In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, Verizon Wireless and HTC organized a national concert tour highlighting three major artists from the Mandopop industry and a rising Asian American DJ/turntablist/VJ from the Bay Area. Though the national tour included Van Ness Wu, Evonne Hsu, JJ Lin, and Mike Relm, only three out of the four artists were featured in any single concert. For the performance on May 29 at LA Live's Club Nokia, JJ Lin, Evonne Hsu, and Mike Relm performed, while Van Ness, known for his activities with Taiwanese boyband F4 and his musical collaboration with the Korean singer Kangta in 2006, sat out.
Mike Relm was the opening act of the night and was, for the most part, unknown to the Chinese-speaking audience. According to his bio, much of his work "feature[s] a series of audio mash-ups with video images, manipulated in real time" and if the description sounds complex, it is rightfully so. At one point in his career, he toured with Blue Man Group. More recently, Relm has performed at the renowned Audiotistic Future Sound Festival and at YouTube Live in San Francisco. He was also involved with creating an Iron Man 2 TV spot.
Though the audience was initially baffled by his remixes and didn't know what to make of him, they were slowly won over by his sense of humor. One could also sense the audience's silent awe as the young man skillfully manipulated multiple different pieces of technology on a long table, his light-speed fingers flying in different directions over his complicated-looking set. My favorite audio/video remix was Relm's work with "Charlie bit my finger," a YouTube video that features a three-year-old sticking a finger in front of a baby's mouth, the baby biting it, and the three-year-old exclaiming "Ow!" Relm cleverly manipulated the "Ow!" sound into a chain of tuned "Ow's" -- creating a melody that resembled a catchy rock solo riff. For one of his last remixes, he showed the audience an iPad with a number pad and allowed audience members sitting close-by to play with it, as if offering them the opportunity to create a bit of their own music with the audio-linked video clips that had been assigned to the different numbers. Relm dryly concluded the performance by saying, "I found a use for an iPad," and was met with appreciative cheers from the audience.
JJ Lin (林俊傑, or Lin Jun Jie), Singaporean singer-songwriter based in Taiwan, was the next to perform. JJ is a major figure in the Mandopop industry, having won numerous music awards since the release of his first album, Music Voyager in 2003. He has released seven albums to date, one for each year he has been signed onto a record label. Originally known for his unique voice and distinct take on R&B/pop, JJ would later incorporate more mainstream elements of rock and hip hop in his works. His versatility as a songwriter has been on display with the success of numerous songs of different styles such as "Dou Jiang You Tiao," an upbeat sweet song comparing the speaker's relationship with his girlfriend to a common food combination in a Chinese breakfast (just as how cookies and milk resemble a perfect food pair); "Cao Cao," a rock-based poetic tribute to the Chinese historical figure bearing the same name; and finally "Sha Shou," a chilling song accompanied by an equally disturbing music video in which a murderer speaks to his lover.
JJ's lineup included popular songs from his earlier years as well as several tracks from his newest album 100 Days, which was released last December and was available for sale in the main lobby. The concertgoers came to life as soon as JJ took the stage, and they made much use of the complimentary glowsticks while waving to the well-known tunes of the singer-songwriter. (There was also a group of people in the pit who combined their glowsticks and actually spelled messages for JJ.) It was clear JJ enjoyed interacting with his lively audience, as he chastely laughed off requests to unbutton his shirt and playfully responded in Mandarin "but you have to pay first," to a male concertgoer who claimed he wanted JJ's pants. He sang his songs just as well live as in his recordings and enjoyed dancing to his songs in various costumes. But he appeared to finally sink into his most comfortable element once all the glitz, glamour, and shiny costumes had been cast aside, and he was left in front of a piano, singing to the music created with his own fingers. After performing an acoustic piano adaptation of "Naruwan," a lovely lullaby-like song with all the poetic poignancy expected of a JJ favorite, he encouraged the audience to sing along with him as he performed "Without You," a song made famous by Harry Nilsson in 1971 and Mariah Carey in 1994, to commemorate his first American concert.
Evonne Hsu (許慧欣), Taiwanese American singer who was born and raised in Texas, is yet another familiar of the Mandopop music scene. She took the industry by storm when she first debuted in 2002 and won numerous Best Newcomer awards for her elegant, trademark pairing of pop music and ballet. During her studies at the University of Austin at Texas, she was convinced by a friend to make a singing demo, which impressed the head of Taiwan Core Agency so greatly that he flew to Texas to sign her.
During her part of the concert, Hsu danced with such grace and ease (while fully extending her legs vertically or horizontally on several occasions) to her well-known, upbeat songs such as "Lonely Ballet," "Shi Lian Bu Bai," and "Da Feng Chui" (and seemed to have little trouble fully extending her legs vertically or horizontally), that the audience members could not help but vocalize their surprise when the emcee revealed that Evonne had only recently recovered from a serious back injury. When Evonne took a moment to address the concertgoers, she seemed a bit more subdued than Mike Relm or JJ Lin had been, but was very sweet and sincere. She amiably asked if there were non-Chinese-speaking people in the crowd before sharing her experiences as an Asian American who was able to enter the Mandopop scene. Prior to her debut, she didn't know Chinese, so she studied the language in Taiwan by herself for a year, without any friends or family nearby. This period of time was very difficult for her, and she often found herself thinking of her home in Texas -- though she admitted that Taiwan has, by now, also become something of another home. In moments of shy silliness, she sang American Tail's "Somewhere Out There" in the voice of Feivel, the child mouse who gets separated from his family on the journey to America from Russia, and a cover of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid.
Before long, the concert concluded with hearty thanks to Verizon/HTC for holding the concert, as well as the audience for coming out to support the artists.
Click here to watch APA's video interview with JJ Lin and Evonne Hsu.