It’s Monday again so its time for more songs! This week we’re going to be focusing on a specific language: Mandarin!
Mandarin is the language of the Mainland Chinese people, but it’s also widely spoken in Taiwan and other parts of the world. Fun Fact: Chinese Pop or Mando Pop was poppin way before KPOP. In fact, the Chinese music market is still so financially lucrative that Korean record labels make sure they have a Chinese member or a least a member who can sing/speak Mandarin/Cantonese.
Cue up the playlist because it’s time for another round of #MMMPlaylist!
CoCo Lee-So Crazy (SONY MUSIC TAIWAN)
This woman was my gateway drug to the world that is Asian music. If I never discovered her stuff back in 2000, there would be no Girl Davis. So you guys really have this Queen to blame.
Coco Lee aka Li Wen 李玟 was born on the 17th of January 1975 in Hong Kong, but raised in San Francisco where she developed a love for American music of all kinds-especially Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. Coco would eventually return to HK for a singing competition where she came in third. Coco was approached by Capital Artists (a HK based label) and appeared on a few compilation albums in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until she got signed to Sony Music Taiwan that things really started to take off. Coco Lee became the Mariah Carey of ASIA. There was no one singing like her, doing adlibs or runs like her at that time or making music videos the way she did. Coco was funky with colourful hair and bantu knots, and looked more like a Chinese Bjork than the polished Mariah Carey (at the time).
Coco Lee’s star would continue to rise when Disney asked her to voice the Mandarin dub of Mulan (playing Mulan!) alongside Jackie Chan’s Shang (I own the DVD in Mandarin for this reason alone). But she would reach super stardom when her song, A Love Before Time (from the Crouching Tiger soundtrack) was nominated for an Oscar.
In 2001, Coco performed the song live at the Oscars wearing a red embroidered Cheongsam and broke ground for Chinese artists all over the world. She’s still the first and only Chinese person to perform at the Oscars. That’s still so weird to me but y’know…racism.
Coco Lee’s catalogue is so long and expansive that it was really hard to choose what song to add to the #MMMPlaylist, but after deliberating between So Crazy and Dao Ma Dan, I chose So Crazy.
So Crazy is the song that showed everyone that Coco was always at the forefront of music trends and that Missy Elliot sound was huge back in 2001, so you know Coco had to jump on this track. So Crazy had a cool video inspired by Janet Jackson’s Doesn’t Really Matter and Jennifer Lopez’s Play. While the video is a bit cheap looking compared to her other more inspired music videos, the song still bangs and I highly recommend you listen to it, and then go dig into her huge catalogue for more gems. Coco Lee is still active in the music world and most recently starred on the Chinese versions of: Hidden Singer and I Am A Singer 4-which she won, wearing the same iconic red cheongsam from the Oscars. Coco Lee Wen is the GOAT of Mandopop and it’s time people put more respect on her name!
Jolin Tsai ”The Spirit of Knight” (騎士精神) (SONY MUSIC TAIWAN)
Jolin Tsai is an artist I found through one of my best friends. Back in 03/04 I used to attend a Chinese church called TPF in Edgware Road, and afterwards we’d go to China Town in Central London and hang around on the streets. During one of our hangouts, my friend started playing me some Chinese songs that had recently come out. This song immediately stuck out to me because I’d never heard rapping in Mandarin before. Even Jin Tha Mc’s Chinese bars were in Cantonese and sounded very different. Hearing Mandarin in Hip-Hop form way back then was very interesting to me.
Jolin Tsai is a Taiwanese singing diva who has been active since the very late 90s. She was born on the 15th of September 1980 in Taipei and was actually pursuing running track and field before music. An ankle injury lead her on the path of applying for a music competition that eventually brought her to a point where she was being approached by many labels. She eventually signed to Sony Music Taiwan (shoutout to their A&R guys) who gave her all the tools to make great music.
Around this time Jolin began dating Jay Chou, who has production credits all over her best album Magic aka 看我72變. The song, Spirit Of The Knight or 騎士精神 was written and produced by Jay Chou and it’s obvious, even in the delivery of her flow. I’d actually be interested to hear the reference track he made for her at the time because I have a feeling it’s probably identical to the finished product. Spirit Of The Knight was accompanied by a music video shot in Thailand and is still one of my favourite songs to this very day. Check it out!
Also check out Jolin’s collaboration with JPOP legend Amuro Namie!
Jay Chou- My Territory 周杰倫-我的地盤 (SONY MUSIC TAIWAN)
Jay Chou is also known as one of the GOATS of Mandopop. At the time, his music was labelled as Hip-Hop because he was rapping-this was before rapping was a popular thing to do in Asian music, period. Nowadays, every group has a rapper and every singer attempts to spit 16 bars over tired ass beats. But I digress…Jay Chou has worked with almost every artist on this list and created some amazing songs that still stand the test of time.
He was born in Taipei, Taiwan on the 18th of January 1979 and signed to, yup you guessed it, Sony Music Taiwan. There was a period of time where Sony Music Taiwan put out dope artist after artist. I don’t even know where they were finding these people but I’m glad they did!
Jay Chou is not only a prolific writer, singer, rapper, producer but he’s also an actor. In 2005 he starred in a very successful adaptation of the Japanese anime Initial D.
He played The Green Hornet in 2011 alongside Seth Rogen:
I chose his song, My Territory as I love the whimsical intro and the way the second verse comes in. Jay Chou was my entry into Chinese Hip-Pop and I was hooked for a very long time. We wouldn’t have a lot of Mandopop artists today if it wasn’t for the writing and production of Jay Chou. Much respect to him!
Wang Lee Hom-花田錯 Mistake in the Flower Fields (Hua Tian Cuo) (UNIVERSAL MUSIC)
Wang Lee Hom was pretty much the Taiwanese Justin Timberlake, before Justin Timberlake! He was born in Rochester, New York on the 17th of May 1976 and has been actively working since the late 90s. Wang Lee Hom was/is known for mixing traditional Chinese styles with African-American R&B vocals and themes. He raps, sings, produces, acts-he does everything. His music is rather similar to Jay Chou’s, except his focus was definitely more on producing smoother vocals and a more polished R&B/Hip-Hop look and sound. If I were to compare him to a KPOP artist then Se7en would be his closest match.
In the early 00s, Wang Lee Hom established the ‘Chinked Out’ sound, that was met with a lot of criticism by Mainland AND Overseas Chinese people for the use of the word ‘Chink’. However, Lee Hom was attempting to reclaim the word music like African Americans have attempted to reclaim the ‘N word’. To this day there are still people who side-eye Wang for attempting to do that, but his heart was in the right place and it definitely opened up a bigger conversation that was long overdue about how the First and Second Generation children of Chinese immigrants deal with racism as opposed to their Mainland Chinese counterparts.
I chose, Mistake In The Flower Fields, because the song incorporates R&B elements and Peking Operatic sounds. It also features an er-hu solo and a singing style that imitates Peking Opera, and the title is a reference to a well-known story in Peking Opera.
To me, the song sounds like falling in love in a traditional Chinese Martial Arts movie. I understand that’s an incredibly stereotypical thing to think, but I grew up watching all kinds of HK Cinema and the music was such an important element of those films. I think Lee Hom captured the beauty of what it’s like to fall in love in this song. Check it out!
Khalil Fong-Goodbye Melody Rose (FU MUSIC)
If you’re looking for 100% Chinese R&B and Soul then look no further, Khalil Fong aka 方大同 is the truth. There is no one in Taiwan and China making music like this guy and I’m peeved he’s so slept on. Khalil was born on the 14th of July 1983 in Hawaii. He lived all over Asia in Shanghai to Hong Kong and developed a love for R&B from listening to artists like D’Angelo and Musiq Soulchild. I remember going on his instagram around the time D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album came out, the stanning was very cute.
Goodbye Melody Rose is a song I aways show people who have no idea about Chinese music simply because of how smooth and sexy the song is (despite the sad lyrics). The song incorporates traditional Chinese instruments alongside R&B vocals and features an easy English language chorus that everyone can sing. I highly recommend his first two albums, Soul Boy and This Love. Even if you don’t know any Mandarin, these albums are must haves for any R&B head.
Faye Wong-One Thousand Words, Ten Thousand Phrases 千言萬語 (SONY MUSIC)
Miss Faye Wong has been slaying since the late 80s all the way though to the 00s. I remember when she was nominated for an MTV VMA in the mid 90s and won the award, only to be chastised by the ignorant host for being uncool and Asian-it’s a good thing she wasn’t present at the time. Faye Wong was born on the 8th August 1979 in Beijing and is probably most well known for her iconic song, Eyes On Me from the Final Fantasy VIII Soundtrack in 1999. Because of that collaboration with Toshiba EMI, Faye is also regarded as JPOP artist.
Faye has plenty of original songs, but my all time favourite song/performance of hers is One Thousand Words, Ten Thousand Phrases, which is a cover song originally performed by Teresa Teng. Teresa Teng was pretty much the Mother of Mandopop, she birthed all the girls and boys that were to come after her and Faye Wong is her daughter in spirit. In 1995, Faye Wong did a tribute album and concert to Miss Teng and performed one of her most famous songs, with tears streaming down her face. Again, if it were’t for the Chinese church and my best friend, who made me a mix compilation cd I wouldn’t know about such wonderful music. I went on to then dig through all Teresa Teng’s music and I became a massive fan of traditional Chinese music outside of movie soundtracks.
This list is very near and dear to me as this music came to me at a very difficult time in my life. I hope you enjoy the new songs! -Girl Davis.
Catch us next week for another round of #MMMPlaylist!
Credits: SONY MUSIC TAIWAN, UMG, FU MUSIC, WIKIPEDIA, ANITA PHUNG, MY MEMORIES~