In her early twenties Kiki Wong was forced to make a decision that would dramatically alter her entire life—should she become a doctor or a world-traveling rockstar?
“I was kind of living a double life,” Wong says. “I was in the pre-med program at UC Irvine, working in hospitals and medical clinics, but also going to rehearsals. I was sleeping three hours a night—it was insane. I got my bachelor’s degree and went to work at the UCLA Medical Center with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Then, the singer from my band told me we’d gotten an opportunity to tour in China. So I quit my job on the spot.”
Ultimately, the tour ended up being canceled, but there was no turning back for Wong. She had decided to put medical school behind her and channel all of her energy into music. It was while playing guitar for an all-Asian girl group called Nylon Pink that Wong made waves in the music world. “In life, you can pursue a pretty paved path of success, which I would have had if I’d continued on,” she says. “Even though my experience trying to pursue music has been all over the place, I’ve had some great highs once things started picking up—like opportunities to perform with Taylor Swift and Usher—but I’ve also experienced the lows of barely making rent and getting into tens of thousands of dollars of debt. It’s crazy but I will say it’s 100 percent worth the pursuit of your passion versus doing something you think you’re supposed to do.”
Following her passion down the unpaved path has led Wong to be a part of several bands—Nylon Pink, Jerry Only’s She Demons and her current group, Vigil of War. She’s more than made up for the cancellation of her first international tour and has played on nearly every continent. Following her passion for playing music has helped Wong uncover a secondary love—travel. “Kyla, the singer of Nylon Pink, and I had a website and we decided to turn it into a travel blog,” she says. “We started writing about travel and beauty, but it ended up taking off. Within the first six months we had 100,000 viewers a month and we were like, ‘What is going on?’ So we started traveling all over the world, writing stories and going on the news to discuss our travel experiences.”
In early 2020, Wong had an impressive travel schedule laid out in front of her, with trips lined up to Estonia, Thailand and South Africa. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ever resourceful, Wong flipped the switch and instead of putting all her energy toward her travel blog, she turned to TikTok. Initially, Wong went into posting on TikTok with her travel blogging partner Kyla and the two found impressive success through posting a new video every single day. But it was Wong’s decision to pull out her trusty guitar that earned her true viral star status.
“Once October hit, it went haywire,” she says. “It’s been growing like crazy and while the travel stuff was really fun, I don’t know if that was who I am. Authentically, who I am is this person who loves metal. My brother showed me Pantera and Metallica when I was 11 and I’ve kind of had to cycle that away for my whole life just so I could fit in. But I finally feel like through this TikTok experience and being able to showcase the music that I love, I’ve undergone one of the most fulfilling and incredible transformations I’ve experienced in my 32 years of life.”
Wong’s growth as a guitar-slingin’ TikToker may be her most significant career transformation, but it wasn’t the only big change she went through in the past year. Prior to the beginning of 2021, Wong didn’t have a single tattoo on her body. This wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary had she continued to pursue medicine, but as a touring musician, this is pretty unusual. “It’s funny, because I remember being 16 and going to a tattoo shop with my friends and everyone got a tattoo but me even though I wanted one,” she says. “I was worried about what my parents would think. When I joined Nylon Pink and was exposed to the music industry, I thought about getting tattoos, but in the back of my mind I was still always thinking about what other people would think. I ultimately went through this whole evolution process where I realized I don’t have to do things for everyone else and I can do things for myself.”
Kiki Wong has been on quite a ride over the last decade, and that’s because she followed her passion. Sure, going the straight and narrow may have been a smoother ride, but the risk reaped huge rewards. At the end of the day, she’s living life without regrets and rocking out while doing it.