Review by: Matt Taylor
Since his debut album in 2013 scored him a slew of nominations at the 25th Golden Melody Awards, including a win for Best New Artist, Anhui born Li Ronghao has become a breakout star in mandopop, cementing his position as one of the most exciting newcomers in the industry, and a representative of a new wave of Chinese singers who have their eyes firmly set on topping the Taiwan market.
That being said, his third album, 2016’s Ideal (有理想) despite garnering some radio hits, failed to match the critical and commercial peaks of his previous endeavours, attracting criticism that he was retreading ground already walked on his previous records, and that his aesthetic had become tiring and too similar to his peers. Some even complained that his music had become too glossy, thereby losing the spark that made his star shine so bright at the beginning.
On his fourth full album, En (嗯), Li was evidently not looking to fall into the same trap. Writing over sixty songs before shortlisting the final ten and working with a variety of outside collaborators on the visuals, En is somewhat of a significant departure for the 33 year old singer, and sees him experimenting with a variety of genres, instruments, and vocal techniques.
01. Deep Into Your Soul
02. 慢慢 Slowly
03. 呼吸 Breathing
04. 啵啦 Feat. 呂士軒 Kiss It Feat. Trout Fresh
05. 天菜 The Hot One
06. You’ll Never Know
07. 粗神經 Careless
08. 別問很可怕 Don’t Ask
09. 星際牛仔 Space Cowboy
10. 早上PAPAPA Starr Chen feat. J. Sheon
11. 平行宇宙 Multiverse
Review by: CP
Interview source (Everylittled.thenewslen)
J. Sheon is a relatively new name in the mainstream Mandopop music scene. Some may even call him a bit of a late bloomer, as the 31-year-old released his debut album “J.Sheon” earlier this year. Many may not be aware, but before signing with Sony Music Taiwan, he already garnered plenty of attention with his professional sounding covers online. One of his more popular covers is a Chinese rendition of Charlie Puth’s “See you again”, which accumulated over one million views on Youtube and other video-sharing platforms.
Naturally, before the release of the official release of this album, there was already a lot of hype around his music due to his collaborations with other high profile artists in the Taiwan hip-hop scene, which includes Starr Chen, Kenzy, and MJ116 to name a few. As a matter of fact, the early results of this album have been promising, with “Don’t Ask”, “Kiss It”, “You’ll never know” garnering close to nine million views on Youtube; with many touting J.Sheon as one of the few Taiwanese artists with potential to breakthrough into the international market.
01. 给我乖 Drip
02. 她是誰 Who’s That Girl
03. 糖果 Candy
Review by: CP
Over the past several years, there has been a new wave of K-pop artists making their way into the realm of C-pop music. This includes the likes of Luhan, Tao, Victoria Song and Kris Wu to name a few. In addition to that, one of the latest female acts to crossover includes Jia, a former member of the JYP’s Korean girl group, Miss A.
As Jia’s contract with JYP Entertainment expired in 2016, she decided to take her talents to the world of C-pop in attempts to tap into the Chinese music market. She signed with Banana Culture Music, to begin her activities as a solo artist. The former Rapper and vocalist of Miss A have also redefined herself by going with a modified name in “Meng Jia”. This coincidentally ties back to the title of this solo debut EP album, called “孟佳JIA 首張同名EP” which directly translates to “Jia’s Debut EP album”.
Originally, from Loudi, Hunan, China, this is Meng Jia’s first time releasing a music album in Mandarin, her mother tongue. Overall, “Jia’s Debut Ep” is very straightforward and simple, with filled with tunes with vibes that are easy to catch. It entails three upbeat songs with sounds familiar to the listeners of K-pop and Western American pop music.
Adorned in all shades of pastel and shimmer, Zooey Wonder’s first full-length album ‘Wonderland’ intrigued me from the first moment I saw her album art. (For those of you who don’t know me, I love anything pastel and glittery!) Yet aesthetics aside, Wonder’s album has been executed with a patience and wisdom that goes beyond her young years, revealing her warmness, kindness and concern for the world around her. Indeed, her personality and use of the folktronica and ambience genres are what have made her pastel-and-shimmer visuals so apt and meaningful, while they would have otherwise gone to waste on other inane pop acts.
Based around the theme of creating a wonderland, many of the songs in the album express Zooey’s hopes and dreams for the future while performing from a position steadfastly rooted in the present. While songs like ‘Fog Forest’, ‘Mermaid’, ‘Muse’ and ‘Wonderland’ have a somewhat dreamy nature to them, others like ‘Syria’, ‘Love Will Fix Everything’ and ‘Wish you a Merry X’Mas’ address the terror, fear and negativity the world we live in presents. Handled with care, Zooey’s voice remains steady and warm when addressing these topics. Without placing blame or thinking about ‘what ifs’, Wonder uses her music to create a safe space for these issues to be discussed openly, coming to the conclusion that with love and a positive outlook, we can all do our part to make this world a better place.
I have always found Namewee to be an interesting character. He has in the past fearlessly and constantly criticised the Malaysian government through his music, dares to create works bordering on sexually explicit-yet also shows himself to be a filial son through his constant references to his mother. The Malaysian singer-songwriter-rapper particularly piqued my interest when he released his latest ‘Crossover Asia’ album which has since seen him nominated for ‘Best Male Mandarin Singer’ at the 2017 Golden Melody Awards. Given that the album has a focus on promoting harmony and cross-cultural collaborations all across Asia, it was certainly a project right up my alley.
Although in the past, most Mandopop cross-cultural collaborations aim to bridge the two extremes-the East and the West, Namewee has done things a little bit differently this time around. Born and raised in Malaysia, he has decided to focus on addressing the relationships that exist between Asian cultures, igniting collaborations with Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese artists. Thus, the album boasts a wide and varied range of collaborations, including with the likes of Wang Leehom, YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling, Joyce Chu, Nine One One, FiveFortyTwo and Vinz’.
Given the change of focus from promoting Chinese music to Western audiences (which often has to do with promoting racial equality), to a more focused scope on Asian music industries, the focus here is instead on promoting greater understanding between Asian cultures. This is a refreshing take that to my knowledge has never been attempted before. Despite the relatively high proportion of Malaysian artists who come to Taiwan to further their careers, they often attempt to assimilate (as do many foreign artists) rather than allow their backgrounds to shape their work in unique ways. Here is where Namewee’s efforts are especially commendable. In all his music, he has never once tried to hide his Malaysian accent; instead embracing it and allowing its rough-around-the-edges nature to add another layer of meaning to his rap and vocals. Furthermore, many of the songs on the album, such as ‘Stranger in the North’, ‘Little India’, ‘Mother’ and ‘Wake Up’ address in detail Namewee’s own uniquely Malaysian experiences. By fearlessly owning his heritage and using his confidence to articulate it, Namewee has gone against negative stereotypes of Southeast Asians as ‘hillbillies’, packaging their experiences as unique and valuable especially due to their valuing of multicultural experiences, tropical environments and family ties.
One must-mention track is the chart-topping hit ‘Stranger in the North’ featuring Wang Leehom. I had goosebumps the first time I heard this song and even teared up the first couple of times, especially because of how accurately Namewee recounted experiences and emotions that I had previously felt while far from home. Having Leehom on the track, an artist who is the poster boy for cross-cultural collaboration deepens the meaning behind the song even further. On top of the obviously catchy melody, the arrangement is simple yet so perfect. The simple, homely notes on the piano start the song off on a nostalgic note because launching right into heavy beats that drive the song forward, egging on Namewee’s spitfire rap to evoke even more meaningful imagery within the song. The lyrics evoke striking imagery through Namewee’s skilful depiction of scenes and memories that are familiar to many city slickers; working hard to support their families, leaving their home country for more opportunities, and feeling isolated and alone in new places. I found the imagery of the coconut trees, ergoutou wine in hand and the bowl of hot soup especially powerful, reflecting especially accurately the conflicting emotions of motivation, homesickness, isolation, fear and melancholy that many who are chasing their dreams far from home feel.
Another standout track on the album for me was ‘Mother’, which incorporated a smooth R&B/hip-hop style with a traditional Chinese flair, and even a little of a Peking Opera feel which is especially reminiscent of Southeast Asian Chinese culture. Once again, Namewee’s imagery is powerful as his recounts his own experiences which his mother supported him through; from his student days all the way until he moved to Taiwan. Once again, his heritage is evident in the lyrics as he mentions his mother’s traditional Nonya food, the use of Malaysian slang ‘Paisi Gina (meaning Bad child)’, and his move to Kuala Lumpur. Collaborating with his very own mother Ma Guang Fang on this song, her motherly and traditional style of singing also adds to the warmth and moving nature of the song.
The track ‘Oh My God’ which he collaborated on with Taiwanese rapper Nine One One should certainly be analysed for its controversial nature. The single landed Namewee in a whole heap of trouble when it was first released in 2016, due to the Malaysian government accusing him of blasphemy for mentioning Allah. Namewee on the other hand, asserted that all he was trying to do was promote religious harmony. The song is essentially a high-power, EDM-influenced comical medley of focusing on different religions including Buddhism and Islam; first starting with a Chinese influenced verse about Buddhism, then switching into a supposedly Malay accent to refer to Islam. Once again, the fact that Buddhism and Islam were the two main religions that he focused on within the song, here Namewee once again allows his Malaysian heritage to influence his works in a way that was interesting, refreshing and got peoples’ attention.
Yet another track I particularly enjoyed from this album was ‘Little India’, a song on which Namewee collaborated with Indian artists Vinz’, Jeyaganesh and Kubhasheni. This song is interesting in that it centres on Little India, a community which is present in many countries including Malaysia rather than India itself. This distinction is probably once again drawn from Namewee’s own experiences, rendering it more credible. On top of this, working with Indian artists also render the use of Indian-influenced arrangements more authentic and in good taste. Coming on fast and strong with the Bollywood theme, Namewee adopts an Indian accent as he hilariously sings in English and Chinese, rattling off a list of culturally unique things about Indian culture, such as their worship of cows, their use of hands to eat rice and many others. Although humorous, it is important to note that I don’t think Namewee’s lyrics were offensive; they instead portrayed Indians in a vibrant and jolly light in a way that many Chinese-language artists fail to address. Featuring a strong beat to update the arrangement, after Namewee’s bit helps to acclimatise the audience to the Indian theme, the various Indian artists are featured and allowed to shine on their own terms. This song just puts me in such a good mood and I truly recommend it to everyone for a fresh new listening experience!
Through his ‘Crossover Asia’ album, Namewee has completely broken down preconceptions of how Southeast Asian artists are supposed to package themselves when they enter the Taiwanese music industry. So many doors have opened for him due to his fearlessness in pursuing his authentic, uniquely Malaysian perspective. He is one of the first Southeast Asian singers who has been so fiercely proud of his heritage; so much so that it has completely changed my own conceptions of what is possible for these artists on the Chinese-language stage. Although in the past, I have been mindful of my Singaporean accent especially when I speak in English (and sometimes in Chinese), Namewee has proved an inspiration in this respect. By owning your heritage and packaging it in a way that is tasteful yet true to yourself, the possibilities for cultural exchange and understanding are endless. The only thing I will have to say is that I do know Namewee releases music at an almost breakneck speed, so I would say I hope that he could work on creating a little more polished works in the future; perhaps putting more care into the finer details in his arrangements and being a little more experimental. Although the album was a pleasure to listen to, the arrangements seemed to be more thrown together in the heat of the moment rather than carefully thought out in terms of the different textures that go together and the symbolism of the elements within the arrangement. I suppose in a way that is Namewee’s standout point; that he is a rather rough personality with a big heart. But always something to think about for next time! All in all, for anyone who doesn’t know too much about Southeast Asians and their culture, Namewee’s album would be a great way to get into it.