Photo credit: CALEB LAU

Experiencing love with a disability: Sky Shen and his debut album ‘Wheel You Love Me’

Featuring original compositions dating as far back as 2015, the five-track album chronicles Sky’s experiences of romantic love as a person with a physical disability.

Caleb Lau

Grew up a musician, found a calling in photography and writing. Still in love with all of them.

Published: 23 January 2023, 11:24 AM

To a listener playing through Wheel You Love Me by Sky Shen, the album seemingly paints a process of finding, being in and falling out of love.

But to 29-year-old Twitch streamer and now singer-songwriter Shen Yu Xiang, who goes by his artist name Sky, these songs also tell of deeper struggles he has had as a person with disabilities. 

“These songs are based on experiences at different stages of my life, so some of these songs are as old as 2015” says Sky, who lives with muscular dystrophy.

A genetic disorder that weakens muscles over time, he was diagnosed with the condition at five years old and subsequently wheelchair-bound since the age of 12.

On his debut album of five songs, the tracklist is arranged according to the stages of a romantic relationship.

Going through each track, Sky describes: “Wheel You Love Me has a wandering theme, Shooting Heart is about anticipation or craving love.

“Following which, At The Mountaintop is the honeymoon period of a relationship, while Heart Thief is about the abuse and exploitation, and lastly Never Apart is my experience of dealing with the passing of a close one.”

Sky began singing covers on YouTube as a secondary school student back in 2012, and recently started livestreaming on Twitch in 2020.


Since turning to livestreaming, Sky soon garnered a stable following, amassing 2,300 followers to date. PHOTO CREDIT: SKY SHEN


“Back then my hobby was video games, and I really liked their soundtracks,” says Sky.

“After finding inspiration from YouTube musician Kate Covington, who would take such tracks and write lyrics to them, I started similarly with game and anime instrumentals.”

Through these social media platforms, Sky began receiving requests from his online audience for his original music, which spurred him to sing and play with a keyboard.

Sky explains: “I’ve always liked singing since I was a kid, but I held back from singing in public as I would get made fun of in school and even by friends and family.

“I felt I sang weirdly, which I later understood was because I was singing completely in falsetto instead of with my chest voice.”

In spite of his fears, Sky developed his musical interest in his teen years, singing in choir whilst studying communications and media management at Temasek Polytechnic, and taking songwriting courses at Lee Wei Song Music Academy. 

But it wasn’t until 2020 that Sky’s hobby would turn into a tangible career path when he got in touch with charity organisation ART:DIS – then known as Very Special Arts Singapore.

While performing in a virtual fundraising concert that year, Sky was scouted by ART:DIS’ head of performing arts programme Peter Sau to be part of then newly-launched programme BEYOND DIS:PLAY. 


Through enrolling in BEYOND DIS:PLAY, ART:DIS’ performing arts programme, Sky was able to produce the songs he wrote years before, as well as a new song. PHOTO CREDIT: SKY SHEN


Under the programme, Sky was mentored by critically acclaimed composer and creative director Philip Tan.

Browsing through four songs Sky had already written, the two decided on ‘love’ as the overarching theme for the album. 

Sky says: “I realised that love is a topic especially close to my heart, as I feel people with disabilities are often seen in a different light when it comes to love.”

Through the mentorship, Sky was also introduced to the process of making music beyond songwriting, such as mixing, mastering, distribution and publishing.

“These are all things I didn’t care about in the past, as someone who merely wrote and sang songs, but this was the time we decided to record my songs,” says Sky. 

In late 2021, he and Philip began sourcing for funding, which became a huge obstacle. 

Sky recalls: “One of the biggest challenges was not getting a grant two years in a row, which threw a wrench in our budgeting plans.

“At the time I took it very personally, as if I wasn’t good enough, or that my cause was not worth supporting.”

Now with those days behind him, Sky said it was probably a matter of competition and that there were others with ideas “literally and tangibly world-changing”. 

However, it was this roadblock that pushed Sky to think out of the box, turning to raise funds through a crowdfunding campaign in November 2021, which in itself was another daunting task.

“I posted about my story and concept on my Instagram page, which was a huge step for me,” says Sky, “Up to that point, music was something I kept secret online under a different name and nobody in my real life was involved in my music.”

But Sky’s leap of faith turned to be for the better, as his family and friends poured in well-wishes and financial support, some of whom later played extras in his music videos. 


Within two months, Sky achieved his donation goal of $12,000, which he said was surprisingly still an underestimation of the money needed to produce the songs alone. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT/@SKYSHENMUSIC


Aside from crowdfunding, Sky said ART:DIS also stepped in after listening to his demos to finance the production of three music videos and lend him their audio recording space. 

From January to September 2022, Sky worked one-on-one with friends-cum-music professionals Shelby Wang, Evan Chan and Lui Chee Chau, through which four of his older compositions were rearranged and a new track, Wheel You Love Me, a pun referencing his disability, was born.

Later in August, Sky contracted COVID-19 in the week of his vocal recording, which made it hard for him to have a consistent vocal tone and quality. 

He recalls: “I could not sustain or belt my notes as I would easily break into a coughing fit – it was a big struggle.

“Due to our tight deadline to complete the album by end November,  we then had to film the music videos without the finalised audio recordings, which was super difficult for songs that were lip-sync heavy.”

Music videos were shot for three of Sky’s songs, Wheel You Love Me, Heart Thief and Never Apart, done by a film crew of about 20 people consisting of filmmakers Guan Jie, Hue Zhen Yu, art directors Sandra Sek and Ashley Liu, and undergraduate students from Nanyang Technological University. 


One of Sky’s highlights was being seated at the back of a moving lorry to film the music video for his song ‘Never Apart’, which he said was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity due to his physical disability. PHOTO CREDIT: SKY SHEN


Sky says: “These are all collaborators that I felt so honoured to be working with.

“Looking back, I realised they wanted it to be a meaningful experience for me. They cared about what I felt and my vision.”

Despite the uphill battle, Sky and his collaborators successfully completed the songs and music videos on time for release as part of the performing arts programme.

Wrapping up the entire process Sky was tasked to do a physical showcase to commemorate the album release, which he worked closely with ART:DIS’ Peter and his mentor Philip to create, from the acoustics down to the lighting and visuals. 


Sky’s two-night album showcase, held within the Black Box at ART:DIS, saw a total of over 100 attendees including his album collaborators and long-time close friends. PHOTO CREDIT: CALEB LAU


“I think a lot of this project was able to happen because of friends, friends of friends, and people who related to and believed in the project,” says Sky. 

Even after wrapping up his debut showcase, the hustle hasn’t ended for Sky, who has already written three songs for his sophomore album. 

“My goal is to have three EPs (extended plays) released by 30,” says Sky. 

“While my first album is very much about how my physical health has impacted my experience of life, the second will touch on mental health issues and learning to cope and live with it.”

To others looking to publish their original music, Sky’s advice was to keep persevering regardless of the odds. 

“I think a lot of people are afraid to put their work out there because they fear being imperfect, but don’t let that stop you from showing your authentic self,” he says. 

“Also as I’ve learnt to embrace collaboration and be open to changes as it can enrich the project beyond what you can even imagine.”

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