Equipped with a clean, hard-hitting set of vocals and a versatility that takes her easily across folk, jazz, funk and of course the rock genre, Taiwanese singer-songwriter YM Chen’s voice and musical style reveal a maturity and depth beyond her young years. Influenced by a classy selection of vintage folk and rock, Chen’s debut EP ‘She’s Blue Again藍色星期五’ traverses a plethora of social and philosophical ideas. Against the backdrop of a well-oiled blend of folk and rock, the 22 year-old discusses the concept of ‘Blue’ from all angles; be it musical, or cultural. Perhaps it would be best to start this discussion by finding out what the passionate individual defines as ‘Blue’:
“Sometimes it’s inspiring, sometimes it’s harmful” was her cryptic answer.
redefining 'blue' musically
While other female artists in her age bracket are singing love songs, it is already clear to me that Chen is unafraid to take her music down the unbeaten path, delving deep into ideas that are truly important to her.
Even from young, Chen has always attached a cultural significance to her music; perhaps as a result of her influence from rock and folk from the 60s and 70s, which tended to touch on important social issues.
“Before kindergarten, my mom played a lot of Carpenters, Paul Simon, The Animal, Elvis Presley…etc. to me. Their songwriting composed a big part of my writing style…”
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.”
By Jocelle Koh & Matt Taylor
In an overwhelmingly positive and progressive move, Taiwan announced in February 2018 that it would be moving full speed towards a blanket ban on single-use plastic drinking straws, takeaway beverage cups, plastic bags and disposable utensils by 2030, one of the farthest reaching bans on plastic in the world. Originally promoted by the government since the early 1990s due to worries about diseases and cross-contamination, single use utensils and plastic bags soon became a huge problem, producing over 160,000 tonnes plastic waste annually. As a result, there have been consistent efforts by the government to become more environmentally conscious since 2000. Although this may seem an unwieldy task for residents outside Taiwan, locals have already had a culture of environmental friendliness going for years; something which has been reflected in their music scene in a big way.
And when we say ‘big’, we don’t mean a huge gaggle of artists releasing songs about loving the earth in one spurt because it was trendy before petering off to a dying trickle. We mean a consistent and encouraging history of artists within the Taiwanese independent and mainstream scenes who have expressed their concern at the state of the environment, and used their influence and visibility to keep the cause going. From Luo Ta-Yu in 1984 to Wang Leehom in 2007, and the aptly titled ‘Quit Plastic Poison’ by the Sheng Xiang band in 2016, here’s a crash course on how Taiwanese music’s authenticity and outspoken nature has lent itself perfectly to the island’s journey to greater environmental wellbeing.
Luo Ta-yu - Super Citizen 超級市民 (1984
It’s impossible to overstate how influential veteran singer Luo Ta-yu 羅大佑 has been on the development of popular Chinese language music. Since his initial contribution to the campus folk movement (校園民歌運動) of the 1970s, Luo has deservedly been credited with not only broadening the horizons of Chinese music sonically, but also setting a new model for lyricism in Mandarin.
Up-and-coming Mandopop artist Eric Chou seems to be something of an anomaly. Debuting at the young age of 19, his first single 'Let’s not be friends anymore' was a breakout hit, amassing over 121 million views and capturing hearts across the region. Since then, he’s made a name for himself as the new-gen prince of ballads, known for his soulful vocals and earworm-y love songs that have gained him quite a mainstream following. Yet despite his overwhelming mainstream success with love songs, other parts of his repertoire continue to be praised by industry professionals for his experimentation with the EDM genre, with his compositions even being praised by the likes of Eve Ai and Starr Chen. While the tastes of the Taiwanese mainstream and the industry are often at odds, it seems that an exception has been made in both parties’ mutual appreciation for Chou’s works.
Although Eric is not the first to rock the boat with his musical fare, he IS one of few new-gen mainstream artists who has his sights securely set on bringing updated EDM music to Chinese pop. This is a message that has become increasingly prevalent in his music, most significantly in his third and latest album, ‘The Chaos After You’.
“‘The Chaos After You’ is my third album and I think the third album for any artist establishes ground for where I want to head towards in the future. So for this album you’ll hear a lot of different elements rather than normal ballads. You’ll hear EDM, and the reason for EDM is these past two years I started listening to a lot of …Chainsmokers, Martin Garrix… I think these kinds of EDM music influenced me, ‘cus I feel like the old EDM style is more from clubs and for (a) hyper vibe but now it’s on the top charts, it’s turning into pop culture and it can be like a ballad song but with the (EDM) music arrangement and mix.”