With Chinese Americans Shunza and Coco Lee breaking out in the Mandarin market, a male counterpart decided to follow in their footsteps shortly after. But unlike them, he was an ABC (American-Born Chinese). His name was Alexander Wang Leehom. Knowing that the United States snubbed singers of Asian descent, he did not bother trying to make it as an English-language singer. He taught himself Chinese and broke into the Mandarin market in China. Nicholas Tse, a Chinese-Canadian appeared as well as Chinese-Malaysian Ah Niu.
Meanwhile, on the island of Taiwan, the masses were not going to rest content with their new superstars A-Mei and Valen. Jolin Cai appeared to add a more dance-oriented style to the Mandarin music industry, though it would take her a couple of record company switches and self-reinventions before she was to become the reigning female champion. The Taiwanese also decided that it was time to create a Mandarin answer to Hong Kong’s Beyond and form a rock band. They created Mayday. Power Station enjoyed some popularity as did Wu Bai and China Blue. Other singers included Shino Lin with her dancey-electronic leanings, guitarist-pianist Cheer Chen, Phil Zhang, Where Zhou, Chris Yu, and Yuki Xu.
Things were much slower on the Chinese Mainland. Although Cui Jian did his bit and several singers of vocal pop enjoyed some popularity, the Mandarin market was dominated by the Taiwanese. But, in 1998, a Manzu Chinese born in Shenyang became a superstar. Her name was Natasha Na. Coincidentally, Matilda Tao, born in the same city, became a star the following year. Na Ying’s male counterpart was none other than Dalian-native Sun Nan who had been around for a while but came to prominence in 1998 with the album Dream Eyes. He was highly respected as a gifted singer but never attained the superstardom of Natasha.
With Hong Kong handed back to China from Britain and the emergence of powerhouse Mandarin stars, Cantopop took a back seat to Mandopop despite a couple of newcomers in Hong Kong. One was the exotic Karen Mok and the other was Eason Chan. The former became famous outside of Hong Kong almost immediately while the latter had to wait for five years. Eventually, though, he became the biggest male singer from Hong Kong throughout China. Other singers from Hong Kong who appeared at this time were William So and Miriam Yeung.
Chinese Name: 那英
Mandarin Name: Nā Yīng
(b. 1967 in Shenyang, China)
一笑而过 “Laugh It Off”
Natasha was born in Shenyang, Liaoning Province of the People’s Republic of China. While most people are of the Han ethnicity, she is Manzu. She won several national singing contests and began her recording career. Although famous for several years, her rise to superstardom came in 1998 when she sang a duet with fellow Mainlander Faye Wang at the CCTV annual Spring Festival gala. That year, her song “Conquest” became a mega-hit all over China, including Taiwan, elevating her to the position of the biggest female pop diva from Mainland China. Her 2001 smash “Laugh It Off” won a major award in Hong Kong. Na Ying has sold more than 10 million albums.
Chinese Name: 王力宏
Mandarin Name: Wáng Lìhóng
(b. 1976 in Rochester, New York, USA)
唯一 “The One and Only”
你是我心内的一首歌 (with Selina Ren)
好心分手 (with Candy Lo)
另一个天堂 (with Jane Zhang)
Wang’s names are very confusing. Although he was born in the U.S., most people do not know his English name, while English names of Hong Kong pop stars are well-known. And, despite the fact that he descended from Taiwanese, not Hong Kongers, he is often called by the Cantonese version of his name, Leehom. This becomes very strange when this Cantonese version appears on his album covers despite his albums containing songs all sung in Mandarin. His surname, however, retains its Mandarin form (Wang rather than the Cantonese Wong).
In the early 60s, a young couple from Taiwan moved to the United States to further their post-secondary education. They had three children there, the second, Alexander (Leehom), born in 1976. When he was three, he was deeply attracted to his older brother’s violin playing and begged his mother to enrol him in lessons. His mother told him he was too young—he would have to wait until he was six. The two brothers began performing together and Alex added piano lessons when he was a teenager while teaching himself the guitar. After high school, he began learning Chinese and eventually attained fluency in both speaking and reading. He double-majored in music and Asian studies at university and joined an all-male a cappella group.
In the summer of ’95, Leehom went to visit his grandparents in Taiwan. While there, he was offered a recording contract by BMG. He released his debut album but it flopped, forcing him to leave the label. The following year, he signed with Decca and released his sophomore effort. Sales were moderately successful. Wang’s contract with Decca was severed after the release of a couple more albums. He graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts, USA and joined Sony when he made his big breakthrough. The 1998 album Revolution won him two Golden Melody Awards. The title-track went number one in Taiwan.
It wasn’t until 2001 before Leehom became a household name as a singer in Mainland China and Japan. This was due to his song “The One and Only”, his signature song. The album became a million-seller. Eager to experiment with different kinds of music, Alex travelled to remote villages in China to learn new tribal sounds and Tibetan and Mongolian styles. He incorporated these sounds into his music and released Shangri-La which sold 1.5 million copies. His follow-up became his best-selling work, however. Wang collaborated with a number of different artists—rappers, Koreans, and opera singers—in the release of Heroes of Earth. The album sold 3 million copies.
Wang Li Hong starred in Ang Lee’s big film, Lust, Caution.
Chinese Name: 莫文蔚
Cantonese Name: Mok Man Wei
Mandarin Name: Mò Wénwèi
(b. 1970 in Hong Kong)
没时间 “No Time”
那么爱你为什么 (with Huang Pin Yuan)
The exotic Karen Mok studied Italian literature in Europe before returning to Hong Kong. She speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian, and French. She is Eurasian: her father is half-Chinese and half-Welsh, while her mother is half-Chinese, one-quarter Iranian and one-quarter-German. Although she released an album in 1993, her fame skyrocketed with her 1998 Mandarin album I Say, thanks to the hits “Love” and “No Time”.
In 2001, Mo Wen Wei starred in Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer and in Jackie Chan’s Around the World in 80 Days in 2004.
Chinese Name: 陈奕迅
Cantonese Name: Chan Yik Shun
Mandarin Name: Chén Yìxùn
(b. 1974 in Hong Kong)
Shall We Talk
你的背包 “Your Backpack”
因为爱情 (with Faye Wang)
Eason Chan started out the same year as Gigi Leung and, like her, he is also a musician and composes some of his own songs. But, whereas Gigi’s superstardom came almost immediately, Eason had to work hard at gradually achieving greater and greater levels of popularity. Nowadays, he is considered by some as Hong Kong’s third male “god of song” after Sam Hui and Jacky Cheung.
Eason was raised in London, U.K. from the age of 12 where he later studied architecture at Kingston University. He returned to Hong Kong in 1995 to take part in the New Talent Singing Contest and won first place. He was immediately signed to Capital Records, thus ending his future career as an architect. He released his first album but his big breakthrough came in 1998 thanks to “Odyssey”. With the rising tide of superstars in Taiwan, it took a long time before Eason became a big name in the Mandarin regions of China. Although he released several Mandarin albums, he was taken seriously in Taiwan and the Mainland only with the song “Your Backpack” in 2002. His big breakthrough came with the song “Decade” the following year becoming the second non-Taiwanese singer after Jacky Cheung to win a Golden Melody Award in Taiwan. In 2003, he won “Best Male Singer” and “Best Album”. Eason’s 2005 album U87 was recommended by Time Magazine as one of the five best Asian albums worth buying. It was the best-selling album that year in Hong Kong.
Chinese Name: 五月天
Mandarin Name: Wǔyuètiān
A Xin (Lead Vocal)
Guai Wu / Monster (Guitar)
Shi Tou / Stone (Guitar)
Ma Sha (Bass)
Guan You (Drums)
私奔到月球 (with Cheer Chen)
Mayday, or Wu Yue Tian started out as a garage-rock band and, over the years, with its increasing popularity, has gradually moved towards a slicker production of more anthemic songs. After performing in a music festival, the band sent demo tapes out ultimately attracting the attention of Rock Records. They released their debut album in the summer of 1999 which went on to sell 300,000 copies, an impressive feat for a new band. The quintet’s second album, Viva Life, exceeded their first in sales and they won Band of the Year at the Golden Melody Awards. Their song “Tender” topped the charts in 2000.
From 2001–2003, the band took a temporary hiatus because Ma Sha was up for mandatory military service. Shi Tou proposed to his girlfriend then went to England to learn production techniques, and Guan You went to Los Angeles to hone his drumming skills. When they regrouped, they marked the occasion with a concert in Taibei Stadium which attracted nearly 400,000, breaking the attendance record (previously held by Michael Jackson). Their fourth album, Time Machine, helped them snatch their second “Best Band” award. They embarked on a world tour with dates in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and the U.S. They also performed on top of the tallest building in the world (at the time) – the Taibei 101 tower. In 2009 they went on another world tour which included Australia. That year they won their third Best Band Award.
Chinese Name: 蔡依林
Mandarin Name: Cài Yīlín
(b. 1980 in Taibei, Taiwan)
我知道你很难过 “I Know You’re Sorry”
今天妳要嫁给我 (with David Tao)
During the latter half of the Y2K decade, Jolin Cai was the best-selling Chinese female artist in the world. Though she started out doing R&B, she shifted to dance music becoming one of the few big Chinese pop stars doing this genre of music. As such, she has been called the Kylie Minogue of Asia. Getting to the top was not so straightforward, however, and involved changing record companies a couple of times. In recent years she has won a host of “Best / Most Popular Female Singer” awards.
Jolin is said to have been shy as a child and a mathematical scholar. She excelled in studying English and majored in English Literature at the famous Taiwanese Fu Zhen Catholic University. She loved to sing and dreamed of releasing an album of English songs but was told that such a venture would be unprofitable. When Jolin was 18, she participated in an MTV singing competition and won top honours. She signed on with Universal Music and released her first album, Jolin 1019, and the single, “I Know You’re Sorry” in 1999. She was an instant success and her album sold 400,000 copies in Asia. Her second album did even better, bolstered with the catchy song “Don’t Stop”. But sales of her third and fourth albums did poorly which prompted her to change record companies.
She signed on with Sony and shifted to a more dance-oriented style. It worked: her next three albums, Magic, Castle, and J-Game sold over a million copies apiece in Asia. Magic remained on top of the Taiwan album charts for three months. Castle included a Chinese cover (“Love, Love, Love”) of the Nu Virgos song “Stop, Stop, Stop”. In 2005, Jolin released her seventh album J-Game. Not only did it become the longest running album on the Taiwanese album charts that year, but it sold over a million copies in just a little over a month.
In 2006, it was announced that Jolin would be leaving Sony. She joined EMI Capitol. During the changeover, she worked on perfecting her dancing skills. Her first release with EMI Capitol was Dancing Diva. It became her biggest album, selling over 2 million copies in Asia. In 2007, she cleaned up at most of the awards ceremonies in Asia. Later that year, she released Agent J which, like Dancing Diva, sold 2.8 million copies in Asia.
In 2008, Jolin released her first English cover album Love Exercise. The sales for were lower than expected due to minimal publicity efforts. As a result, Cai ended her contract with EMI, joining Warner and releasing the album Butterfly in 2009. In 2010 she released Myself. She went on a world tour in December to show off some dazzling new acrobatic dance stunts, choreographed by Benny Ninja. The tour, album, and memorabilia earned her $14.5 million USD that year.