Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jam Hsiao Goes to Number 1

Jam Hsiao (萧敬腾 pinyin: Xiāo Jìng Téng ), one of the new generation of Taiwanese pop idols, had this week's top-selling album in Taiwan, according to the G-music charts. The Warner Records release, Princess (王妃), is his second studio album.

Jam first rose to prominence in 2007 with his appearance on One Million Star, a Taiwanese TV show vaguely similar to American Idol. Although not actually a contestant - his role was to challenge the main contestants in head-to-head sing-offs - he quickly gained a large following. A duet with Taiwan superstar A-mei followed, then a multi-million (Taiwan) dollar contract with Warner Music. His self-titled debut album shot straight to the top of the charts.

Just 22 years old, Jam is known for his strong singing technique and charismatic stage presence, in spite of his noticeably shy personality. His music is a mixture of styles - some strong rock tunes (Bon Jovi is cited as a big influence), plus gentler pop and R&B numbers - although he has admitted to not being confident about his R&B singing.

And finally, a little piece of Jam Hsiao trivia: I remember reading somewhere that the animals he fears the most are humans!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Burning Flames III Catches Fire in HK Ratings

Hong Kong TVB's new prime-time drama, Burning Flames III (烈火雄心3), got off to a hot start with ratings peaking at 38 points and averaging 33 points in its first week on air. However there was a drop off in viewers as the week wore on, raising concerns that initial interest may be starting to fizzle. Viewers have complained that there are too many confusing flashbacks slowing the pace of the show.

The series is set in the Hong Kong Fire Department and stars Wong He (王喜), who was in the original two series back in 1998 and 2003. Kevin Cheng (郑嘉颖), who was also in series 2, plays the fire chief, and other cast members include Bosco Wong (黄宗泽), Myolie Wu (胡杏儿) and a former Miss Hong Kong, Aimee Chan (陈茵媺).

The first two series were much-loved at the time, and a six-year wait for viewers since series 2 has built up a great deal of anticipation for the next installment. However criticism began almost from the start, not just with the flashbacks, but also with factual and continuity errors which netizens are delighting in identifying and posting on the net. It will be interesting to see over the series' run if Burning Flame III can continue to post 30-plus ratings figures, or will the number of viewers continue to drop off.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ariel Lin's Much Anticipated Debut Goes to Number 1

TV actress-turned-singer Ariel Lin (林依晨, pinyin: Lín Yīchén) went straight to the top of the Taiwan album charts with her debut record Meeting Happiness (幸福遇见, pinyin: Xìngfú yùjiàn). The album accounted for almost 19 percent of all album sales in the week July 10 to July 16, according to the G Music charts which measure record sales in Taiwan (see the G-Music chart but in Chinese). The pint-sized 26 year old knocked off A-Mei Zhang who dropped to number 3 after two weeks in the top position.

Ariel Lin first came to prominence with a starring role in the TV drama series True Love 18 back in 2002. She has since appeared in a string of popular series including My Secret Garden (2003), It Started with a Kiss (2005), Tokyo Juliet (2006), They Kiss Again (2007) for which she won a Golden Bell Award, and Legend of the Condor Heroes (2008).

The Meeting Happiness album contains just ten songs, but includes the hit singles Garden of Happiness (甜蜜花园) and Fireflies (萤火虫), a song that includes appearances by two members of Korean mega-band Super Junior. The excellent Singapore website The UrbanWire has a review of Meeting Happiness and describes it as of "uneven standard" - some good moments and some not so good moments.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Jane Zhang and Xu Wei Win at Media Music Awards

I can't find much information about the 9th China Media Music Awards, but apparently they were run and won on the 6th of July. These awards have a history of rewarding independent and non-mainstream music, and this year's ceremony for the main part continued the tradition. The China Radio International website provides a report on the event.

The winners of the Most Popular Male and Female Singers were Xu Wei (许巍 - pictured above) and Jane Zhang (张靓颖, pinyin: Zhāng Liàngyǐng) respectively. The Xi'an based singer-songwriter Xu Wei has been a part of the Mainland music scene for over 15 years, beginning his career with the band Fly (sometimes also translated as Flying) before branching out on his own in 1997. Although classified as a rock musician, his music has mellowed with age.

Jane Zhang (pictured right) rose to fame with her appearance in the American Idol style show Super Girl in 2005, in which she eventually finished third (not first as the CRI article wrongly asserts). Zhang, who sings pretty well in English, is China's current big hope to crack the global music scene. A recent appearance on Opray in her The World's Got Talent episode has helped fuelled the expectations.

A surprise winner at the awards was Glamourous Pharmacy (美好药店, pinyin: Měihǎo Yàodiàn) for Most Popular Band. Billed as an alt-rock band, they've been around since 1999 (sometimes known as Glorious Pharmacy) but their mixture of folk, blues, jazz and experimental rock has hardly made them household names.

There were also four awards for Best Mandarin and Cantonese Singers. Best Male Mandarin singer went to Hawaiian-born, Hong Kong-raised Khalil Fong (方大同). The 26 year old R&B singer released his fourth album last year. The multi-talented Sandee Chan (陈珊妮) was awarded Best Female Mandarin Singer. Chan has worn many hats in her fifteen year career: as well as singing, she's tried her hand at producing, songwriting, writing and painting.

In the Cantonese category, Best Male Singer was won by Anthony Wong (黃耀明) - another artist who falls outside the mainstream. The prolific Kay Tse (謝安琪) - six studio albums in her short four-year career - was named Best Female Singer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Taiwan Chart Shock: Rock and Roll at Number 1

The Taiwan album charts, usually dominated by pop and R&B, had an unfamiliar look this week with a rock and roll record topping the charts. The versatile A-mei (阿妹) released her 18th album AMIT (阿密特), and it went straight to number one for the week June 26-July 2, ending Jerry Yan's two-week reign at the top.

36 year old A-mei, also known as Zhāng Huì Mèi (张惠妹), is one of Taiwan's best-loved pop divas, and has constantly reinvented herself in her 13-year career. From pop to Taiwan aboriginal musical to dance music and folk, she has experimented with a variety of styles, including performances with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and, most recently, in a Japanese version of the opera Turandot.

A little controversy may have helped record sales, with Taiwan TV banning the video clip of the single, Black Eats Black (黑吃黑). The MTV-produced clip features dominatrix outfits, images of sado-masochism and swearing. Par for the course in a lot of other countries, but in Taiwan the video was considered too "vulgar" to go to air.

A-mei is no stranger to controversy. She inadvertently raised mainland Chinese hackles when she sang the Taiwan anthem at the inauguration ceremony for pro-independence Taiwan president Chen Shui-Bian back in 2000. Although A-mei later insisted that there was no political agenda behind her appearance, it didn't stop nationalistic mainlanders from calling for a boycott of her records. The Beijing government slapped a ban on her giving concerts and Chinese State radio stopped playing her songs. The ban was eventually lifted, allowing her to visit the mainland for a concert tour in 2004, but protestors demonstrated at her shows, eventually forcing her to abandon a concert in Hangzhou.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Threshold of a Persona finishes on a high

It was always going to be a hard act following Rosy Business, Hong Kong TVB’s biggest hit show of the year. Threshold of a Persona (ID精英) , the action drama series set in the Border Control section of Hong Kong’s Immigration Department, attracted criticism early on, and unfavourable comparisons were made with the costume drama that preceded it in the key 9:30 timeslot. It struggled to sustain ratings beyond 30 points, although in the final episode it suddenly attracted thousands of new viewers and finished with 38 points.

The series, which ran from 1 June to 5 July, starred the popular Roger Kwok (郭晋安), two-time winner of the TVB Golden Anniversary Awards. However it was his co-stars Patrick Tang (邓健泓), Yoyo Mung (蒙嘉慧) and Toby Leung (梁靖琪) who were the subject of criticism. Tang has been popping up in just about everything on TVB, but for some of Hong Kong's ultra-critical TV fans he was starting to outwear his welcome, while Mung and Leung have had to endure criticism for their acting. Tang and Leung in particular are suspected by carping critics of winning roles more through their connections with TVB executives than their talent.

By the way, the strange English title is, presumably, meant to cash in on memories of the hit turn-of the-21st-century drama series At the Threshold of an Era. However, apart from both starring Roger Kwok, they share little in common.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Black and White Breaks Decade-old Ratings Record

It's the TV series that has the whole of Taiwan talking. Black and White (痞子英雄) has been a stunning success, drawing in record numbers of viewers. In its final episode it rated 4.1, which doesn't sound like much, but is actually a phenomenal number, the highest rating TV show in a decade.

The lavish production, reportedly Taiwan's most expensive TV series, is considered ground-breaking by Taiwan TV standards. A gritty police action drama that centres on an odd couple pairing of two cops fighting crime might not sound particularly fresh and original to Western or Hong Kong viewers. However, for Taiwan's TV audience, served a steady diet of glamourous romantic idol dramas, Black and White comes as a breath of fresh air.

The 24 episode series, broadcast on the national station PTS, stars established idol Vic Zhou (周渝民), one of the singers from boy band JVKV/F4. The show has also launched the careers of newcomers Mark Zhao (趙又廷) as Vic's uptight partner, Ivy Chen (陳意涵) as the love interest, Sonia Sui (隋棠) and Jason Zou (鄒承恩). The series is directed (and co-produced with his wife) by Taiwan's preeminent TV director, Cai Yue Xun (蔡岳勳). Cai was also responsible for one of Taiwan's most popular and best-loved TV series, Meteor Garden, back in 2001. The Never an Idol Moment blog has a nicely written Black and White review.

Another winner from the series has been the city of Kaohsiung where most of the show takes place. It has emerged as a kind of Taiwanese Miami, and already there has been a big boost in tourist numbers as fans flock to its beaches and prominent landmarks showcased in the show. Spurred by the TV show's success a Black and White movie has been announced, with the same director and cast.

June was a big month for major players from the show that started so many careers -Meteor Garden. Director Cai has his Black and White smash hit, while Jerry Yan who played Meteor Garden's romantic lead has been topping the Taiwan album charts with his latest release. And his onscreen partner in romance, Barbie Hsu, of course basks in the honour of recently been named Asia's Sexiest Vegetarian!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jerry Yan at Number 1 Two Weeks in a Row

After a succession of one-week wonders at the top of the G-Music album charts, Jerry Yan (言承旭, pinyin: Yán Chéngxù) is showing more staying power. His new album, Freedom (多出來的自由), held its position at the top for a second consecutive week. Yan, a singer with the hugely popular Taiwanese boy band F4 (or, as we are now meant to call them, JVKV) topped the album sales charts on debut in the week June 12 to 18, then held on to the number one position the next week, while accounting for 31 percent of all album sales in the process.

It's been a five year wait between solo albums for fans of the teen idol. His debut album came out back in 2004, and while some other F4 band members have been more prolific with their solo efforts (Vanness Wu has released four CDs), Yan has been concentrating on his acting. Regular appearances in TV series such as the well-received The Hospital have kept him busy between F4/JVKV gigs.

Released by Sony, the first single from the album is the track, Say I Love. Although we have been warned that Freedom will reveal a more personal side of the F4 singer known as the "broody, serious one" in the group, expect plenty of easy-listening love ballads and bubble-gum pop tunes on the rest of the album.
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