Ja(y)ded time ahead By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
After reigning over the Mandopop scene for a decade there are signs that Jay Chou is coming to the end of his powers, Raymond Zhou analyzes
Jay Chou is coming to town. The reigning king of Chinese pop is touring nationwide to promote his 10th album, which has received mixed reviews. For the past decade, the Taiwan pop icon has released one album a year, except for 2009 when he starred in two big-budget movies and directed a television series. But all three of these projects turned out to be huge flops. There were calls in the press for him to return to music making.
By any standard, the 31-year-old is an unprecedented success. He was beyond doubt the top Mandopop musician in the Chinese-speaking world in the Noughties. With a combined 25 million albums sold - this in a market phase when recorded music is cursed by new technologies and the rampant piracy that goes with them - no one comes close to his achievements.
But recent whispers of the Chou charm slipping away, in addition to the big stumbles in his movie and television forays, are undermining his stature as the man with the Midas touch.
The Chou maelstrom started with - what else? - the album Jay, released near the end of 2000. It won Best Album at Taiwan's Golden Melody Awards, the most coveted in the profession and the first of some 350 prizes that would follow in the next decade. It sold half a million copies in Taiwan alone. A star was born.
From the beginning, Chou's albums, for which he writes all the music and part of the lyrics, besides singing and often producing, have had a distinctive sound. He does not have a beautiful voice or a wide vocal range, but his musicianship overcomes all these deficiencies. Though classically trained and with an affection for Chopin, Chou has built an impressive arsenal of musical styles, which he uses and fuses with creative bravado.
Of these, R&B and hip-hop are his staples. These quintessentially African-American genres were adopted by other Chinese musicians before him, but it was Chou who brought them into the Mandopop mainstream.
There is a playfulness in Chou's rapping, which is akin to the visual style of anime, exaggerated yet adorable. There is never anything threatening in his music. The only subversive twist is: Instead of touting "bad" behavior often associated with youthful rebelliousness, he encourages his fans to be good. In one of his songs, he admonishes Generation-Y, the bedrock of his fanbase, to "listen to your mother" because "you'll know what I mean when you grow up and I learned it when I grew up and that's why I run faster and fly higher than others". He relishes the fact that "people all study what I paint and sing what I write".
Chou is proud of being a "mama's boy". He even named his fourth album after his mom, Ye Hui-mei. That attachment began with his parents' divorce and his father leaving them while he was 14. In an early song, Dad, I'm back, he might be channeling his traumatic experience into a tearful plea (though he denies it's autobiographical): "Don't hit mom! Didn't your hand hurt as well? I wanted to stop the violence when I get home."
His mother, now a single parent, put Chou through music school, where he studied piano and cello. His gratitude to his mother is so heartfelt there is none of the schmaltz typical of the ubiquitous Chinese paean to the mother figure: "Listen to your mom. Don't let her be hurt. Grow up fast and protect her. Beautiful gray hair blossoms in happiness."
Unlike some rock stars, he has never had a run-in with the authorities. He is the rare cool boy who is clean and good. No wonder teenagers are rarely discouraged from jumping on the Chou
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