Dream big or go home. That’s the mantra of Sandra Riley Tang, and she isn’t afraid to pursue her dreams – no matter how big they are. “I want to leave a mark… to put Singapore on the map,” she declares.
Many know her as the singer from The Sam Willows, the solo artiste also known as Rriley, or the dynamic founder behind The Yoga Co. At 29, she has been there, done that – on account of having experienced several bumps on the road to live the life she’s in pursuit of – way before fame came knocking on her door.
When she was 16, and unable to get a place in Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Singapore Polytechnic’s mass communications courses, she worked as a part-time waitress for 18 months to help pay for her tuition fees in a private school. “It was a crushing defeat,” she recalls.
“I felt it in me, that I was very different. I’m very capable, but why does it tell me otherwise academically – that I can’t achieve great things?”
Fast forward a decade, and that “crushing defeat” has since become the deﬁning moment in the larger narrative of Sandra’s success.
This year, she landed a coveted spot on Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 Asia list, alongside fellow musicians of The Sam Willows – Jonathan Chua, and siblings Benjamin and Narelle Kheng.
The band first broke into the local music scene in 2012 with the release of their ﬁrst mini album. Their ﬁrst full studio album Take Heart was released in 2015, followed by I Know, But Where, last year.
Sandra is releasing her third single Love Me Like A with Sony Music in the last quarter of the year.
Of her upcoming single, she tells Her World : “It’s a woman’s anthem. How, as we become more independent, we still want to be treated romantically by our men.”
These days, Sandra is focusing on her solo music career after she sold The Yoga Co. in August.
It may come as a surprise that Sandra didn’t know what she was good at when she was younger.
The realisation that she could possibly do something well came when the then 15-year-old participated in her secondary school’s singing competition. “It was so embarrassing,” she laughs. “The ﬁrst song I ever sang in public was Kelly Clarkson’s Because Of You .”
As a child, Sandra was savvy. She collected seashells from the beach and sold them to her primary school classmates. When her parents found out, she got a shelling, but they also recognised her enterprising spirit.
“They always taught me to look on the brighter side of things. They made me an optimist,” she laughs.
Her personality might be as bright as her chameleoncoloured hair, but Sandra is really a homebody who would rather curl up at home and watch television. The biggest misconception people have of her, she says, is that “they think I’m brave and courageous”. “But I’m afraid of many things such as cockroaches, heights, even risks, but I want to push myself to do the things that scare me.”
She adds: “I still struggle to ﬁnd my place in the industry, sometimes feeling that I’m not pretty enough or good enough. But ultimately, I want to be who I am.”
This article was first published in Her World's October issue.
Photography Darren Chang
Art Direction Shan
Styling Violet Foo, assisted by Renee Latiff
Hair Jimmy Yap / Kemistry, using KMS
Makeup Jyue Huey Low / The Make Up Room
Location Sweet by SPH