By Jocelle Koh
To herald in the new year, I, along with some friends of APW decided to put together some Top 10 lists of our favourite Mandopop songs of 2017 to share in a blog series! In a way, I thought it would be cool to see what were other Mandopop listeners’ favourite songs of the year; an experiment of subjectivity if you’d like.
In the first part of the series, I share my top 10, which include songs from Stefanie Sun, Wang Leehom, Namewee, Lala Hsu and more! Some might be songs you’ve heard frequently on the top charts, while others might be personal favourites which I think deserve to be in the spotlight before the year ends. Either way, I hope it provides all readers with a unique perspective on Mandopop and how the scene has changed and progressed over the past year. Evidently, there have been so many exciting developments that leave me hopeful for the growth of the industry and it’s capacity for cross-cultural dialogue in the near future. Do check our picks out, and we’ve even included a Spotify playlist down the bottom if that’s your preferred listening method. Merry Christmas and happy new year!
10. Jia Jia 家家 – Jia Jia Song 家家歌
Although Amit (A-mei’s alter ego) is taking a break this year, Jia Jia’s latest release has ensured that there is no lack in Taiwanese Aboriginal representations in pop music, releasing her first album featuring a plethora of self-composed works. One that stood out to me was her first single ‘Jia Jia Song’ which features other notable Aboriginal artists Suming and Ilid Kaolo, which incorporates traditional Aboriginal songs which seamlessly mix with elements of pop music such as the use of synthesizer beats underlying the song, and the use of some Chinese lyrics. With a melody that is mysterious yet beckons us to find out more, Jia Jia’s velveteen vocals draws us in and builds a bridge of accessibility for mainstream audiences to understand and appreciate her culture in a safe creative setting. The unique charisma of the song will have you singing along to its simple, natural lyrics in no time!
9. Stefanie Sun 孫燕姿 – Windbreaker 風衣
This song off Stefanie Sun’s long-awaited 13th album ‘Dancing Van Gogh’ stood out to me for its unconventional take on a ballad. Starting off hauntingly beautiful, the addition of R&B beats in the background in the chorus underlying a heartfelt melody creates possibilities I never thought possible. The beats and melody in the chorus bounce off each other; lifting the song’s atmosphere higher and higher, like wind whipping through the trees. I especially love the lyrical metaphor of the windbreaker, and feel that this song fits Sun’s carefree vocals to a T.
8. Poetek 熊仔, Julia Wu 吳卓源, Rgry – Mybong 買榜
Another trend that has been really positive in 2017 and looks to continue into 2018 is the emergence of several cool, young artists who have emerged from the underground/independent scene, pushing out new works left and right that disrupt the mainstream charts’ never-ending cycle of love ballads. With fewer connections and less resources, these guys are the key to the revival of the Mandopop music industry. One such success story is that of single ‘Mybong’ released by rapper Poetek, Julia Wu and Rgry, a rather lighthearted and chill track which gets into your head like an earworm. Switching up the conventional rap song format by mixing some melody into the rap part and some rap into the melody section, the song is effortlessly groovy, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics which sing about making it big on the charts. Ironically (or not), the song has rapidly made its way up the Top 100 charts on KKBOX. Let’s just hope it stays that way and keeps climbing!
7. A-mei 張惠妹 ft. E-So 瘦子 (MJ116) – Whatever 你說了算
A-mei has always been known for championing causes that are marginalized, be it LGBTIQ rights, Aboriginal representation, or even the creative works of underground/independent songwriters. In the past she’s used songs by people she’s found on the internet (Matriarchy by 愛力獅Alice), worked on songs with Miss Ko and Soft Lipa, but for her latest album ‘Story Thief’ her third single ‘Whatever’ takes the cake for the most out-there, yet irresistibly energetic song I’ve heard in a while. Almost schizophrenic in nature, (think Bohemian Rhapsody), the song switches erratically between minor and major keys, starting off with prim and proper chords on the keyboard before launching with no further warning into an unconventional hip hop segment replete with quirky, short guitar riffs. And all this happens within the first 40 seconds of the song. Switching with no rhyme or rhythm between dark and happy themes, the song teeters on the edge of insanity, buoyed only by the absolute confidence of A-mei’s dynamic vocals. Such a weird song, but in the best way possible!
6. Crowd Lu 盧廣仲 – He-R 魚仔
One of the runaway hits of 2017, I don’t think anyone could have truly predicted the success of Crowd Lu’s single ‘He-R’ which he recorded as the theme song of web series ‘A Boy Called Flora A’, which was so popular it was even amongst the first Taiwanese shows to be put onto Netflix this year. Unlike most TV show theme songs, Lu who is known for his organic and authentic songwriting style played both the lead in the TV series and wrote this song, taking transmedia storytelling to a whole new level. Accompanied only by a simple guitar, the song’s melody starts off nostalgic and familiar as Lu sings of memories from a collective youth, but launches into an unconventional, almost angsty pre chorus and chorus riddled with urgency and a loss of direction. Come for the folksy familiarity, stay for the intriguing rollercoaster of emotions to come. Also, the incorporation of Taiwanese dialect into parts of the song really adds a unique homely flavour while raising awareness for the dialect, in a way making it cool again! What’s not to love?
5. Yen-j 嚴爵 – Doesn’t Matter Ft. Bailen
As long-time followers of this website might know, Yen-j has been a prominent influence for me over the last seven years. I became hooked on his unique fusion of jazz and pop when he released his debut album ‘Thanks for your greatness’, and have followed his creative and unconventional musical experimentations ever since. A few months back, it was announced that Yen-j would not be renewing his contract with B’in music and planned to put aside his career as a pop artist. Thus, his last album ‘Y7 Doesn’t Matter’ was released with little promotion, but I’m not about to let someone whose music meant so much to me leave the scene without a final blowout! The avant-garde album is said to have been painstakingly produced over the entire time Yen-j was creating songs for his other albums, and shows his true return to his Jazz roots. ‘Doesn’t Matter’ is one of my favourites on the album, a song that kicks off with groovy, languid riffs on the bass, closely followed by empty percussion which allows rhythm to pool in the gaps. The arrangement seamlessly builds in layers, first adding more guitars and electro piano sounds. In the second round of the song, the song is given a more soul/jazzy edge as he includes the gospel-like chorus of New York band Bailen along with the screams of several trumpets to create an organised mess of different elements; old and new and genre-diverse that work together in harmony, truly bringing to life the song’s message of peace and love. Genre-bending is the name of the game, and Yen-j is the joker who constantly pulls tricks to make it happen. I hope this song can inspire more than it was allowed to given the sparse promotional circumstances; and hope that it can reassert to audiences Yen-j’s mettle as a talented singer-songwriter- no matter what industry he chooses.
4. Diana Wang 王詩安 ft. Khalil Fong 方大同, Wang Lei 王雷 – Tomorrow 明天
Diana Wang has always been somewhat of an enigma to me; debuting as an almost unrecognizable singer with a permed mop of hair; but in recent years she has slowly come into her own, leaving Warner Music and embracing her initial love for R&B. Her transformation into a fully-fledged singer-songwriter came to head in the later part of this year, when it was announced that she would be the first artist signed onto Khalil Fong’s East-meets-West music label FU MUSIC. ‘Tomorrow’ is the second single on her first album with FU MUSIC, and features a melody composed by Wang alongside lyrics composed by Jie Nuo Mi, with Peking Opera excerpts by famed Peking opera artist Mei Lan Fang. The single is significant to me because it was a first look into the creation of a work that was both written in Diana’s own style, and intrinsically encompassed elements of East-meets-West. The melody at its core is full of chill R&B mystique; with swatches of Chinese flavor brought by certain inflections in the verse. I find it constantly fascinating how the song flows like water; malleable enough to seamlessly envelop the presence of traditional Chinese elements (Peking Opera and Guzheng). This is a feat that is testament to Wang’s songwriting skills, and renders her an artist high up on my lookout list, as there has not been a significant Asian diasporic female artist who uses cross-cultural dialogue for over a decade, since the prominence of Coco Lee. Her R&B works are sure to pique the interest of audiences no matter where they are in the world!
3. Wang Leehom 王力宏 – A.I. Love A.I. 愛
A song that has divided the internet, Leehom’s first single off his new album ‘A.I. Love’ is the kind of track you either love or hate. But I am a passionate believer in the merits of this song, which I see as an innovative musical work putting forth discussions about technology and ethics. What topic could be more relevant in the world we live in today? Using the intricacies of the Chinese language to toy with the increasingly thin line between ‘love (ai in Chinese)’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence (A.I. for short) as well as ethics and attainment, the song is purposefully auto-tuned within an inch of its life to render the song satirical in nature. No matter whether the song is a hit or miss for you, it nevertheless caught the attention of many, and forced us to question our own relationships with technology. Which pretty much was the point of the song. And I think it’s pretty catchy too!
2. Lala Hsu 徐佳瑩 – The Prayer 言不由衷
Although this song only came out a few weeks ago, its peaceful message and ability to cut to ones’ core renders it a great way to round off the year. Written by soulful songstress Eve Ai and reprised by the gentle, nuanced vocals of Lala Hsu, the single replicates the magic that was the first single on her previous album ‘Missing Person’, once again producing melodies that seem to mimic life itself, set to simple, conversational and elegant lyrics that bring you to your knees. It could not have been too long before Ai and Hsu, both masters in the creation of moving, human works found each other, and this song is a perfect collaboration in the truest sense of the word. The song is written like a simple prayer, starting with a foreword that Lala sings as if letting out a graceful sigh; notes trailing downwards: ‘empty words/empty words/when even beautiful blessings are unable to/cover the changes of love’. The rest of the song instead soars lightly upwards; buoyed by Lala’s full yet light vocals; as if lifting hopes and dreams to the heavens in anticipation of positive change. Truly a masterpiece!
1.Namewee黃明志 ft. Wang Leehom王力宏 – Stranger In The North 飄向北方
‘Stranger in the North’ can definitely be widely considered one of the anthems of Mandopop for the year, and also happens to be one of my favourite songs of 2017! It’s rare to see those two categories coincide, but Namewee did a fantastic job with the song, bringing onboard none other than Wang Leehom to sing the melody layered in between his spitfire raps. His hard-hitting lyrics tell a tale of isolation and the chasing of dreams in a foreign, Chinese environment while his husky, explosive voice tinged with his Southeast Asian accent cut right into your heart. And as my sister says, absolutely nothing can convince me of the fact that Leehom isn’t the perfect counterpart for this collaboration. His vocals soulful and brimming with longing for stability and family; Lehoom’s background as an Asian American who came to Taiwan to chase his dreams transfers seamlessly into the song. Namewee and Leehom are both outspoken advocates who have fought hard for issues they believe in, so this unorthodox collaboration is in fact a perfect match that seeks to move the little dreamer in all of us. Exactly what we need given the year we’ve been through!
Listen to our picks on Spotify: