By Jocelle Koh
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…”
Afterwards she became increasingly influenced by the likes of Alice In Chains, Beach Boys, Ani DiFranco, Sting and Martjin Van Iterson, cementing her preference for the Rock genre.
The title track ‘She’s Blue Again’ is a great example of how all these influences came together perfectly; with a heavy Jazz and blues influence showing itself in the thoughtful guitar accompaniment and solos, the song transitions oh-so-smoothly into the neighbouring Rock genre with steady drums and an electric guitar thrown in for good measure.
Redefining ‘Blue’ Culturally
But it is not just YM’s musical sound which defines this album as ‘Blue’; but also the cultural message that drives and inspires her works. Beginning by writing poems when she was in ninth grade, Chen was exposed to Rock music in high school and realised it was in fact poetry in motion. A bout of depression when she was 16 inspired her to use her music in positive ways to help those around her.
“In the beginning of becoming a musician, I made a vow to myself to spread music to anyone who’s in need of it…Music, was the shelter that I had. Now, I hope I can use MY music, to show others that are also suffering, that they’re not alone in this fight.”
Music has always been Chen’s primary interest. Leaving high school prematurely to attend the musicians’ institute in Los Angeles, Chen has always been crystal clear on her vocation. Now equipped with the skills and a cause close to her heart, thus ‘She’s Blue Again藍色星期五’ came to be.
“This album is to raise awareness about depression. The conflict and the self-doubt between decisions people make when they’re feeling ‘blue’. Where there’s happiness, there’s sadness too. We should take a deeper look at those who are dealing with depression, and trying to sympathize with their struggles… I just realized this when I was about to graduate from university that depression, along with all kinds of mental illness, should be treated seriously, especially in Asia where people avoid talking about it. This is a serious topic people should care about, just like other illnesses, like a cold. In a world where things change at a rapid pace, we need to take particular care of our mental health. I want those who suffered just like I did to know: You’re never alone.”
Even the Mandarin name for the EP, ‘Blue Friday’ holds a deeper meaning for Chen, demonstrating the thought and care that went into every aspect of this EP.
“Talking about ‘Blue Friday’, most people are thinking about TGIF, but I just wanted to have a strong contrast. That while everyone is celebrating, there are people like me who are just trying to get over their ‘blueness’.”
But even for those who feel blue often, happiness is something we all crave. And for YM, happiness is not commercial success, but a sense of inner fulfilment which she turned into a song, ‘Happiness’; also on her EP.
“I wrote this song to remind myself that no matter what happens, stay true to yourself and always remember where you came from. You need to know how to be grateful, fulfilled and to give back.”
In a way, the peace and stability that this song discusses also brings to mind a different shade of blue, no?
I’ve always been intrigued by the colour blue and its various connotations in different contexts. Peacefulness and serenity come to mind when we think of the colour blue; yet in music the Blues genre evokes a feeling of chaotic creativity and a history rich with rhythm. And even more so, in a modern-day cultural context the term is widely associated with anxiety and depression; the act of feeling blue. Such a wide range of emotions and ideas; all encapsulated within this one four-letter word. While many often choose to approach the word from only one of these angles; Chen’s ability to holistically incorporate all these perspectives; visual, audio, and cultural into her music-especially at such an early stage in her career as an artist- shows an immeasurable potential and depth to her as an artist; one that we hope to see her continue exploring for many years to come.
YM Chen’s latest EP ‘She’s Blue Again藍色星期五’ is out from the 13th of April onwards, and is available on all major streaming platforms including Apple Music, Spotify and KKBOX. For more information on her upcoming gigs and music, follow her on Facebook and YouTube.