By Jocelle Koh
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.”
Yet for Eric, there was no way for him to start his album without another one of his surefire ballad hits. Eventually, he hit his stride and ‘The Chaos After You’, the main ballad for the album was born.
“When I first started I was stuck writing my third ballad hit, because that’s an important start for every album for me. ‘Cus the first one is ‘Let’s not be friends anymore’, and the second ‘How Have You Been’. (For) the third one I was very anxious about ‘what if I can’t write one now?’ And then one day it popped out; ‘The Chaos After You’ and I think ever since that song (was) written, it just flowed. For the rest of the album.”
Debuting at the young age of 19, the now 22 year-old discussed what being 22 means for him and his music. Guess it’s not just the girls who want to have fun!
“Being 22 means … living wild, living young (laughs). I think for me the first albums-one (My Way To Love) and two (What Love Has Taught Us)-are more… mature and I think for the third album I want people to know that I’m not all sadness and … breakup songs, I’m also very fun and like being a normal 22 year-old, which (I hope to express) by bringing in fast songs, EDM songs…”
Eric’s smooth but slick transition towards an EDM focus is clear; with almost every song on his third album including some element of the genre as a result of Eric’s increased involvement in the creative process. Although diplomatic in his response when quizzed about his preference towards this album, he nevertheless professed that ‘The Chaos After You’ is “the most ‘Eric Chou” out of his three albums released thus far.
“I arranged all of my EDMs for this album and it was the first time being my own music producer for this album. I flew to Sweden to work with this music producer called Freddy, he did a song for Chainsmokers called Paris. And it’s just a lot of fun doing this album … and having my entire idea kept in this album.”
Artistic freedom was one of the pros that Chou continuously came back to during our interview, expressing that he had previously run into difficulties having his ideas preserved in the final product, rendering his experience in taking on this entire album himself even sweeter.
“Communicat(ing) with people that help me arrange my songs or mix my songs (in the past), to tell them exactly what I want is a bit hard; and to have their ideas come in and then (have to) compromise in a way. But I started writing since (I was) 11 and I’ve been doing my own demos, so I actually always had a lot of my own ideas for my songs. For the first two albums, the record company had a lot of their own ideas, and also I was not mature enough in the music industry to know people that can help me out. And for my third album I think coming out and taking this responsibility is a big and also very fun, yet challenging step for me.”
Chou’s unique dedication to the EDM genre is impressive; made even more so by the fact that many other pop acts treat it as more of a phase; jumping between genres to cover as many bases as possible. Such is the nature of the Mandopop scene currently, teeming with ideas and the willingness to branch out into more genres. Yet often the dispersed nature of these works prevent deeper analysis of genres; unhinging quality control from the international standard, and hindering continued innovation. Although Chou says that his interest in the genre stems from its meteoric popularity in recent years, his third album is a testament to his deep passion for the genre and for creating a niche for it in the Chinese pop industry.
“I think I’m going to continue with EDM for a while because it’s the number one leading style…EDM is a big one in the international music scene and I think music in Asia is lacking in this part. There’s a lot of ballads and I hope in the future I can bring more Chinese EDM to music. “
Chou also expressed that his music and his views have in part been influenced by his adolescence which he spent in America, as well as his continued exposure to Mandopop during his childhood.
“I started to listen to Mandopop when I was eight, and when I went to the states I started hearing like Taylor Swift, John Mayer, Justin Bieber on the radio and I think these westernized melodies and arrangements influenced me in a way I now write my ballads, the melodies that I sing.”
Although not explicitly stated, it is clear that Chou’s identity as a bilingual global citizen has influenced his worldviews and music, contributing to his interest in looking at audiences outside of the Chinese speaking community in the long run. Chou shared with us how his intention to appeal both to Eastern and Western audiences has been there from the very beginning:
“So my future plan (laughs) is that – if you look at my album I have two names. One is 周興哲, my Chinese (name), the other is Eric Chou. And I think Eric Chou represents the Westernised me, the international me, the EDM part and all these parts that I hope in the future can collab with international artists. The 周興哲 part is just a very traditional, romantic side of me. That sings ballads.”
;Sincere, a little awkward but nevertheless charming, Eric is clearly someone who is passionate about creating good music. Casting off the stigma of being a ballad singer, Chou has owned this title and re-appropriated the influence he has gained from it to slowly build up an audience respectful of his less mainstream sound. Although his previously more mature and ballad-driven repertoire were not necessarily entirely created by his choosing, this continued mainstream success has allowed Chou to take his visibility to newfound heights, from which he is better able to reinvent musical possibilities for the Chinese music scene, and fast-track his visibility on the global stage. Fusing his exploration of the EDM genre with a nuanced understanding of the ballads Mandopop audiences love so much, Chou’s third album is an opportunity to change the tastes of his large and widespread following; paving the way for innovation and high quality works to become the norm in this small, yet ever-changing industry. A mediator of sorts between the old and the new, Chou’s compromises and unique path as an artist could mean more to the music scene than many; including himself have ever imagined.
Eric Chou’s latest album ‘The Chaos After You’ is now available on Spotify, iTunes, KKBOX and all the usual places.