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.
In collaboration with Taiwanese YouTuber/singer-songwriter Dena Chang, Asian Pop Weekly is launching an all-new video & print interview series called ‘Cream of the C-pop’ where we go deep with our favourite Mandopop artists to create effortlessly engaging content accessible for both Eastern and Western audiences. Each episode will comprise of a video interview and tailored game segment hosted by Dena aired on her YouTube channel, released with the feature right here on Asian Pop Weekly.
“I’m always for wonderful niches.”
Those choice words were how Taiwanese-American singer-songwriter Joanna Wang ended one of many passionate rambles educating us on the fascinating Australian cosplay wrestler Ladybeard and how he had chanced onto his niche in the Japanese market. In hindsight, it seemed that such rambles occurred frequently (and were very much fuelled by us) during our interview with the artist, where we discussed everything under the sun from Wang’s latest album ‘Modern Tragedy’ and her musical process, to her celebrity crush on Alan Rickman and love for Harry Potter (she's a certified Slytherin).
But all these seemed like logical progressions for the affable artist, who has come into her own with eclectic musical offerings which span all kinds of genres, aesthetics and sentiments with seemingly no rhyme or rhythm; bar one. The fact that they are all niche offerings, satisfying Wang’s love for what she calls ‘wonderful niches’. Indeed, Joanna herself has created a ‘wonderful niche’ for her own musical offerings; an eclectic snowball of musical gems, comedy and storytelling, injected haphazardly into the Mandopop and wider internet landscape for fellow pop culture enthusiasts to dig deep and discover.
And although her more recent works are far from mainstream Top 100 fare, Joanna has never intended for her music to be a mystery to anyone-it’s just that it’s probably best appreciated by people who share her unique jumble of sentiments and interests.
“I’m not writing it to be an enigma or anything…if I were an audience I would write stuff that I think I could get or appreciate, or things that make me happy and I want to express it to people.. It’s a pretty straightforward process. I have feelings and sentiments that I want to share with people, and it might give them something nice, just like how pop culture has given me many many wonderful feelings.”
Even the backstories behind the creation of her songs and concepts showcase a musicality, humour and aesthetic that is uniquely Joanna-geeky, awkward and humorous; but with an aura of confidence and sweetness that endears her greatly to her fans. She let us in on the conception of the ‘Modern Tragedy’ title and the inspiration behind a few other tracks on the record:
“So I’m really close friends with Lara Liang and her sister Esther. I remember I posted this picture on Facebook… I was working in Finland at the time and I was trying to buy a pizza. I guess I couldn’t really understand the subtleties of the variations of pizza in Europe so what I ended up getting was a calzone…when I opened the box … it was just like a round, strange configuration of dough and filling… I took a picture of it and I posted on Facebook in all caps ‘I JUST WANT A PIZZA’. Esther, she commented and just wrote ‘your life is a modern tragedy’. And I was like ‘ooo, modern tragedy’… Cos it was kind of like the perfect sentiment like…life is all these kind of like, underwhelming moments... But it’s also quite sweet.
Sabrina Don’t Get Married Again
“I had a dream this one time that I was in a 90s cover band, but it was kind of like a crappy garage band… I remember I was singing in a carnival that was super reminiscent to the carnival from Final Fantasy X-2. Not in the same universe whatsoever. But in my dream I was covering a song called ‘Sabrina Don’t Get Married Again”, in my dream that was an actual hit from the nineties…and then I woke up and to the best of my abilities tried to write it down...“
The Motorized Scooter Edo
“This song I’d written in high school and it was written because I had a massive crush on my band teacher…Basically what happened was my band teacher, he like got in like some kind of accident on a ski holiday over winter break, he broke his leg and had to wear this massive cast to school. And he couldn’t walk … so he rode a motorized scooter… There was this one day it was during lunchtime…and I just remember Mr Edo was riding on his scooter. He knows he’s funny so he was being a goofball, riding on his scooter with his one leg propped up…and he has his arm out …and it was just like, ‘this guy, somethin’ else’. And I had a massive crush on him for two weeks…and I wrote a song sometime in those two weeks.”
Often when you ask an artist about what inspires their music, they tell you something generic like ‘life’, or –lo and behold-a romantic relationship. So it’s refreshing to see an artist like Wang who shares such detail-oriented stories about the inspiration behind each of her songs, effortlessly using lesser-mentioned parts of the human experience to create immersive worlds of art and storytelling. Indeed, her concept of ‘Modern Tragedy’ is an apt reconstruction of this worldview.
“I really like narratives or stories where the protagonist is kind of a loser or an underdog. But there’s a lot of sweetness and humour and humanity in that kind of story.”
Be it a line of friendly banter, a wacky dream, or a schoolgirl crush, we’ve all had those moments that brighten our day just a little. And seeing them enlarged and transformed into fleshed-out narratives through the lens of Wang’s music is a heartening step towards a healthier palate of musical food for thought, especially in a relatively conservative music scene such as Taiwan’s. Despite penning all her work in English and having audiences all around the world, we were curious to know why she continues to concentrate her efforts here.
“It’s just where my life is. And I haven’t really sought elsewhere...If there’s any kind of expanding beyond borders, I just feel like, it’s all in the internet. That reaches further, so. I don’t know, I’m happy just…I feel like I’ve found myself to be in a really like peculiar position that is working very well for what I want to do which is just to make albums.”
.After over a decade of experience in the industry, Joanna seems to be in a position where she truly knows what she wants and how she wishes to get there. Just like how she’s dug for musical and cultural treasures in the past and found so much fulfilment from doing so, maybe Wang hopes to recreate that feeling in her listeners when they chance upon her music, just as I did.
“I feel like the best way to enjoy music is when you can’t really find or don’t really know who that person is; it's just this strange, abstract thing that exists in the ethers of the world. I always really like it when I can’t find who’s done the music. It’s like this little treasure box. That’s the thing I love about finding pop culture, or any kind of thing… When you have to dig for something, I think that’s the most magical part. The world is like big enough that there’s all this exciting unknown.”
Given her extensive discography and significantly different starting point in this scene, many may know OF Joanna Wang, but whether they really know her is another question altogether. But if you dig deeper; brushing away blistered and cracking layers of decade-old misrepresentations, you’ll find a sparkling gem nestled not that far from your reach. An artist so passionate about exploring the unknown in ways that supersede the arbitrary structures of pop music is hard to find in any industry; but I’m glad Wang has found her place here; in a space which just so happens to be MY niche. Thank you for always inspiring me to explore the unknown, and all the wonderful niches it holds.
Joanna Wang's latest album 'Modern Tragedy' is out now on all streaming platforms. Check out her Facebook or YouTube to join her wonderful niche!
By Stella Soon
“If I can ... write music or play music as my career, I’d be very fortunate and very lucky.” Marcus Chang 張立昂 told me.
It may be surprising that these words are coming from the actor who’s snagged top roles in hit movies like Cafe.Waiting.Love 等一個人咖啡 and most recently, the drama Between 三明治女孩的逆襲.
But digging deeper into the 35-year-old’s life proves otherwise.
“[Music has] always been my interest and hobby,” said the University of Auckland performance arts graduate, who picked up the guitar at 15.
In August this year, he released his first EP, ±1 正负1, which marked his first step into a musical career.
All four tracks in the EP are movie and drama theme songs, including three from the 2018 drama, ‘Between’, where he played the lead role.
Including only original soundtracks (OSTs) in this EP was, too, a strategic choice.
Interview with Haneri (a.k.a Daphne’s Khoo) - Bridging cultural and musical gaps with optimism and (real) love
One of my best childhood memories while living in Singapore was watching the very first season of ‘Singapore Idol’, a spin-off of the then-wildly popular American reality singing series. Every episode, we would tune in and I would root for my favourite contestant Daphne Khoo. I was particularly enamoured with her rendition of Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’, significantly marking my first forage into pop territory and the R&B genre.
I’m not sure if it was because of her sweet personality, or the fact that she was one of few female artists amidst a male-dominated batch, but I had all the faith that she would go somewhere with that voice. Although I’m sure Daphne wouldn’t like to be defined solely by her performance in a show that aired over a decade ago, it seems that I wasn’t too far off the mark about her career trajectory, which has consistently gone from strength to strength since her debut in 2008.
Khoo has gone on to become a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter in the Singaporean and the western music scene, dabbling in a wide range of genres while keeping things consistent with the addition of her sweet, soulful vocals and empowering lyrics. Re-debuting last year under the moniker of Haneri, the talented all-rounder is making her mark in a unique way, simultaneously paving the path for local creatives to take their collaborations to a more global level, while establishing her own unique, upbeat sound. While promoting her new single ‘Real Love’, we took the opportunity to speak with her about working through this shift, and her intriguing creative philosophy.
In collaboration with Taiwanese YouTuber/singer-songwriter Dena Chang, Asian Pop Weekly is launching an all-new video & print interview series called ‘Cream of the C-pop’ where we go deep with our favourite Mandopop artists to create effortlessly engaging content accessible for both Eastern and Western audiences. Each episode will comprise of a video interview and tailored game segment hosted by Dena aired on her YouTube channel, released simultaneously with the feature right here on Asian Pop Weekly.
Kurt Hugo Schneider is all about the grind. For all his millions of subscribers all over the world, the down-to-earth YouTuber is still used to wearing all the hats-from recording and producing his own tracks to filming and editing the videos. Known for his innovative and tasteful mashups and medleys of pop songs, the 30 year-old rose to fame when his Michael Jackson medley with Sam Tsui went viral. Since then, the multi-talented creative has continued to expend his influence by pumping out new, never-before-seen methods of transforming well-known songs. Be it sonically or visually, KHS is truly a pioneer of the remix culture as we know it today.
From Billboard hits to Bollywood, the gregarious personality seems to have done it all, contributing greatly to bridging gaps between cultures through music. As Kurt succinctly puts it, “Music, universal language. Even if you don’t speak the language, everyone kinda gets music". He shared with us how he comes up with his inventive ideas for mashups.
“Usually it’s just listening either on the charts or radio and seeing something that I like and also something I think I can do something different and cool with. Sometimes it’ll be a song that I like but I actually don’t have a super cool idea for how to make it different so I might not do something with that.”
One of his covers which piqued our interest in particular was KHS’s collaboration with Casey Breves and Jasmine Clarke on a cover of Mandopop favourite ‘Love Confession’ by Jay Chou, where he reinvented the song as a duet with an uplifting, atmospheric arrangement. After hearing from Breves himself, we thought it would only be fitting to hear from Kurt himself how the collaboration came together.
“I did it with a friend Casey who is incredibly enough-I don’t know if he would say fluent because he talks with people all the time in Chinese… (but) he’s also just really good with languages and a very smart guy. (Jasmine Clarke) just hit me up, I thought that this would be the perfect song and I said ‘let’s do it’ and it all went from there.”
Despite calling several big-time artists including Sam Tsui, Lindsey Stirling and Rebecca Black past collaborators, Schneider sees his channel as a platform for collaborations with anyone to come to life; as long as their music is up to scratch.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people who have absolutely no following but they’re good. I think if something’s gonna be fun and interesting I’m down… It’s my pleasure that I can work with so many talented people all the time.”
But out of all his past collaborations, there is one notable collaborator who has been a seminal influence and part of his works since the very beginning-singer-songwriter Sam Tsui. Kurt spoke a little about his friendship with Tsui, which started when they were in middle school.
“The person I’ve collaborated with the most is my friend Sam. He’s an amazingly talented singer and an all around great musician too… It’s been a long time. Obviously there’s some people who I’ve just known for so much longer and collaborating with them is still easy. Not only did we go to the same middle school we also met when we were on the same bus.”
Kurt also let us in on how he manages to keep those brain juices flowing to keep up with YouTube audiences’ ever-growing appetite for new and interesting content, even when his inspiration has reached its breaking point.
“Go out and eat some food and come back. Sleep on it and wake up the next day. I guess try to get your mind off it and do something else. I wear many different hats doing the music side and post production on music, like the more technical…but the nice thing about doing things like that and also video is that if you can’t come up with an idea on some piece of music, you do that and come back (and) you have some idea you didn’t have before. Sometimes I feel like working in a different area recharges the brain a little bit.”
From hiding a mattress in Yale University’s multimedia centres so he could create content day and night to becoming one of YouTube’s most prominent personalities, Schneider has come a long way. Along the way, he’s learnt several important lessons; about the importance of maintaining personal non-work relationships, and navigating the YouTube landscape. But most importantly, he gave some choice advice about creative control in an industry where authenticity is key.
“Creative people tend to be control freaks about their stuff. If it’s something creative that you care about, yes you want to have a lot of say in how that turns out. But at the same time there’s only one of you, so gotta learn how to let go of some of that stuff.”
From our interview with Kurt, it seems that in working your way to the top, the goal should not always be just about the end destination. Instead, it’s about not letting external validation consume you, finding a way to make things work that works for you and always remembering why you do what you do.
Watch Video Interview With Dena Here
Interview With No Party For Cao Dong 草東沒有派對-Going With The (Post-Rock) Flow: How A Band Subconsciously Became A Musical Representation Of Taiwanese Contemporary Society
No Party For Cao Dong are a dichotomy. They are elusive; yet easy to talk to. They travel widely, and have toured the world with their music; yet gather inspiration exclusively from their experiences in Taiwan, the environment where they grew up in. Their music has had such a revolutionary impact on the scene, earning them multiple accolades and earfuls of praise; yet they are humble and subdued when asked about their achievement. The phrase that came up most during the interview was ‘沒有想那麼多 Didn’t think too much about it’, which seems to be part of the band’s musical philosophy.
The band, made up of Wood Lin, Chu Chu, Sam Yang, and Fan Tsai started as many do-with a group of friends who liked the same kinds of music. While the former three members met in high school, Fan Tsai met them while in university and that was how it all began.
“Everyone liked the same kinds of music, so starting a band seemed natural. Through a shared interest we added our own colours to the mix.”
Indeed, despite the band’s heavy-handed taste in genres which range from post-rock, indie to metal, their approach has always been to go with what comes naturally. Saying that they don’t use genres to restrict themselves, amongst thrashing drums, impassioned screams and subdued electric guitar riffs No Party For Cao Dong found a unique sound that shook up the local scene.
“We don’t go out of our way to use ‘mainstream’ or ‘indie’ to categorise our music, whether something is mainstream or not is defined by the time period and audience.”
An (albeit dark) breath of fresh air for a scene which has long been criticised for a lack of differentiation and too many soft love songs, the band says all they’re trying to do here is express themselves.
“Everyone tells their story differently, we are just trying our best to honestly express ourselves.”
A small-town girl with a deep love for music, Sijie Liu, currently the Vice President for Booking and Artist Development at the formidable Modern Sky USA has been at the peak of the trend bringing well-loved Asian indie artists to tour in the states over the last few years. From Korea’s Hyukoh to Taiwan’s Sunset Rollercoaster and Hong Kong heavyweight Edison Chen, Liu slowly opening the floodgates for Asian music to find a home and audiences in the West. In my experience, it often takes someone special to end up in a position like this, so I had to scratch my itch (as I do when finding like-minded people) by documenting her story in this Q&A.
Tell us a little about your background. Have you always been interested in Asian music and pop culture?
I was born in a small town in Sichuan, and came to the states for college when I was 17. I’m like most of the Chinese kids who studied piano and passed the highest level of the tests for amateurs. I started as listening to Mandarin pop music (I think I was the first one in my class to listen to Jay Chou actually), and after that, lots of pop and jazzy stuff in high school.
Because of the love in all these Asian pop music, I just wanted to learn more about music, I chose to minor in Music Studies for my undergrad. Also Indiana University has a really reputable Music School. That’s when I really started digging in lots of different genres of music.
The reason why I changed my path from studying Finance/Data at a later time was mainly because of all those classes I took for the music studies, and it just opened a new gate for me.
We hear you moved to the states to study Music Business at NYU. What was the reason behind this decision?
I actually studied Finance for my undergrad. Before I came to the states, I’ve never thought about studying music as a profession even I’ve always surrounded by music and enjoyed listening to music. Not until I was getting my first Master degree in Data Analytics, I thought I was going to be a consultant or working for a bank.
However, minoring in Music and getting exposed to all these different genres of music was the reason why I decided to change my path. I went straight to my first graduate degree. But during the first semester, I just had this feeling that I want to do something in the music industry, and something that I could also apply what I’ve learned in business school.
Your passion for helping Asian musicians achieve success in North America is amazing! Where do you think it stems from?
Aw thanks! I think it’s closely related to where I’m from and the kind of music I was exposed to when I grew up. I loved all the classes I took about Western rock, jazz, blues, and that’s how I started grew a real passion in the music industry. But all this just made me want to find about more about great Asian bands, singer-songwriters, etc.
You’ve brought the likes of Edison Chen, Song Dongye, Hyukoh, Sunset Rollercoaster and more to North America to share their music with the Western world. Could you share a little about the process of booking these artists and helping them achieve success?
Most of the artists I’ve worked with are Modern Sky signings and they’ve had great success in Asia. There are lots of factors that affect the booking process. Usually it starts with analysis of the current markets both in Asia and here in North America. Then it moved to availabilities of the artists, and we would check if that’s a suitable time for the market here. Then it comes to finding appropriate cities and venues and it usually takes lots of rounds of negotiations to confirm all the details.
We don’t just do booking, in most of the cases, we also take the role as Promoters. So it then requires working on the visa process, marketing, ticketing, advancing, tour managing, etc.
Has there been a most rewarding part of your journey (or memory) thus far in helping so many Asian artists to perform in North America?
I think same as all other staff who work for a tour or a festival, the most rewarding part is when I see the artist performing on the stage in front of their fans. I know this sounds very simple. After putting all the efforts to book and promote a tour, when you see the show is finally happening in front of you and all the audience enjoying it, that feeling is just…
Why do you think helping artists of Asian descent to tour and expand their prominence in the West is important?
Expanding new markets and to play in different cities is always appealing to artists. But another prominent side is the fans as well. I always use myself as an example of when I was in school here in the states. I was always wanting to see artists who I like from Asia to perform here. I still remembered the first time I attended Modern Sky Festival NYC in Central Park, I was still studying in school. And I saw bands like Queen Sea Big Shark, Omnipotent Youth Society, Dessert Zhang (Anpu). To see them here, that feeling was indescribable.
You’ve certainly come a long way, and on a path that not many have chosen. Do you see an increasing demand for people with an understanding of Eastern pop culture in the Western market?
We know that it is not easy to break into the Western world here.
But as I mentioned in the last question, there are lots of Asians/Asian Americans and growing number of international students also with increasing purchasing power to live/visit here. I think the market is promising. Just need to market it the right way. Also, I’m not giving up on marketing Eastern pop/artists to Western crowd here, I always want to find an effective way of promoting them here to the local crowd.
What advice would you give to those who are inspired to bring more Mandarin or Asian music to the rest of the world?
You must be aware of all the risks before signing on to this. Not just financially, but also risks with visa, marketing, etc.
What’s on your playlist right now? Are there any musicians or particularly influential figures who have inspired you on your journey?
I’ve been listening to Leah Dou for a while now. I really liked her latest album and I saw her at a festival in Beijing this year. She is incredible.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Event wise, we have Modern Sky Festival NYC (9.22), Toronto (9.23), and L.A. （11.10）coming up . Also we’ve announced tours for Tizzy T, Sunset Rollercoaster for September, and Crowd Lu tour in November. There are more tours to be announced for this Fall and next year. We are also having new projects with different artists too. Stay Tuned!!!
An inspiring story from a woman who’s got a strong head on her shoulders, Liu seems to have it all figured out. By thoroughly understanding every step of the process of bringing artists overseas to perform, she now has the skills to fully focus on a niche market that few have considered-and to maximise the potential of such a market. As always, the biggest philosophical struggle is to find acceptance of Eastern music by Western audiences, but I have no doubt that with her heart in the right place, Sijie will continue to contribute greatly to efforts that will encourage a truly universal music culture.
By Stella Soon
It’s never easy combining two different musical genres.
But fusing their R&B/soul and lyrical rock styles together in a joint showcase are Singaporean singer-songwriters Ariane Goh 伍芝儀 and Mary Wong 黃麗慧.
Pushing the boundaries of their musical styles, the good friends have also co-written a song and will be dueting each other’s tunes then.
Asian Pop Weekly writer Stella Soon caught up with the musicians about working together and what’s on their plates for the rest of 2018.
In collaboration with Taiwanese YouTuber/singer-songwriter Dena Chang, Asian Pop Weekly is launching an all-new video & print interview series called ‘Cream of the C-pop’ where we go deep with our favourite Mandopop artists to create effortlessly engaging content accessible for both Eastern and Western audiences. Each episode will comprise of a video interview and tailored game segment hosted by Dena aired on her YouTube channel. Kowen’s written interview will first be released on Asian Pop Weekly, followed by the video on Dena's YouTube soon after.
Author: Stella Soon
Editor: Jocelle Koh
Photos by: Anrong Xu
Kowen Ko (柯智棠)’s low, husky voice and guitar-clad figure tugs at the heartstrings of many. But few know that being a singer was never on the 28-year-old’s plans. Neither did he grow up listening to Taiwanese Mandopop.
So in our interview with the 2016 Golden Melody Awards Best Mandarin Male Singer and Best Newcomer nominee, it seems like he’s come a long way. And now that we have a better idea of the spontaneous, humble soul behind the voice, we’re here to share it with you.