By Jocelle Koh
Thumbnail Design by Allison Sun
Special Thanks to KKBOX SG
Although you may know her from her internet-breaking covers of ‘Stranger In The North 漂向北方’ and ‘Meeting You 剛好遇見你’, Singaporean Mandopop singer Boon Hui Lu 文慧如 is much more than just a cover singer.
Having proved her clout as a vocalist and influencer through these works, AND her creative talents through songs penned for Hebe Tien and Joanne Tseng, the 25 year-old has recently come into her own with her first original album “Honestly Me親愛的你_怎樣的我”; representing an eclectic mix of works highlighting different sides to her personality.
When we caught up with her on her last trip to Singapore, the gracious and playful artist showed that strength truly comes from within, chatting with us about the trials and tribulations of making the leap to becoming a singer-songwriter, and birthing her debut original album.
In particular, she spoke about the decision to take her old YouTube covers offline temporarily, in an effort to start with a clean slate and have audiences get to know her all over again:
“Of course everyone wants to keep listening to my covers, but I didn’t want to put the focus on covers, what if I release new works and they are still listening to my old stuff on YouTube? So I think it was quite a daring move, to temporarily take all my old works offline, so that everyone can know that I am putting out new works. During this of course I was conflicted, because I was worried everyone would be unhappy.”
Although taking down the covers to make room for new growth seems like a relatively logical and easy decision on her part; Hui Lu’s millions of views on these cover videos (46 million and counting on her cover of ‘Stranger in the North漂向北方’) and the hundreds of thousands of subscribers she’s amassed as a result tell a different story; highlighting her driven nature as an artist.
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
Special thanks to SCAPE INVASION Youth Music Awards
In one of my favourite tracks ‘Least of You’ from Singaporean-Australian crooner Charlie Lim’s latest album ‘CHECK HOOK’, the sensitive musician shared an interesting phrase previously used to describe the track.
“It’s kinda poppy but also has its own weird quirks to it. I got to play a little fuzz guitar solo at the end but it’s also part of this weird half-time section which I really love. Simon (Lam, from Melbourne duo Kllo…) said it felt like you were taking a long contemplative drive at night, but in an electric smart car. (laughs)”
Although technically the phrase wasn’t coined by Lim himself, the notion of taking a long contemplative drive at night in an electric smart car strangely appeals to me as a perfect way of describing the muso’s recent electropop works.
While a mishmash of R&B, Funk, Soul, Folk, Blues and Jazz have been used to describe his music in the past, the winner of ‘Fresh Vibe of the Year’ at the 2019 Youth Music Awards’ recent deep dive into the electronic genre has added an extra zing to his creation, making them thought-provoking yet slightly unhinging.
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
Forming in 2014, Elephant Gym is one of Taiwan’s only Math-Rock bands. Yet from this place of isolation the trio has grown like a rose amongst the thorns; adapting with grace and fluidity to become one of Taiwan’s most successful musical exports. The band’s musical offerings have been highly acclaimed since the very beginning; from scoring opportunities to work with Yoga Lin to now embarking on an ambitious worldwide tour with their second full album ‘Underwater’, but in fact very little of their trajectory was left to chance.
Instead, the trio seem to have forged a rare balance between logic and creativity, an element which has eluded the best of us. Despite the absolute freeing feeling of whimsy and abandon one receives from their math/post-rock tunes, I found out over afternoon tea that the band is surprisingly grounded. A completely independent team, Tell, KT and Tu are not just the musicians and performers behind Elephant Gym; they are everything from the admins who reply on social media to the accountants who crunch the numbers.
“KT: Our team is just the three of us. We all have two roles, taking on identities as both the admin and the band. Oh and we deal with promotion, and… everything else (laughs). We don’t have an assistant or a management company in Taiwan. So we are always having meetings and have clear roles for each of us. To me I think Tell will put together the big idea, and then Chiachin will execute and contact the relevant parties... So once everyone has secured the deal, then I will start to tell everyone that this thing is happening.”
By Matt Taylor
When it comes to defining who is the Queen of Mandopop or Queen of Cantopop, debates can be heated as fans fight for their favourite to wear the prestigious crown. There are very few who have credible claim to these revered titles, and one of that small handful is Sandy Lam林憶蓮. Since her debut Cantonese album in 1985, Sandy has gone on to be a defining figure in Chinese-language music. What has always set her apart from her peers is not just her incredible commercial success; but her ability to transform, and willingness to step outside of the frameworks of the genre and industries in which she operates.
With the news that Sandy plans to bow out of the music world, now seems the appropriate time for us to take a look back at her astonishing career, and at how she’s shaped and influenced the worlds of Cantonese & Mandarin music. How did a teenage part-time DJ become one of the most prolific Chinese-language artists of the 20th and 21st centuries?
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
Upon interviewing her, we found that Yoyo Sham’s personality is just like her music; mellow, comfortable, and always thoughtful. Although the end of 2018 saw her just releasing her second album, the Jazz/Folk/Pop artist has already made her mark on the Mandarin music industry in more ways than one; boasting a lengthy track record as a professional backing vocalist for the likes of Khalil Fong and Eason Chan, and showing her apparent flair for blending genres and languages into her easy songwriting style.
“I tend to look for comfort in music. I also look for stimulation and inspiration, of course... But I seldom use music to…I wanted to say I seldom use music to express anger or frustration, but I’m learning to as well… I think I tend to like music that makes me comfortable … it’s just natural for me, it’s not something I try very hard to achieve, it’s just how I am.”
Yet her latest album ‘Nothing is Under Control’ sees an evolution of Sham’s uniquely chilled sound; sometimes into more lively, cheeky, territory; whilst reprising and improving on her relaxing jazz/folk offerings. Riding the highs and lows of life, Sham takes us on a journey of the unexpected-no matter how we perceive the latter.
“Nothing is under control is something I find true in many, many circumstances (laughs) ... And I actually took this out of one of the lyrics in the song ‘Ride’. So the whole line was ‘freedom is simply seeing, nothing is under control, gotta learn to let go’… it’s like … something for everyone to reflect on. So when you see the title ’Nothing is under control’ , how do you react? I wanna throw that out there for people to react and reflect on themselves…it’s a neutral concept for me…I like throwing out things to provoke reflections (laughs).”
‘Ride’; as one of the core songs on Yoyo’s album has a bohemian feel à la Corinne Bailey Rae, and skilfully penned lyrics that delicately capture the vivid beauty of letting the chips fall where they may.
“I’m really happy to have a song like that, I’ve always wanted to have a song like ride that kind of…is kind of comforting, and it’s like a reminder for me, the things that’s said and its positive, I like the vibe of the song, its earthy, keeps going.”
By Jocelle Koh
Thumbnail Design by Allison Sun
Photos Courtesy of Esplanade - Theatres By The Bay
When asked what it is that inspires him to create; Mandopop dark horse Khalil Fong’s answer was succinct, but universally meaningful.
“There are various reasons but I guess primarily a sense of responsibility to the art itself.”
Khalil's position in the Mandarin music industry has always been unique. Whilst the likes of Jay Chou and Wang Leehom are crowned Mandarin pop royalty, the title sounds a little off when applied to Fong, who just seems to be legendary in his own way. In fact, his thoughts on responsibility seem to echo in the path of a certain arachnid superhero.
Indeed, the 35 year-old musical mastermind has fought an uphill battle ever since his debut almost a decade and a half ago; first pioneering the incorporation of R&B, Soul, Funk and Blues into Mandarin pop music. But even now, Fong continues to incorporate an attitude of diligence and social responsibility into his ever-growing body of work.
“I’ve always considered myself a world citizen and my musical tastes are quite eclectic. I think I’m always working my way towards the blending of ideas and cultures whether consciously or subconsciously.”
A classical pianist, a contestant on Australia’s X-Factor, a budding K-pop star…these are all descriptors that in the past have been used to describe Julia Wu. Yet now, the 24 year-old Asian Australian stands tall as one of the Mandopop industry’s most popular and sought-after R&B acts. When quizzed about how all these bizarrely different career trajectories led her to her current path, Wu’s answer revealed even more of her down-to-earth nature.
“I think when I took up all these challenges and opportunities, to me it’s always been learning opportunities, everything I did. I didn’t think too much going into it, I thought … I love singing, there’s an opportunity to go into that industry, I’m gonna take it.”
Debuting just two years ago in 2017 with her first album 1:28, Wu saw niche interest in her music accumulate with several lo-fi R&B tracks such as Under the Taipei Night Sky台北夜空下 and 你是不是有點動心 , before collaborations with some of the Taiwanese hip-hop community’s hottest tracks of the year (Walk Until We Fly走到飛, Mybong買榜) saw her visibility skyrocket exponentially in 2018.
“Being an artist at first, I didn’t even know what kind of artist position I was going to have. And neither did my company. They were like ‘Julia do you want to be a cool girl or do you want to go the sweet route?’ … I was like ‘I don’t know, how am I supposed to know?’ And that was at the point where no one was listening to my music, I was very new. But as I went along, people really related to my music, Under the Taipei Night Sky 台北夜空下，Do You Feel It Too 你是不是有點動心，and that kind of got the word spread out … because I’m not packaged I just came out and said hello to everybody (laughs). And I’m just grateful they like what they see and what they hear.”
Best known for her breathtakingly unique voice and quirky performance of her original song ‘野子The Wild Child’, Sue aka Su Su is a cartoon character come to life. As a long-time fan of her whimsical, eclectic personality and innovative musical offerings, upon starting our conversation I professed my love for her music, and “Got it, I feel it!” was her chirpy reply.
The 27 year-old singer-songwriter who hails from the island of Hainan recently released her second album 幻 Fantasy, promising more of the same Sue we know and love, but with new, increasingly electronic insights gleaned from her experiences over the last two years.
“The second album will have lots of different genres and vocal deliveries. Of course in these two years I’ve begun to have different feelings and thoughts about life and this naturally became part of my music. Some about love, and also some which are slightly sad…and also some that are meant to encourage everyone. Actually this album’s songs are quite diverse and versatile.”
Written by Jocelle Koh
Illustration by Allison Sun
If Eric Chou is the new-gen prince of Mandopop ballads, then Taiwanese-Canadian singer-songwriter Ariel Tsai might just be the next princess. Topping the charts consistently with her selection of original and cover songs over the last two years, the 23 year-old who made a name for herself with weekly music livestreams has been one to watch as she effortlessly charms the thousands of fans who follow her with her soothing voice and graceful piano playing.
Born in Taiwan but having spent half her life in Canada, where she eventually settled to finish high school and university; the singer shared her experiences as a third-culture kid and the difficulties she faced in gaining a sense of belonging while growing up.
“For a while I had this identity confusion. ‘Cos you feel like you don’t truly belong to one place. but I guess a lot us we long for a sense of belonging deep down. And at the end of the day I realised I can be both Canadian and Taiwanese; I don’t have to be just one and this is what makes me ME. Because they both have a very special place in my heart.”
Now based in Taiwan and settling in for the long haul, Ariel tells us the story of how she managed to navigate the landscape of the Asian music industry while based in Vancouver over the last two years; a feat that few have ever tried, let alone succeeded in.
“It was the start of livestreaming on their (台灣達人秀TTSHOW.TW) Facebook so they randomly called anyone they could think of (to invite them to livestream on their platform) and I was one of the people they called. And I thought I would just give it a shot, just once because it required me waking up at 5am. And for some reason …the livestream had higher viewers than others and the boss kept calling me saying, ‘you have potential in you therefore you should do the livestream like three times a week’…it takes a lot of determination to say yes to waking up at 5am 3 times a week (laughs).”
Despite the arduous process, Tsai kept at this for over two years, despite juggling the pressures of finishing pharmacy school and trying her best to advance her musical career amidst timezone differences.
“It was actually very tiring because pharmacy was very busy... I remember waking up, doing my livestreams and then I would pass out for like ten minutes on the ground…and after ten minutes I had to wake up, go to school for exams” she says, all without a hint of negativity in her voice.
Indeed, even in times of duress or when she’s at existential crossroads, Tsai faces each situation with serenity and grace and a smile on her face; always believing in the light at the end of the tunnel.
Harbouring a passion for music since she was young (her parents tell her she started humming and creating original melodies at the age of 3!), Tsai wrote her first song at the age of 14. Drawn to the ballads that she loved during her adolescence in Taiwan by the likes of S.H.E and Jay Chou, these influences have shaped her music and philosophy even during her time overseas; allowing them to morph into something beautifully unique yet familiar at the same time.
Generally, Mandopop ballads are hit-or-miss for me. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just that they're done a little too often for my liking. Yet there is still something so relatable and intimately touching about ballads that is timeless and irresistible when done right, and this is the magic that Ariel’s had her heart set on from the start. You'll find that much of her repertoire including original singles 'Blessings禮物' and '每一次想你 Every Time I Think Of You' have those similar magical feels you'd get from listening to Mandopop ballads in the early 2000s.
“I like ballads because I feel like they can really enhance the lyrics and bring out the lyrics. Because I feel like nowadays if we look at other pop songs in the world, its more about the feeling of it, they have such strong beats and grooves but you can’t really feel the lyrics sometimes. That’s why I like the ballads because they go hand in hand with the lyrics and it really brings out the emotion.”
And yet, while Ariel finds herself particularly influenced by these Taiwanese ballads, her dream is in fact one that we at Asian Pop Weekly too hold close to our hearts-bringing Mandopop to the world! While based in Canada, Ariel drew attention for her passion for Mandarin music and turned it into a productive experience of sharing her music wholeheartedly with her friends and peers.
“A lot of times my friends would be like ‘oh I like this song you’re singing even though I can’t understand’ and I’m like ‘You know what? Yeah, this is Mandarin music, this is awesome music, more people should appreciate it and should listen to this’…If Mandopop could be more widely appreciated around the world I think it would be an amazing thing…”
Over the course of our chat, Ariel expressed her gratefulness for the support of her friends and family multiple times. And it is through her valuing of community that have shaped her vision for a more harmonious and diverse world through pop culture.
“My dream is to make Mandarin pop music more international. And as a female too, I feel usually it’s the males dominating music. If you even look at world pop music it’s always more males so I hope, I hope (I can make it). I’m really inspired by Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande!”
Although the road ahead for Tsai is long, she knows what it’s going to take and is prepared to give it her all. Working hard and always with that sweet smile on her face, it’s hard for anyone to not wholeheartedly wish for the best for her as an artist and musician. Having accomplished so much in the short space of two years, Ariel still remains as humble and grounded as ever. And these are precisely the qualities that I know will help this pop princess in the making achieve her dreams.
Check out Ariel's latest single 'Every Time I Think Of You每一次想你' out on all major streaming platforms now, and don't forget to check out one of her upcoming livestreams on Facebook or YouTube!
A playlist from the Mandopop princess in the making just for Asian Pop Weekly & YOU!
Bold, talented and fiercely passionate about connecting cultures through her music, Sabrina ‘Baer’ Chang is one of few new-gen pop artists who has dedicated her music towards bridging gaps between the East and the West in a unique and personal way. Having spent her childhood experiencing cultures both in Canada and Taiwan, her lack of complete identification with any one of them has spurred her passion for connecting and promoting global harmony.
Intrigued by her personalised unpacking of the ‘East-meets-West’ concept and how she aligns it to the bigger picture both sonically and visually, we HAD to ask her a few burning questions about how she creates and what is it about creating cultural dialogue that drives her creating process.
1. You’ve lived both in Taiwan and in Canada. Why choose to be based in LA?
LA was always an obvious choice for me because it’s the center of the pop music scene that I want to be in. After my years in Boston during my college years, the next step was Los Angeles - to be immersed and integrated amongst the creatives that are shaping the music we hear on Pop radio.
2. You’re a multicultural singer who wishes to connect cultures. Why has this philosophy been such a big part of your music?
I think that philosophy has been solidified and strengthened as I have embarked on my own creative and spiritual journey.
Musically, when I first even decided I wanted to pursue music - it was really as simple as that; a burning desire to make a living doing music, whatever it was. As my journey progressed, I realized that the reason I want to make music is because I want to MOVE people with my voice and my art. I want to make people feel the way I did when Kanye dropped 808 and Heartbreaks. Or when Jay Chou dropped November’s Chopin. I was purely swept away with emotion; sometimes I was dripping in subzero coolness, sometimes I felt crazy adrenaline, and other times I would bathe in sadness (and I LOVED it). Music and art influence the attitude and minds of people; and artists become icons and role models that people can look towards.
On a macroscopic level, when you influence a large audience you start to move culture as a whole.
This connects with some of my own spiritual realizations as a human being. As someone who comes from multiple cultures - it can be a struggle to identify with any single one of them completely. I feel like this lack of identification has shaped my own growth from childhood subconsciously, and I realize it now reflecting back. I want my music and my art to be a representation of a connection of unique cultures and be able to move and inspire people to live their own truths.