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.
As this year slowly but surely comes to an end, in reflecting upon the trends and changes I’ve seen, it is clear that we are now living in the age of authenticity. While everyone strives to achieve this so-called authenticity; marketers and advertisers instead use this as a ploy against us. They encourage us to consume their products under the façade of owning a slice of something real to tether us to some form of reality in this confusing and ever-changing world. And the more we see this happening, the more disoriented we become; drifting aimlessly through spaces and time hoping to feel something. In the midst of this bleak circumstance, Chinese singer Xu Jun’s work is a rare grounding force.
The 30 year-old who found prominence in the second season of reality show ‘Song of China’ is not particularly emotive when he speaks in the traditional sense. Save for when he gets excited and his voice raises a semitone or so, Xu gives off a pragmatic, steady vibe, emitting a simple confidence that is not flighty nor intense. Rather, all misconceptions of how he might be as a person due to his background or affiliations disappear and are replaced with a human conversation with someone passionate about filtering authenticity through their music.
“I feel that in music or art, honesty is authenticity. That is, how you are as a person and what you put out in your music are very much interconnected. If I am this certain type of person, I would let my music and my life to be at the same pace.“
Article by Matt Taylor
Cover Art by Allison Sun
Music, politics and protest in Taiwan are intrinsically linked. From the rumblings of Taiwanese identity in the campus folk music of the 1960s to the emotionally charged Island Sunrise 島嶼天光 written for the 2014 Sunflower Movement and even the long-running environmental conservation efforts instigated on the island, a rich and diverse musical history has always provided support; spreading the story of the underprivileged, and documenting their hopes and struggles.
Similarly, there is a wealth of music that has been produced to support LGBT people that for many years has bolstered the island's image as one that is progressive and supportive of same-sex love. The canon of music representing the Taiwanese LGBT movement is as diverse as those who create it; spanning genre, gender and sexual orientation.
On 24 November 2018 however, Taiwan citizens rallied together to support several referendums spearheaded by conservative Christian groups. Up to 75% of Taiwanese voters not only voted to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, but also expressed desire to roll-back LGBT education in schools.
The LGBT community has been reeling from the realisation that Taiwan is not the beacon of progressiveness that they thought it was. In light of this, how can we now view the previously mentioned musical canon which has bolstered this image both at home and abroad?
This article is not a commentary on the referendum results. Instead, we aim to take a look at the diverse collection of Taiwanese music which was created to support the LGBT movement and take a look at how these songs' meanings are re-framed or deepened in a changing social and political climate.