Exclusive: BoyWithUke Gets Unmasked and Puts Down the Ukulele for “Can You Feel It?”

When Charley Yang, better known as BoyWithUke, the boy with a ukulele, first went viral on TikTok in 2021 with his song “Toxic,” he kept his face hidden behind an LED-lit mask. He kept his identity hidden until October 2023, finally revealing his face at the end of his music video for “Homesick” from his fourth album Lucid Dreams.

Within the three years of his success, which brought BoyWithUke two billion streams of his music, nearly eight million followers on TikTok, and a sold-out Lucid Dreams Tour, the act of peeling back the Bluetooth mask was long overdue for Yang.

“I took the mask off because it was destroying me mentally,” he reveals to American Songwriter. BoyWithUke remained masked from his 2021 debut Melatonin Dreams, follow-up Fever Dreams, and third album Serotonin Dreams in 2022. “I got into music because I loved making music and, at first, the mask helped me do that. But after a few years, I felt it had become a gimmick used to boost views and popularity, and I hated it.”

His big reveal marked a new incarnation for BoyWithUke—and sound, leaving out his famed ukulele and clearing the space to reveal more personal lyrics and the pulse of something different on “Can You Feel It?” Open blinds, but I can’t find my way around / I owe it to myself, I got a lot to figure out / Got a knot in my belly, are you sure it’s supposed to help me? / It’s been long enough to feel it he sings on the song, the start of a confessional of the twists and turns in his life and his rebirth as an artist.

BoyWithUke spoke to American Songwriter about his creative rebirth, the workings of a fifth album, and why he won’t hide behind a mask anymore.

American Songwriter: On “Can You Feel It?” there’s a sense of anxiety—Feel the heavy breathing, on my chest and in my mouth—to references of burning bridges, shout-outs to Rimbaud and Verlaine, and your bedroom with no colors. What is it all about?

BoyWithUke: “Can You Feel It?” was written a few weeks after Lucid Dreams came out. The song originally started as an experiment to see if I could write a song without structure, the kind of song that keeps moving forward—which is also how I view my career. As the track developed, I felt it fitting to write the lyrics about a culmination of different life experiences I’ve had throughout my life. In the end, the lyrics are very messy, very personal, and very raw. Also, Verlaine and Rimbaud (the 19th-century French poets, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud) are the names of my roommates’ cats.

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“Can You Feel It?” Cover Art

AS: Visually, the darker, grimier video (shot by Connor Gaskey and directed by BoyWithUke) plays well into the rawness or messiness of the lyrics. Did you already have a Fight Club-like vision in mind for the music video?

BWU: The music video is by far the coolest-looking video we’ve shot—maybe second to “Homesick.” The video is loosely based on the movie “Fight Club.” The director, Kevin Lien, and I have worked together many times, so it came together rather efficiently over a phone call, in which we discussed themes, visual imagery, different films to pull inspiration from, [and] the setting up of other potential music videos.

AS: What can you share about the new songs you’ve written and your forthcoming album later this year? Is there something connecting these songs, a common thread, for you?

BWU: The new songs are so so different sonically. I’m experimenting with new sounds and new song structures, and I’m learning guitar. I think the lyrics overall are a lot more emotional and real. A lot of life-changing things have happened to me in the past year or so, like breaking up with my girlfriend, doing a face reveal, moving, etc. I believe the most common theme is change. Letting go of your past self, and becoming something better. 

AS: Why did you finally take the mask off?

BWU: I took the mask off because it was destroying me mentally. I got into music because I loved making music, and at first the mask helped me do that. But after a few years, I felt it had become a gimmick used to boost views and popularity, and I hated it. It felt so inauthentic and scummy. Eventually, I began to develop a hatred for everything around the mask, which included creating music, and that’s where I drew the line. Now that I’m unmasked, I generally feel a lot better about my career.

A lot has also changed in my personal life, but positively so. I no longer get anxiety attacks about face leaks. But also, in a weird way, it almost feels like I’ve taken off the training wheels. Every move I make on social media is now a direct reflection of who I am as a person. I can no longer hide behind a mask, and I think this is good for me. I am who I am now.

“Can You Feel It?” video, shot by Connor Gaskey, directed by BoyWithUke

AS: So much has happened for you within a short time. Thinking back to Melatonin Dreams to Lucid Dreams and now, how has songwriting changed for you?

BWU: Looking back at Melatonin Dreams, I’m always initially a little shocked at how people were able to listen to the tracks even with the lack of quality in production, but at the same time, I think there’s some charm to it. Those songs were written by a teenager struggling with depression and anxiety, desperate to get his thoughts out of his head and heard by someone. Anyone. And I’m thankful that he was able to, albeit with very rudimentary production.

I think now (post-Lucid Dreams), songwriting for me has changed. I’ve made a great effort in the new songs to portray my feelings more artistically. I am gravitating towards lyrics that are a bit more emotional, and true to who I am.

AS: What’s next for BoyWithUke?

BWU: Currently, for BoyWithUke, I’m focused on working on the next project. I say this about every project, but so far, I think I am genuinely proud of it. I’m making music I want to be making, and being who I want to be (crazy concept, but I think in this industry, it’s really difficult). And ideally, I’d love to tour with the new songs. I believe the new sound will thrive in a live setting.

Photo: Connor Gaskey / Courtesy of Big Feat PR

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