It’s our birthday! In lieu of Asian Pop Weekly’s 12th year anniversary this August, we decided it was high time to shine a light on the APW team. And what better way than to get a couple of them to create their very own Choice Picks playlist?

By Matt Taylor, Jocelle Koh

Time truly does fly when you’re having fun! Matt was one of our first writers who connected particularly deeply with the essence of Asian Pop Weekly, and as a result has expanded our repertoire to no end. A self-professed Taiwan nerd, Matt comes from an academic research background and as a result has been a part of some of our most thought-provoking pieces.

Heading up our biographical analysis series “Profiles” and penning pieces about pop culture in relation to events such as the Hong Kong protests and LGBTQI+ rights movement in Taiwan, it has been a pleasure to dive deep with Matt on some of our most meaningful pieces.

Of course, Matt has a fun side too! A super fan of Jolin and many of Mandopop’s queens, his album reviews spill the tea on whether an album is worth a standing ovation or nothing to shout about with what I like to describe as ‘tactful honesty’. Through and through, Matt is a fan of pop music and is passionate about sharing how it is a reflection of our culture in so many ways. From that first Li Ronghao album review until now, each piece we’ve worked together on has been a true honour.

No description available.

What year did you join APW? I think I joined APW around the beginning of 2018, which means I have been writing for the site for around three years now. Time flies when you are having fun! It honestly feels longer than it has actually been, but it’s been a privilege to write here, and hopefully there are going to be more years to come.

What is it that APW does which resonates with you? There are so many resources for English speakers who are interested in the music of Japan and Korea, but Mandopop really is underrepresented online in this respect. I really appreciate the opportunity to be part of a team that is not only making this music more accessible to a wider audience, but also doing it in an intelligent and thoughtful way. As Jocelle says, APW bridges cultural divides and presents it in a way that is not only intriguing, but fosters understanding and the desire to learn more. There really is no other English-language website like it.

Any APW related highlights or milestones? I love writing in depth I get a lot of personal satisfaction from writing think pieces and artist profiles. I wish that there was more time in the day so that I could follow through with all the ideas in my head!

I helped to organise a cultural exhibition the UK on Taiwan album art and CD packaging, and I wrote a piece on it for APW, so it was fun to combine my hobby with my job! Another think piece on framing the work of LGBT music and musicians in Taiwan’s changing socio-political climate also got picked up by several other sites and even led to me giving a talk on the subject at SOAS, University of London, which was a privilege.

One think piece that I think has become increasingly poignant is the one that I wrote on the importance of Cantopop as a protest vehicle and identity symbol for Hong Kong. Not only has this thinking found its way to common discourse on HK now, but after the rapid deterioration of freedom in the city, the themes of the article remain highly relevant.

Favourite genre/styles of music? I unashamedly love pop music. To me pop music is the chameleon of the music world, always changing and adapting to the world around it, but always identifiable. I’m also very interested in dance music and EDM. When I was young and buying CD singles, I would spend just as long listening to remixes as I did to the original song. You could say that the cross-over point between dance and pop music is definitely where a lot of my favourite artists are on the musical spectrum.

I also love generally enjoy listening to Mandopop from decades past, especially the 90s. Of course it is of its time, but with hindsight it really does feel like a golden era. I also love 90s in Western music too – simpler times!

Favourite Asian artist(s) I pray at the church of Jolin Tsai on a daily basis. A bulletproof back catalogue, incredible dancer and a complete show woman.  She’s also worked incredibly hard to get to where she is and has never been afraid to show her vulnerabilities.

Shout out to all my pop girls though, especially A-mei, Elva Hsiao, and Denise Ho, all of whom could also easily be my pick.

What are you passionate about? I’m a huge Taiwan nerd, and to an extent my interest in Mandopop is intrinsically linked to my connections with Taiwan. I’m very fortunate that my career over the past few years has actually been focused on improving Taiwan’s visibility and awareness of issues important to it.  Writing for APW also allows me to do this a hobby, informing others about a part of Taiwan’s culture that really resonates with me.

Matt’s Choice Picks

Track 01: ABAO 阿爆 – Mother Tongue 母親的舌頭
Words can’t describe how much I love ABAO 阿爆 and her culturally-pioneering second album Mother Tongue 母親的舌頭, which brings together contemporary music with indigenous language and issues. Two years later, the record is still on heavy rotation for me. One of my favourites on it is the track after which the album is named, a five minute house-inspired epic filled with mouth-watering harmonies. ABAO’s ethereal vocals praise the beauty of her mother-tongue as the song gradually builds up momentum before cascading into violins for its conclusion.

Track 02: Jolin Tsai 蔡依林 – Stars Align
I had to include Jolin 蔡依林 in my picks, and her most recent offering after blockbuster 2018 album UGLY BEAUTY, this impressive dance track on which she’s collaborated with Dutch/Moroccan DJ R3HAB, is a perfect addition. Stars Align is quite simply an excellent dance-pop banger, where the worlds of Mandopop and international EDM collide. Jolin’s vocals – which she delivers entirely in English – enhance the sorrow of the lyrics in which she is longing for her lost lover. Shimmering breakdowns and harmonic shifts alongside vibrant synths and a strong bassline make the track an incredibly captivating listen.

Track 03: NekoJam 妮可酱 – This Way 有鬼
I’m obsessed with NekoJam 妮可酱, the electronic group that’s been shaking up Taiwan’s EDM scene for a few years now. Their unapologetic mix of electro-house and pop hooks is a match made in heaven for my listening tastes. One of my favourites on the record is This Way 有鬼, a pulsating electro-pop number that dissects the downsides of the digital world and its superficiality, something we’ve all come to understand spending most of 2020 behind a screen. The video shouldn’t be missed, a captivating dystopian school horror which sees the girls on the run from a crazy schoolgirl in a bunny mask alongside other-worldly forces. The song also features Alien Huang 黃鴻升, who we tragically lost last year.

Track 04: Jessie Ware – Please
Okay it’s not Mandopop, but Jessie Ware is amazing and you should be listening to her. Her What’s Your Pleasure album released last year is an incredible mixture of warm disco, seductive beats and amazing choruses and is an equally great accompaniment to hazy summer evenings and cold winter nights. Taken from the album’s re-issue, Please is a show-stopping multi-layered, disco-pop number filled with irresistible flourishes, an unrelenting bassline, and sparkly synths. It will no doubt fill the dancefloor, once we are all able to again.

Track 05: Denise Ho 何韻詩 – I Always Imagine the Days after you Left 我總是想象你離開後的日子
I’ve found a lot of comfort in LGBT icon and pro-democracy supporter Denise Ho’s 何韻詩 back catalogue over the past year and a half. Her emotionally charged vocals and evocative lyrics have been a place of comfort when the world seemed as if it was falling to pieces. Her latest song I Always Imagine the Days after you Left 我總是想象你離開後的日子 is a rare moment of fragility, and sees her describe the painful days following the loss of her cat. Thematically dealing with the death, the song pulls at the heartstrings and is an emotional listen as Denise laments that she wishes to leave before the ones she loves. However, the memories of togetherness will last a lifetime, and this notion lifts the spirit of the listener.

Track 06: Chick en Chicks 雞啃起司 – Guitar Hero
Chick en Chicks 雞啃起司 are one of my favourite duo’s to come out of Taiwan in recent years, and their 2019 album Beat Maker is a great mix of R&B, Hip-Hop beats and electronic synths. Their latest track Guitar Hero is very much in the vein of 9m88, and feels effortless in its combination of funk, easy going jazz and contemporary R&B, with flourishes of vocal improvisation from singer Kartina. 

Track 07: Amei 張惠妹– Slowly 緩緩
I couldn’t make a choice picks playlist and not include Mandopop matriarch A-mei 張惠妹.  Her most recent release Slowly 緩緩 is a great synth-laden mid-tempo, which implores us to take things in our stride and focus on the little things when the world brings us restlessness and uncertainty. If we all move at our pace, then we will all be better for it. A-mei’s subdued vocal delivery brings out the meaning behind the lyrics, and transports the listener to a place of peace where they can undergo some self-healing and reflection, something we all need to do.

Track 08: Joanna Wang 王若琳 – Isis
We love Joanna Wang 王若琳 for the weird and wonderful niches she explores on her records, but we also love the very unique skill she has of being able to take other people’s songs and make them uniquely her own.  She displays this in excellent form on Bob Dylan song Isis which employs Egyptian mythology to describe the fall-out from a marriage. Joanna transforms this 70s folk song into an Alanis Morrisette-esque alt-rock track, filled with distorted guitar and wind instruments. The final minute is an explosion of sound, with Joanna unleashing screams unlike anything she has done on record before.

Track 09: Karen Mok 莫文蔚 – Women’s New Knowledge 婦女新知2021
It’s so refreshing to hear Hong Kong icon Karen Mok 莫文蔚 sing in Cantonese again on new visual album Voyage, her first in the language since 2008’s Golden Flower. Opener Women’s New Knowledge is actually a reinvention of a song of the same name which appeared on her 2000 self-titled EP. Where the original was a mission statement of the modern woman, this updated version imagines where those women are now; still shopaholics but now they value things other than expensive products, they have more wisdom on life, are better cooks, and overall have become well-rounded individuals. Karen sings with such an effervescence and confidence that it’s impossible not to feel the joy in every second of this song.

Track 10: Fire E.X. 滅火器– Stronger Together 一起更强
I wouldn’t typically class myself as a rock fan, but Fire E.X. 滅火器 ticks all my boxes. Fiercely proud of their Taiwanese identity and always willing to use their music to make statements and stand up for causes important to them, they are one of the most important bands in contemporary Taiwanese music. Recent release Stronger Together 一起更强 is the kind of anthemic punk-pop that the band do best, as they cheer on their favourite baseball team. Taiwan’s early success managing Covid-19 meant it was one of the only places in world in 2020 were baseball games could take place, and this song feels like a celebration of that. In the midst of a pandemic, we aren’t safe as individuals until we are all safe, and the stronger together mantra is especially poignant in current times.

In this 4-part Choice Picks series, we invite team members Allison, Matt, Sinead and Jocelle to share their thoughts about being part of APW, and of course what music gets them going in the morning. Check out the series as we release throughout the month of August here.