As the inaugural Taiwanese Waves showcase at New York City’s Summerstage draws close for the fourth year, this year’s line-up is spectacularly and regally feminine in nature. Nicknamed ‘Taiwanese Baes’, the event has chosen to feature some of the most unique and empowering female artists the scene has to offer, including unique up-and-comer 9m88 and Aboriginal powerhouse Abao, as well as pioneers in the indie rock and pop scenes respectively; Tizzy Bac and OneFang (Wanfang).
All with their own stories to tell, the four acts come together in the city that never sleeps to bring a diverse audience a new sense of what it means to be a female artist who is part of the Taiwanese music scene in this day and age. Read on to hear more about their thoughts on New York City, and what to expect from this years’ festivities.
1: Impressions of New York
Hui-Ting (Tizzy Bac): City of the world (laugh)
9m88: A really big, smelly, and culture dimensional city that a lot of fun things happen.
Wan-Fang: My impression of New York is that many people go to New York to find his or her true-self, searching for dreams and search for who they really are. When we throw ourselves in New York, it’s like we are nothing so that we can feel the true-self and the most original stage of ourselves. By seeing people from around the world, I think it’s a process that you can understand some things.
ABAO: It’s a fashion city.
2: How many times have you been to New York? What are you looking forward to do in New York?
Hui-Ting (Tizzy Bac): This is my first time going to New York. I will go to MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art first, and then the next thing is to go to "Sleep No More".
9m88: I've been to New York a lot. It's a bit nervous for me to come back to New York because it's my first time coming back ever since I left at the end of last year. I feel a bit of resistant. Don't know how my feelings will be, but I have a lot of good friends that I miss in New York, really looking forward to seeing them.
Wan-Fang: I haven't counted how many times. I will stay a few days longer, but I'm not sure what I will do, I want to see what is happening in this city. I want to see what would happen if I just throw myself in New York. No special plans to do anything.
ABAO: This is my first time going to New York. I want to go find some elements that is related to Soul music, go see some performance and street dancing parties.
Author: Jocelle Koh
Graphic Design: Allison Sun
With an unmistakable perm and effortlessly jazzy vocals, 9m88 has been both a breath of fresh air and a dark horse on the Mandarin music scene ever since her ever-growing presence and laidback sound was featured on rapper Leo Wang’s song ‘Weekends With You’ in 2016. Note the use of the word ‘feature’ rather than ‘debut’ – for all the success that the fashion and musically-forward artist has garnered over the years (performing at Clockenflap; collaborating with contemporary greats such as Sodagreen’s Wu Qing Feng, OZI, Ma Nien-Hsien; appearing on Marie Claire, Vogue, the list goes on…) the singer-songwriter has yet to debut with a full body of work.
Seeing all the hints being dropped on her social medias though, we feel that a great deal of long-awaited original work might be coming our way very soon! Yet before it does, we wanted to unpack the phenomenon of 9m88 and her ascent to visibility through the tactic of collaboration.
Given the increasing saturation of the market and therefore need to stand out, defining success in a pop musical collaboration setting has also become even more stringent and multifaceted. Does the song capture a good mix of the artists’ respective sounds? Does it have potential to create visibility that will translate to new engaged audiences? Does the positioning of the artists fit together? Was the cost required to collaborate worth the visibility? How does one define their expectations for ‘visibility’? And so the list goes on and on and on… In short, executing collaborations is easy enough, but creating a successful and effective collaboration is no walk in the park
9m88: The Perfect Collaboration Partner
And yet, 9m88 seems to be the queen of this delicate balancing act of collaboration. In a chicken-and-egg cycle, her high-quality brand attracts the right kinds of partners, and through intimate collaboration she skilfully and painstakingly renegotiates the final product (music and visuals) to work very much in her favour. For stakeholders, her presence on a project is both lucrative and quality-approved; and on the creative side of things her indomitable uniqueness AND musical versatility make her the perfect collaboration partner.
So how exactly did 9m88 leverage the art of artist collaboration to navigate her way upstream in such a competitive and saturated industry? We break down several of her notable collaboration projects to date in an effort to crack the code.
Edgy, retro and with a name that nobody knows how to pronounce correctly, 9m88 is every hipster’s dream. Exploding onto the indie scene late 2016 after her duet with Leo Wang ‘Weekends with You’ made its way across the interwebs, the creative sprite has already established herself as one of the scene’s freshest and most anticipated acts. To date, the Jazz/R&B singer-songwriter has only released a handful of tracks including a two-track vinyl, but already has a strong following who are enthralled by her 90’s-inspired wardrobe, mop of permed hair and uniquely retro/tongue-in-cheek musical style.
For such an interesting singer, it is no surprise that she also has a unique musical taste that sets her apart from the usual aspiring-artist candidates.
“I started listening to Hip-Hop, R&B when I was in middle school, and I started dancing afterwards. That’s the moment I got to listen to music in these categories. But as I always said, after knowing Erykah Badu’s music, I really feel I can make music like that. Jazz came afterwards, and my journey is still going on.”
If I had previously thought that there was no one else who had the same passion for bringing Taiwanese music to Western audiences, after meeting Mia Yen, I had to concede that I had met my match. The driven show curator, booking agent and all-round creative, who comes from a family of entertainment professionals has been shaking up the overseas market recently, helping all kinds of amazing indie Taiwanese acts to have their sounds heard live throughout North America. From cult R&B darling 9m88 to the legendary Anpu (formerly known as Deserts Xuan), independent music heroes FIRE EX. to Sunset Rollercoaster, Mia has her finger in almost every independent Taiwanese music pie that lands on US soil.
On top of this, Yen is also the brains behind the Taiwanese Waves showcase held in Central Park, New York annually for the last two years. The event which happens in July annually is amongst the venue Summerstage’s most popular free shows; an amazing feat given that 100% of their acts perform in a language other than English. But none of this came easy for her, as she overcame uncertainty, ethnocentrism, funding issues while making it sound like it was nothing more than a walk in Central Park. Influenced by her family’s roots in the media industry, Mia first discovered her love for live shows while in high school.
“I have a huge passion for music, I don’t play but I enjoy music a lot and in high school I started going to a lot of concerts in Taiwan to see bands and concerts… I think the best way to meet or know a band or singer better is through live performance. Because through recording everyone can do a really well-done job but to me like live shows are very special in the way that you and the artist and the people around you are experiencing the same thing at the same time in a very specific space. So to me it’s really powerful, that’s why I really like it…That’s why I’m more passionate about concerts, live performances.”
And in 2008, going to New York, the mecca of live music and performances to complete her undergrad degree afforded her a chance to pursue this love for live shows, and to discover where it could take her.
“In New York I quickly learned that everybody on tour was stopping in New York. So I dreamed of working in a music venue to be a part of these concerts. And finally in senior year of my Undergrad I did an internship with a music venue in New York called The Living Room…and… learned more about not only the music venue and concert business but also how to run a club. Because you learn more about how to set up ticket prices, what drinks to sell, at what price for audiences and so it was a really interesting experience and I really enjoyed it.”