Singer Gary Chaw opens up about his struggle with bipolar: 'It gets harder when the public discriminates'

Gary Chaw will be performing at the Arena Of Stars in Resort World Genting on Nov 12. Photo: Handout

Taiwan-based local singer-songwriter Gary Chaw was back in Malaysia recently to promote his upcoming concert, Crazy For LIVE, which will be held on Nov 12 at the Arena Of Stars in Resort World Genting.

Chaw said this is not the first time he has been back since the pandemic.

“I’ve been back here since (the borders) opened up, I came back the first day it opened,” the 43-year-old said.

An accomplished music artiste, Chaw has been based in Taiwan for the past 20 years where he also honed his skills in songwriting and has written for artistes such as Aaron Kwok and S.H.E. and Cyndi Wang.

His latest project is something close to his heart; he released a cover album comprising 20 Canto-pop classics titled Crazy.

In the album, he covers songs by Anita Mui, Teresa Teng, Sammi Cheng, as well as singers Chaw looks up to like Leslie Cheung and Jacky Cheung.

“I grew up watching Hong Kong movies and TVB dramas. And the music in those shows really affected and inspired me. Out of 100 songs we shortlisted, I recorded 20 for the album,” Chaw said.

Chaw has always loved music since he was a child when he started listening to his father’s collection of records.

“I grew up listening to my father singing English songs and that influenced me to start singing too. I listened to his CDs of Paul Young, Rod Stewart, Air Supply, Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston. She’s my favourite; I used to sing a lot of her songs,” Chaw said, adding that singing songs from a variety of singers – male and female – from a young age is the reason “why my vocal range is very flexible”.

Chaw is often lauded for his wide vocal range. His Mandarin rendition of Karyn White’s 1988’s hit Superwoman in 2005 made fans and critics sit up and take notice.

That song won him the Best Mandarin Male singer in the 19th Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan the following year.

Next up, Gary Chaw hopes to release a Malay album. Photo: SHAARI CHEMAT/The StarNext up, Gary Chaw hopes to release a Malay album. Photo: SHAARI CHEMAT/The Star

Life has been tumultuous for Chaw the last couple of years. Chaw is reportedly having marital problems with his wife of 14 years, Wu Souling

At the press conference in Malaysia, he briefly mentioned that they are facing problems, adding that such matters between husband and wife should not be made public.

In March this year, he faced public backlash when he was recorded on video going on a rant in a restaurant in Taiwan. Taiwanese media reported that Chaw was intoxicated at that time.

Chaw clarified this issue in our interview.

“I was having yellow wine chicken soup at the restaurant, something I take twice a month for the health benefits. Do you think I got drunk from it?

“The Taiwanese media didn’t report the whole story. The first thing they thought of was, ‘Ah, he has been drinking whiskey’,” he said, adding that just because he was an alcoholic some 10 years ago doesn’t mean he is one now.

“Honestly I’ve quit (drinking). I’m trying to make myself better, healthier.”

What do you miss about Malaysia?

What I miss most about Malaysia is that I feel secure. I feel comfortable because there’s no “paparazzi” here. I don’t get criticised.

And I still have friends and family here. And the weather is beautiful.

It is stressful living in Taiwan ... the people with cellphones, they have nothing better to do and they want to film and put it on IG to get likes. That’s why I don’t like to go out anymore. Things like this happen all around the world, but here in Malaysia it’s not that bad.

This will be your first concert since the pandemic. Since it is less than a month away, what are you doing to prepare for the show?

Keep my mental health stable, eat the right foods, sleep well and try to relax. I believe being in the best state of mind – that’s the most important thing.

It must feel good to be on stage again after not performing for so long. I am a little nervous, but very excited. I need this to boost my confidence as I lost a lot of confidence during Covid-19.

I went through depression, lost my direction. It was painful. I felt like the world was falling apart.

How has the pandemic affected you?

I felt depressed and anxious. I lost three family members in a year due to Covid-19. Now I’m just gonna do what I’m passionate about and I won’t care about what people think about me.

With social media, people don’t take any responsibility for what they say these days. Sometimes I pity (the people who have to) put others down; I think they have low self-esteem, that they need to put people down in order to make themselves feel good. It’s a sad thing.

You said the past couple of years have been difficult. What keeps you going?

My responsibilities to my children, my family. My (two) children often travel with me. As long as they have holidays, I will bring them when I go on tour.

My son watches all of my concerts except for the upcoming one because he has school. My son is more like my brother but now that he’s grown up, he doesn’t like to hang out with me anymore. He’s 14 and has his own friends.

Gary Chaw says during his recent bout of depression, he turned to creating art, like this piece.

What are your goals when it comes to your musical career?

No, I don’t have a goal for my career. I just wanna be happy and be happy doing what I want to do. And be able to sing and keep composing music.

I really, really enjoy being on stage and singing, as that’s the only time when I feel like nothing else matters. All the (problems) that you have, you can just block them out when you are on stage singing.

You have been rather upfront about your mental health struggle. You were diagnosed with bipolar disorder about six years ago. Can you share with us how you are coping?

Bipolar is genetic, you’re born with it. It gets triggered if something dramatic happens and things start to go bad. There are many artistes who face this, but most of them killed themselves and I don’t wanna do that.

(Chaw is speaking from experience as he tried committing suicide when he went through a difficult phase in the early 2000s.)

It takes a long time to find the right medication for bipolar. Once you are diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe you medication. There are many side effects: your eyes or lips may puff up, you gain lots of weight, you always want to sleep ... So it’s not easy at all.

And it gets harder when the public discriminates. Some people don’t understand, they just think that the person is crazy, so don’t go near him. That would make the person more isolated.

I have stopped my medication, but I started other stuff like meditation, and spending more time by myself. Sometimes you fall off the wagon, but you gotta keep on going.

The most important thing is that you have to have the right people around you. Real love is the cure. Love from family, your kids, friends, and the love for yourself. That’s the hardest part, to love yourself.

Then, what are your thoughts on mental health awareness?

There needs to be more effort to increase awareness about mental illness. It is becoming an epidemic around the world, especially for children.

Globally, the suicide rate has gone up. Basically it comes from mental illness. A lot of people are depressed, they need help.

See, the problem in Asia is, if you do something like this (open up about mental health), you’ll lose your job.

Mental illness is taboo in Asia; people don’t believe in that.

So, with my situation, since I’ve been through it, I want to share it publicly so that I can help others.

What are your future plans?

I’ve recorded Mandarin albums. In 2012, I did an English album (Project Sensation 1 Jazz). And now, I have just released a Cantonese album.

Hopefully next year I can do a Malay album and collaborate with other Malaysian artistes.

I would like to contact M. Nasir, Sheila Majid, Awie and Amy Search. I love Amy Search, we have the same (vocal) range. I can be Rod Stewart and he will be (Steven Tyler of) Aerosmith. Power!

Since I’m Malaysian and I can speak all these languages, I want to record albums in these languages before I retire.

Gary Chaw’s Crazy For LIVE concert will be held on Nov 12, 8.30pm, at Arena of Stars, Resorts World Genting. Tickets are priced at RM588, RM488, RM368, RM268 and RM188 (subject to RM4 booking fee) and available from

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