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Chart-topping Canadian singer Tyler Shaw joyfully embraces his biracial identity

Tyler Shaw
A trip to Hong Kong with his dad transformed Tyler Shaw's view of himself and the world.

Singer, songwriter, and actor Tyler Shaw doesn’t come across as a person who’s easily embarrassed.

After all, the 29-year Coquitlam-raised performer has been in the public eye since he was a teenager. Back in 2012, he won the MuchMusic Coca-Cola Covers Contest.

Shaw followed that up by releasing his monstrously successful debut single, “Kiss Goodnight”. Since then, he created three studio albums, recorded several Top 10 songs, and toured with Selena Gomez, Sean Mendes, and Alessia Cara. On the side, he found time for acting and modelling gigs.

But as a kid, Shaw actually felt a sense of shame being of mixed race. His mother is Polish-Ukrainian and his dad is from Hong Kong.

“I went to Riverside secondary,” Shaw tells Pancouver by phone. “All my friends were white… I really leaned into the identity of that stuff and felt embarrassed, to be honest, about my Chinese heritage.”

He didn’t spend a ton of time with his dad in his youth because his parents had split up. Therefore, Shaw wasn’t exposed to much Chinese culture.

But as he was about to enroll in university, he reconnected with his father. It led to monumental changes in how he viewed himself and the world.

The turning point came on a trip to Hong Kong, when his dad revealed where he was raised. Shaw describes it as “the best time ever”.

“I saw a lot of different things that made me realize that there was a piece of me missing,” Shaw says. “It was kind of a self-discovery moment in that time. So, I’m really happy I went on that trip.”

Tyler Shaw 3
Tyler Shaw proudly emblazons his Chinese name on album covers on his website.

Shaw adds Chinese name to albums

By the time Shaw went to Hong Kong, he had already completed his first album, Yesterday. Upon his return, he felt like he had gained a better understanding of himself as a person and as an artist.

“I just decided to embrace this side of me that I’ve been too embarrassed to put in the forefront all my life,” he says. “I decided I got to be proud of where I am from and who I am, and who I am becoming—and the culture that is a part of me.”

It led him to start putting his name in Traditional Chinese script on his later album covers, the eponymous Tyler Shaw and Intuition, as well as on his singles, social-media accounts, and website.

“I decided to lean into my Chinese heritage side by including my Chinese name, which I’ve always had,” he explains. “It’s not like I went to Hong Kong and created one.”

Shaw will speak about learning to appreciate his Chinese Canadian roots at 9 a.m. on Thursday (December 1) at the Annex in Vancouver. It’s part of a Jade Music Festival event called Centre Stage: On the Rise.

In addition, TD will present Shaw at the JMF Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (December 2) at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets are available through this link. The Society of We Are Canadians Too organized the Jade Music Festival with the goal of eventually making Vancouver a hub for Chinese-language music production.

Shaw says that he’s participating because he thinks the festival is a really good initiative.

“I still feel there are people who don’t really understand how influential Asian culture is on the world—not to mention the music,” he adds. “To be a part of something like that would be very special.”

Video: Tyler Shaw’s “North Star” reflects the growing maturity of his lyrics.

Identity spurs artistic growth

Shaw feels that he’s more aware and present in the world, which makes him a better writer and creator.

“I have more sense of what I want to talk about and what I want to sing about,” he says.

Shaw also acknowledges that in the past, he was far more concerned about what people would think. Now, he’s more preoccupied with being proud of himself.

“Identity is super-important,” Shaw says. “Because if you don’t understand yourself, you’re kind of in no-man’s land.”

Since embracing his biracial background, Shaw has been approached by parents and kids who are biracial. They told Shaw that they look up to him because he is following his dreams and he’s half-Asian, just like them.

“Just hearing that and knowing there are people like that—that means the world to me,” the singer says. “I didn’t have any half-Asian role models growing up.”

In 2020, he joined forces with Fefe Dobson to spearhead a fundraising drive for COVID-19 relief. As part of the ArtistsCAN initiative, they joined Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé, Avril Lavigne, and other Canadian superstars to sing a cover version of the Bill Withers classic “Lean on Me”.

Watch the “Lean on Me” video for COVID-19 relief.

Shaw co-leads ArtistsCan initiative

It also meant the world to him when Gomez recently sang his song, “Kiss Goodnight”, in her recent documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me. He describes touring with her as “awesome”.

“She is exactly who you would expect her to be—a very down to earth, very humble human being,” Shaw says. “She’s such a beam of light.”

He acknowledges that he’s come a long way musically since he toured with Gomez. When Shaw created his first album, Yesterday, he says simply included a bunch of songs from different genres on the disc.

He’s pleased that it did such great things for his career and he’s happy with how it reflected his musical abilities at that point in his life. But Shaw also feels that there’s been a shift in his music after returning to Hong Kong, both on Intuition and his most recent self-titled album.

“You can see the maturity in the lyrics. You can hear the maturity in the music,” he says. “There’s more of a purpose.”

He’s also gained greater purpose in life since becoming a father to his daughter Everly in 2020.

“It’s changed pretty much everything,” Shaw says. “I think my daughter has made me the best person that I can possibly be.

“I will continue to learn,” Shaw emphasizes. “I’m not saying ‘I got it, I know it.’ Absolutely not. I feel like we’re all works in progress an we can always better ourselves in many different ways. And she [Everly] constantly challenges me to be that better person.”

TD will present Tyler Shaw at the JMF Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (December 2) at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets are available through this link. He’ll also speak about his Chinese identity at 9 a.m. on Thursday (December 1) at the Annex as part of a Jade Music Festival. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.