A boy named Rufus leaves childhood behind in ‘whatever works’

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This past January, Rufus Sivaroshan traveled more than 9,200 miles to the US to begin his first semester at Syracuse University, leaving behind the only life they had ever known in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The one constant they clung to during this huge transition was his burgeoning music career, which, by the way, was the main motivation that pushed Sivaroshan to pack up his life and cross the world.

Sivaroshan began producing music under the stage name of a boy named rufus in 2019, releasing a handful of pensive singles on Spotify in the first two years of his music career, followed by his first EP, “graduation,” in 2021. Now, They’re planning to take their career to the next phase with the release of their first full-length album, “whateverworks”, inspired by the drastic changes they’ve experienced in their lives since moving to the US, including a trip from self-discovery and struggles they have faced in their transition to adulthood.

“’Whatever Works’ talks about everything from being a broke college student, to trying marijuana for the first time, to connecting with the culture. The strangeness, the anxiety, being in a relationship, breaking up with someone — everything I’ve experienced, you get little glimpses of it,” Sivaroshan said. “Everything has been different, and I have to figure that out, so there’s been a lot to write about.”

After graduating from high school in 2020, Sivaroshan postponed his admission to SU for a semester and decided to spend time writing and producing music. Music had fascinated them from an early age, an interest encouraged by his mother, who urged them to participate in traditional Indian music performances to practice their half-Indian culture.

Sivaroshan spent much of his early childhood singing, winning several competitions, and at the age of 14, began to expand his musical talents by learning acoustic guitar and teaching himself how to produce music. Sivaroshan initially played with acoustic textures in a more conventional context, inspired by Ed Sheeran and his use of a loop station that allowed him to record a brief guitar instrument and repeat it in the background while he sang or played other instrumental parts. But Sivaroshan then moved away from aping Sheeran’s stripped-down acoustic style and embraced a pop style that soon fused into smooth indie pop.

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In March 2019, while Sivaroshan was in their second year of high school, they decided to release their first song on Spotify, “Fine”, which conveys an uplifting message about overcoming obstacles through melodic, floating vocals and a driving beat.

But it wouldn’t be until a few months later, in July, when they would have their first big hit with their second single, “Useless”. Detailing an unhealthy and crumbling romantic relationship, melancholic lyrics conflicting with an upbeat instrumental track, the song exploded in popularity on Spotify just a week after its release. It was also added to two Spotify playlists: “Lorem,” a popular playlist designed to cater to a younger, quirkier audience, and “Fresh Finds,” which spotlights up-and-coming independent artists.

At just 16 years old, Sivaroshan found himself thrust into the music industry. The number of daily “useless” streams skyrocketed from about 200 to over 20,000.

“People in Malaysia were not [the ones] streaming my music,” Sivaroshan said. “It was the people in the US, Canada and the UK that became my biggest markets in a week, with a snap of the fingers.”

They were quickly overwhelmed by their sudden success when record labels, managers, and other artists began contacting them, asking to work with them or collaborate on music.

“That is one of the downsides of virality. No one prepares you for that, so when you face it, it’s basically an accumulation of emotions,” they said. “You have to solve everything as you go, and you don’t know at the moment if what you are making is a good or bad decision. You just go crazy and the limited amount of knowledge you have [have].”

After his hit single, Sivaroshan made the decision to study at SU in the Bandier Program. His determination to leave home and move to the other side of the world to attend college was natural.

“My parents specifically raised me and my sister to leave Malaysia,” they said. “They always said: ‘You’re going to find a better quality of life elsewhere.’ That is why I am here.”

Sivaroshan never intends to return to Malaysia. The country’s government is infamously conservative, with Penal Code 377 criminalizing gay sex and Sharia law, the Islamic legal system, prohibiting any kind of gender nonconformity that contradicts a person’s assigned sex at birth. According to OutRight International, an LGBTQIA+ human rights organization, “(LGBTQIA+) Malaysians are subject to arbitrary arrest, assault, extortion, and privacy violations by police and public officials,” as well as conversion therapy and censorship. .

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Although Sivaroshan was never exposed to the small groups of LGBTQ communities in Malaysia, before moving to the US they knew they were gay. They never fit in with their male classmates, preferring to participate in traditionally “girly” activities like music and art when pressured by their classmates to participate in sports like soccer or basketball.

However, it wasn’t until their freshman year at SU that they became truly embarrassed by the idea of ​​identifying as male after witnessing the inherent toxic masculinity among their male classmates in college, which led them to begin identifying as male. nonbinary.

“Even in my time in Malaysia, which was openly homophobic, I had never seen that kind of [bigoted] answers to anything. Those kinds of stigmas,” Sivaroshan said of the behavior they witnessed from male students at UB. “That was my turning point. I definitely didn’t see myself as a man, because it literally broke me down inside to be associated with [that] and I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Sivaroshan came out as non-binary to close friends in October and came out to his classmates in the Bandier Program a few months later. Her friends and classmates were quick to accept her identity, but officially coming out and officially changing her pronouns to they/them was still a bit stressful for Sivaroshan, who had never met anyone who was non-binary until she moved to the US. The US also knew that any gender identity that deviates from the male-female binary could be punished in Malaysia with assault and imprisonment.


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Since coming out, Sivaroshan has felt more free to experiment with her appearance, learning from her friends how to apply eyeshadow and other makeup, buying clothes from the women’s section of thrift stores, and growing her hair as long as possible. possible length.

Gender identity and sexuality is a central theme in “whatever works”, along with the impacts of various other significant changes in her life since leaving Malaysia. Moving to the US and navigating the immigration process alone abruptly pushed them into adulthood, requiring them to obtain a Social Security number and establish a bank account.

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The choice to formally pursue their music career made them especially anxious, having been raised in a culture where “pursuing anything that’s cutting-edge, especially the music business or being an artist, is super rare. They are all very concerned about [job] security and stability.”

But the success of “graduation,” along with the knowledge of the music industry they gained from their major, prompted Sivaroshan to commit to his music career and officially work with a record label.

Now, four years after releasing their first single, they spend several weekends a semester traveling across the US, mostly to Los Angeles, producing promotional content and working on “whatever works” while learning about the industry in SU.

“Everything we are learning in class [is] It’s happening to me in real time,” they said.

Sivaroshan is extremely proud of the work they have accomplished with “whatever works”. The album represents a transition period in his life, both in terms of approaching his early 20s and leaving adolescence behind and embracing a new musical style more along the lines of experimental alternative sounds than indie pop.

“I’ve been trying to be more creative and do something that I enjoy at the moment,” they said, going over artists who have recently played on Spotify. Along with more mainstream indie artists like Tame Impala and Dominic Fike, they featured New York-based artist Sipper and Filipino singer-songwriter Eyedress.

Above all, for Sivaroshan, the most important aspect of “whatever works” is faithfully representing the different aspects of his identity, both his struggles and his personal growth, to help others going through similar changes feel represented.

“I have a unique story and I want to be able to tell it in depth, because I know there are people out there like me: queer people, non-citizens navigating these things, non-binary people, people who are suffering. through mental health issues,” they said. “I want ‘whatever works’ to be a good example. I want to represent those communities to the best of my ability and make it the best job that I can.”


Contact Gillian: [email protected]

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