of irreverent, off-cuff, and uncensored approach to content creation.
He tells me that the companies who work with Sneaky Sushii resonate strongly with his honesty—warts and all. “They are not very PR-centric and give me a lot of creative freedom to do ads for them. They know I know my audience the best.”
These days, Jay makes his videos from a room in his family home. After living on his own for a year in a rented studio apartment in Yishun, he moved back home because he felt like the money he’s paying for rent could be better utilised and funnelled back into his YouTube channel.
“I moved because I needed a space where I can film videos freely without anyone wondering what the hell it is I’m doing. I don’t feel comfortable shouting and cussing in my room with my family members in full earshot. But eventually, my mom caught on, and now, she understands why I’m doing it. But I desperately want to move out soon,” Jay laughed.
Jay seldom talks about his family, except for the recent video where he featured his brother in a computer makeover episode. He’s hyper-focused on sticking to the script, once again eschewing personal and familial affectations other YouTubers often lean on for clout.
But that’s not to say he hasn’t had his fair share of personal issues to reckon with.
“My dad passed away when I was 18. I remember crying, but I also felt like it wasn’t that huge a loss to me. Maybe because I was too young? I cried for a day and immediately got over it. Until today I still don’t know why I didn’t have a longer runway for grief.”
Happiness and fulfilment
For now, success for Sneaky Sushii is simple and, to be completely honest, within reach. He just wants to be able to make videos he enjoys every day and make a living out of that, and “maybe to own a penthouse in the future”.
I ask how far away from that definition of success he is currently. “The penthouse? Quite a mile,” he jokes. “But I do enjoy making videos every day, or, you know, planning an interview for two months. I’m fulfilled, but I do want the material things as well because I want to try to enjoy that life, too.”
As we walk around Chinatown for a photoshoot, I ask Jay, to what end all this? What is the whole point of making videos, creating social commentaries, and keeping people accountable? Is it for fame?
We stop outside a sex shop beside Chinatown MRT called Casanova, where my photographer, Zach, directs Jay to move into the frame, the clicks of his camera blending in with the sounds of the city. A few metres down, behind an alley, Jay gamely sits on an abandoned swivel chair and laughs as an auntie approaches him for a brief conversation—entirely cognizant of the camera snapping away, eager to capture this precious interaction.
“Fame is a plus point, but all these are secondary things,” Jay said as we moved to the next location. “At the end of the day, I just want to make the best videos in Singapore every day. That’s what makes me happy and keeps me fulfilled.”