Photo caption: Photo courtesy of Sarey Savy.

Sarey Savy is a musician with a mission. The White Center resident, 17, is looking to break through as a pop star. He’s already signed to a record label in California, has released a mixtape and a number of singles —and he has fans around the world. What’s more, there’s a drive in him — a fire in his voice and eyes — that suggests he can do it.

“It’s all by motivation, you know. How bad do you want it?” Savy said.

Music — and especially vocal aptitude — runs in his family. Savy and each of his four sisters all sing. Their mother, a singer in her native Cambodia, first introduced Savy to music. He says he’s been singing since age 8.

“There’s not one day where there isn’t someone singing in the house,” Savy said.

A student at the Arts and Academics Academy in Burien, Savy performs in the school’s choir. But his first passion is for his own music. Though his music most closely fits into the R&B and dance genres, Savy doesn’t like to label himself.

“I don’t really categorize myself,” he said. “I don’t want to be put in a box.”

One of the biggest challenges of being a musician, Savy said, is to learn to tune out the people who don’t like you. As a young artist, that means letting go of the natural inclination to want to seek approval, he said.

“When you’re young … you want people to like you, to fit in and to not feel like an outcast,” Savy explained. “I try to fully express myself without caring about what people think.

“That’s the biggest challenge.”

As a young Cambodian American rising as an artist in mainstream American music, Savy is already a surprising success story; there simply aren’t very many Cambodian-American pop stars. But there’s another part of Savy’s identity that helps set him apart in both the R&B community and in his own culture. He’s openly gay, and writes nearly all of his music with that experience in mind.

“I can’t really hide myself in the closet,” he said.

While public sentiment in the United States is increasingly more supportive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights, as evidenced by the passing of gay marriage in Washington sate last year and positive polling results across the U.S. on the issue of same-sex marriage —as well as the increased visibility of anti-bullying campaigns such as the “It Gets Better” videos, Savy’s own experience as a young gay man is also influenced by his Cambodian heritage.

“In the Cambodian tradition, it’s different if you’re gay,” Savy said. “It was hard for me to accept my culture looking down on me.”

To date, Savy said that no openly gay Cambodian has achieved significant popular success in the country. He added that he hopes to break that cycle. In the process, Savy aspires to be a source of inspiration for Cambodian-Americans and members of the LGBT community.

Advocacy for the LGBT community goes beyond Savy’s music — he’s active in the Washington state chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and in Proud, Out and Wonderful! (POW!), a group for LGBT youth ages 13-21 in Burien.  The group meets from 4 – 6 p.m. Wednesdays at 1033 SW 152nd St. Savy also performed at the Capitol Hill Pride Festival on June 29, where he premiered his new single, “Da Bass Rock.”

His message to young men and women in the LGBT community is simple: Be yourself.

“Be who you are—put yourself in a place where you can be happy, and be who you are,” he said.

Savy embraces that philosophy in his own music.

“Everyone has a different beginning … everyone has a different story,” he said.

To learn more about Sarey Savy and his music, visit Download a free mixtape at (contains some explicit lyrics).

A version of this story was originally published in The Voice newspaper and reprinted with permission. For more news, visit

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