THE BOY IN THE BAND |  Grayson Villanueva on being part of Disney-Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’

Set in early 2000s Toronto, Disney-Pixar’s latest film “Turning Red” pays homage to the decade’s biggest musical acts. As the story centers around a 13 -year-old girl’s coming of age story, director Domme Shi feels that “it’s pretty much mandatory to include a boy band.”

This is where Filipino-American singer, music producer, performer and vocal arranger Grayson Villanueva comes in. With three songs written by brother-sister duo FINNEAS and Billie Eilish, Grayson, along with Jordan Fisher, Josh Levi, Topher Ngo and Finneas himself providing vocals, the five of them lend their voices to 4*Town, the in-universe band the protagonist is obsessed with. Inspired by the styles of NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys, the team created three songs; “Nobody Like U,” “U Know What’s Up,” “1 True Love,” all of which mix the style of the early 2000s with modern sensibilities.

“I think they just nailed that era,” said Grayson, who voiced the youngest member of 4*Town, Taeyong, “but they also included a lot of modern production which makes it so much fun to listen to.”

For Grayson, this role was a surprise yet “fit like a glove”, as he initially had no idea that he was auditioning for Pixar.

“When I was auditioning for the role, I didn’t know what it was for,” he recalled, “I just knew it was an animated film, and I didn’t hear back until three months when the vocal contractor for the film texted me and said; ‘hey, Disney is gonna call you this week.’”

Upon landing the role, Grayson found out that all the three songs required perfect harmonies and the magic “boy band chemistry”. Having had a background in acapella and beatboxing, Grayson was able to “trial and error” the harmonies with the other members during the workshop.

“It was super cool to be able to do that, especially after quarantine,” he said, “So what we did was we all sang in the same room but in different vocal booths. But the vocal booths had windows so we could see each other and interact with one another. It was a lot of trial and error, but it was such a thrill to be able to play outside the realms of the sheet music and make that come to life. It was a lot of making sure our voices blended together and that we had that boy band chemistry,”

However, this role was not just a way for Grayson to flex his vocal prowess, as it also marks an important step in Grayson’s personal advocacy of Asian representation in mainstream media.

“It’s such an honor to be part of this film, it’s a story about an Asian girl’s coming of age but the center point is not being Asian, it’s about growing up. Everyone can relate to that, she just happens to be Asian. I want to see more stories where they don’t really make it a point that ‘hey this is an Asian story,’ but more ‘hey, here’s a story that everyone can relate to that just happens to be Asian’ and I love that,” he concludes.