What comes to mind when you think of JJ Lin? Mandopop King? Not quite. Prince? In some way it doesn’t seem a fitting term for a veteran such as himself. So what defines JJ Lin? In my opinion, nothing and everything.
Known initially for his immensely likeable melodies and ballads, I would say that his consistency in producing popular ballads and songs that are loved by all is what I most respect about him. From Cyndi Wang’s当你 to Fahrenheit’s 我只对你有感觉 to his own numerous classics such as 修炼爱情 and 如果有如果, JJ’s songs have set a high standard for ballads within the Taiwanese music industry; hedging an equilibrium between popularity and quality. I would say that in comparison even with the likes of musical kings Jay Chou and Wang Leehom whose reputations have been secured but are producing songs nowadays with a lower emphasis on popularity (with Leehom recently taking on the EDM genre and Chou attempting new experiments in his works), JJ’s works are almost always guaranteed top spots on the charts that are in for the long haul, rather than dropping out after a month or two. In fact, his music could be said to be in one sense an apt representation of the Taiwanese music industry and what it has been looking for.
Yet at the same time, JJ’s loyal composition and arrangement style could instead turn its back on him, leaving him with nothing. It is true that his songs are well-loved by mainstream audiences; however audiences are fickle sometimes. In my opinion, his songs, although well-done and of a consistent quality, are just not enough to make audiences passionate about his music and what he stands for. Furthermore, what I believe JJ’s music represents is the stereotypical work of the industry; just sad love songs constantly rephrasing breakups and romanticising love in a way that sometimes just doesn’t even seem to make sense. (See JJ’s song 修炼爱情-the lyrics seem to just be poetic phrases strung together and are partially incomprehensible. Although JJ wrote the song in memory of a classmate who died in the Silkair plane tragedy, the lyrics missed the point of the song completely.) And as the Taiwanese music industry approaches the tail end of its ballad era, JJ’s ballads although still popular, are allowing him to be defined as just another balladeer, along with the rest of the artists trying to milk what they can out of their audiences with ballad-filled albums while others show their innovative side, contributing instead to the new era of Mandopop.
But to look again on the positive side, JJ is kind of like a chameleon. He’s versatile and able to adapt to any kind of environment with ease. He’s shown that he’s not just adept at ballads, but also at rap, hip hop, etc. What really stood out to me in every single album of his I owned was the amount of collaborations in each of them. While many artists would only attempt one duet per album, JJ’s albums are always chock-full of them, with 3 or 4 spliced into each of his works. And it’s not just any artists he’s been collaborating with-Lin counts the greats such as Leehom, Mayday, Jason Mraz and Gem Tang as a mere handful of the big names he’s worked with over the years, with the artists he chooses to work with becoming more and more unimaginable. And JJ does have this certain collaborative dynamic which I really enjoy; no matter who he’s collaborating with, he has this ability to meet them on their level while holding his own all the while. He did it especially well in his duet with Mayday’s Ashin “黑夜骑士” and with Charlene Choi in “小酒窝”.
However, once again this strength of his could just as easily turn into his weakness. The reason why people don’t do more than one collaboration per album is pretty obvious. It’s their album, and they don’t want to be outshined. And although JJ is certainly capable enough to hold his own in any duet, the starpower of these other singers could work against him, and kind of suck out his personality from each collaboration. When he collaborated with Leehom (who was only on the violin), I was mainly listening out for and analysing the violin rather than concentrating on his voice. All these things kind of add up and are detrimental towards the one thing that I am always looking out for in an artist’s works: their unique inner voice. What makes an artist grab your attention? You’re going to either need an artist who is extremely out there, and just has this amazing charisma to grab everyone’s attention or you’re going to need that special feeling you get; be it from their voice or more usually I like to listen out for it in their compositions. Any one time I listen to a song by Khalil Fong (even if it wasn’t sung by him) I can tell almost immediately that he wrote it. Because that’s just his signature arrangement style, and it’s so strong and so influential that you really can’t miss it. So although Khalil’s just an unassuming guy, you can really hear his talent, his subtle passion and love for the blues/funk/R n B in his music. However with JJ it’s really hard to tell where this special something lies, and I honestly don’t think it’s because I’m not looking hard enough. JJ’s songs are nice and all, but they don’t tell me about him. They don’t tell me his story, they don’t tell me about his experiences, it’s all very two-dimensional to me. Audiences can’t relate to that. And when audiences can’t relate to something you really have a problem on your hands. So JJ’s music in my opinion toes the line between like and love. Technically speaking its immensely listenable but in terms of the lyrics and perhaps the arrangements he uses, they come off somewhat boring, making JJ’s music a familiar addition to their collection they’ll happily listen to, but when it comes to the crunch, he’s not going to be their no.1 favourite artist.
What he needs to do is to think outside the box and break this crazy equilibrium he’s trying to hold onto with being everything he thinks the mandopop audience wants at the same time; trying to produce songs which sound good and are of a good quality at the same time. Because really all I’ve ever wanted to hear from him was his story, but I’m always left disappointed in this aspect which is of the utmost importance to me. I could be wrong about this, but to me there’s still a lot more to JJ that he’s not showing through his music, and I hope that soon he’ll be able to put more of his personality into his music; to TRULY show us what he’s made of.
There's just something about Bii that makes everyone love him-it may be the fact that he's korean, and chock full of boyish appeal that's done it for most girls (and boys), but for me it's all about how he's created his identity as an artist using this idea of fusion that makes him stand out from the rest. In the early stages of Bii's music, he wasn't given much of a chance to showcase his creativity in terms of songwriting, but his perseverance paid off when his song <Come back to me> hit the big time on the charts, not only because of the catchiness of the melody itself, but also because of the fact that it consisted of three languages-Chinese, Korean and English. Since then, Bii as a Korean-Taiwanese has begun to experiment even more with his language melding antics as he gains more control over the songwriting aspect of his album, and the response so far has been absolutely amazing. His latest album <Action Go> has a little of everything-Chinese, English, Korean and even Taiwanese to top things off.
To me it's interesting because the Taiwanese industry has an astounding amount of examples of these kinds of artists who often incorporate a little bit of English into their Chinese songs, but none have gone full-out as Bii has to make it part of his signature style, as reflective of his unique cultural identity as a Korean-Taiwanese. Also, it's a pretty smart move for a music industry that has tried somewhat aimlessly so far to compete with the huge Kpop wave as well as Western music in general at the moment. Bii's attracting fans from Korea, Asia and the Western world not only with his looks and charm, but also his strong grasp on this signature sound that no-one else but him possesses. Good on you Bii!
Earlier this year when Wang Leehom released his collaboration with Avicii <忘了我>(Forget Myself), I heard a little snippet of him talking about his new direction and why he chose it. Leehom said something along the lines of EDM not being a genre which has been explored in Taiwanese and Chinese mainstream music thus far. But after truly getting to know Magic Power’s music a few months ago, I was surprised to find that for once, Leehom was wrong after all! EDM music isn’t a completely new genre that hasn’t been explored in Taiwanese music previously-in fact, Magic Power’s been pushing their unique fusion of EDM, rock and Chinese-style pop at consistently superior levels ever since their debut several years back.
One of the big problems that I’ve been mulling over in my mind quite a lot these days is that of the decreasing popularity of the Chinese music genre. Not only that, but it also worries me how increasingly repetitive and commercial it’s becoming. The new generation of artists are becoming more disappointing by the batch; not in terms of their abilities per say, but just the way in which they and their music are packaged. People are starting to value quantity over quality to the point where lines are becoming seriously blurred. It just makes me think how the music scene will turn out when these new artists become the real veterans on the scene and are leading the direction of Taiwanese music. In some ways, things are getting better, but we need artists who have a distinctive, fresh and inexplicably likeable sound to break through the clutter, and to change the face of Chinese music not only in Taiwan, but worldwide.
Who better to do so than Mr Superhero(lead singer ting ting) and his gang of badass misfits? On first look, these guys may not look that much different from any other boyband that has made their mark on the Taiwanese music scene, but from the very first listen, you’re bound to realise that there’s something very different from what you’re used to here. Magic Power’s arrangement features the strong, thumping beats signature of the EDM genre to get listeners up and moving, fused with a heavy dose of their Taiwanese rock influences with wailing guitars and a lethal, infective passion that strikes to kill. They top it all off with the secret ingredient that funnily enough not that many artists and creative directors have understood yet-the best, most consistently catchy and listenable melodies that I’ve heard in a long while. The entire of their last album <Fighting for Love> has been on repeat for god knows how long in my car, on my run, or just wherever I go, it’s that good. And every single song gets a play; not just a select few, making them more and more likeable with each listen. Interestingly enough, Ting Ting’s lyrics are also another standout point that have helped this band break through the clutter; full of honest-to-god emotion and relatability, Magic Power gets their point through clearly and yet so eloquently, using a sophisticated Chinese writing style that can’t be copied by just anyone.
The boys have done well so far, amassing huge fanbases with their rocking tunes and their message of fun and a truly infectious passion for life; this is definitely the ‘it’ band which has the potential to change the fate of the Taiwanese music scene as I see it. This is no doubt in part due to the way they’ve been managed by their company Bin Music Taipei founded by Mayday’s Masha and mentored by everyone at Mayday. They have successfully created a new power band that I believe will last more than an average of five years (as have previous ones such as Lollipop and Fahrenheit), incorporating the latter’s diehard Rock spirit with their own personal musical blend, making for the perfect cocktail of risk and skill that leads to inevitable success. These boys will go far, and I don’t know about you, but I think they’re the chosen ones who are definitely going to pioneer Taiwanese music in a direction that we’ve never seen before, helping Taiwanese music to once again regain its composure on the world stage, while creating a genre the Taiwanese can be proud to call homegrown. So good work boys; the future for you is bright as I see it!
For those of you who don't know, its rising star and soon-to-be Mandopop princess Kimberley Chen's 20th birthday today! Despite her only being in the business officially since her debut album in 2012, she's achieved an astounding level of popularity that is unrivalled by any other newcomers that I've seen so far. I'm proud to say that I've been a fan of hers since before she even debuted officially; and recalling the first time I heard her sing live, I was absolutely blown away by her powerhouse vocals. Definitely, as the title goes, I really did fall in love with her music before she was the new pin-up girl for the new era of mandopop. But unlike how her song <I Love You Before It Was Cool> goes, I did end up investing a lot in her music (mostly hope for her success), and was rewarded with amazing results.
With Kimberley, there's a sense of juxtapositioning that makes her music so appealing to listeners always; the promise of something new and different, but yet always confident in its ability to please and amaze.Of course, a large part of this is thanks to her creative team including producer Terry Lee, Victor Lau, Skot Suyama, Lil J (from JPM) to name a few, but what I feel really makes her and her music so popular is the sense of spontaneity that exudes from her always.
Her producer Terry Lee is always lauding her for her sense of spontaneity that helps them to get an album put together much more smoothly, and it's clear in her music; the way she sings - a sense of creative freedom and a carefree attitude that sets her and the atmosphere within her music apart from the rest. But Kimberley plays a bigger part in her own success than many realise. Who do you think wrote the bridge part for the hit song <爱你 Love You>? For me, it represents a fusion of Kimberley's creativity, spontaneity and pitch-perfect vocal technique in a one-minute long section which cannot be replicated by any other singer, other than Kimberley herself. Can you even imagine Jolin Tsai trying to sing that bridge? Don't think so.
And for her latest hit <分手说爱你 Breaking Up To Say I Love You>, it was her who gave this song a chance and breathed life into it, making it her own unique Kimberley anthem. This girl knows what she likes, and what she doesn't. She gets straight to the point and isn't afraid of letting other people know of her opinions, and I really respect her for that. I hope that she continues to have great successes along her path as an artist, and that she has a very happy birthday on this special day. You're awesome Kimberley!
#01 Hebe Tien
#02 Elva Hsiao
#03 Wang Lee Hom
#04 Lara Veronin
#05 Anthony Neely
#06 Gary Chaw
#07 Rachel Liang
#08 Yen J
#09 William Wei
#10 David Tao
#11 Kimberley Chen
#12 Peggy Hsu
#13 Magic Power