Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jay Chou

Jay Chou was born in Taiwan in 1979. Playing piano from the age of three, Jay Chou was discovered by Jacky Wu who hired in to write songs, but then later found out he would prosper as a singer as well so allowed him to record songs and debut with his album named “Jay” in 2000, followed by Hei Se You Mo (Black Humor). Jay uses various styles in his songs, incorporating Western styles such as R&B, hip hop, and rap into his songs but also staying true to his roots by adding traditional Chinese music with melodies included from Chinese instruments such as gu zheng and er hu. With most of Jay’s songs, several themes that come into light include love (which includes family), defiance, and perseverance in some form or another. Jay Chou is also known for writing his own artistic lyrics, although in the beginning of his career Vincent Fang wrote many songs for him. Now he writes songs for many other Taiwanese singers or bands such as Nan Quan Mama, SHE, etc. Other than all the love stories being portrayed in his songs, Jay also incorporates his family members, with songs such as “Yi Fu Zhi Ming” (in the name of my father) and “Wai po” (grandma) to show his love or at least attention to his family members. Of course, at the beginning of Jay’s career, his music deviated from traditional Chinese music with the incorporation of western styles such as rap and hip hop, and faced many criticisms, but the cool factor Jay included in most of his songs and music videos eventually caused the Chinese (and eventually other Chinese speaking regions) audience to completely welcome him to the point that the government would even use him as a marketing strategy to make themselves richer, a displayed through Jay’s partnership with Pepsi and all the other sponsors he has and commercials he appears in.

Jay Chou writes about love in many of his songs, with portrayals usually showing one side or the other in a difficult situation that causes the couple to be unable to be together. Many examples include Dong Feng Po (East Wind Breaks), Fa Ru Xue (Hair like Snow), Qian Li Zhi Wai (Far Away), Ju Hua Tai (Chrysanthemum Flower Bed), and Qing Hua Ci (Blue Porcelain), each example using mostly traditional Chinese music and often times even the setting portrayed in the music video is during ancient times (although not always true). In Qian Li Zhi Wai, Jay Chou even teamed up with Fei Yu Qing, who with the help of his vocals, gave the song an even more traditional Chinese feel due to Fei Yu Qing’s style of singing. Well, that is when you ignore Jay Chou’s rapping in the song, as that shows that Jay is also including western styles and mixing it with traditional Chinese styles of music. The same is true in Fa Ru Xue where there is a part when Jay Chou starts rapping. Each song includes a male main lead and a female main lead, and there are many different songs with different scenarios, but what they all have in common is a concept of love that is marketed to youngsters, usually around ages 15-25, coincidentally also the young ages where teenagers begin to develop after puberty and become interested with concepts of love and the opposite sex.

Jay Chou’s songs also show defiance and perseverance, like in “Dad, I have Come Back” where he is angry with the way his father treats his mother and criticizes his father for beating his mother. Most of the lyrics are basically bashing the father for the way he is acting after being controlled by alcohol. “In Third Year, Class Two”, the main character in the music video is trying to excel at ping pong while asking many questions, and even the lyrics speak of mostly ping pong and how to become a master in ping pong. The lyrics and the music video show can also be thought of as a parallel to real life, to Jay Chou’s life where he is trying his hardest to be acknowledged by all who listen to his music and become even better at what he does best, which is composing songs and singing (ok maybe not, face it, he can’t sing sometimes and mumbles too much). Nun-chuks is another good example of defiance and even some perseverance, where the main character in the music video is always practicing martial arts using nun-chuks and even the lyrics talk about becoming more skilled at using nun-chuks to defeat your enemies.

“Ye De Di Qi Zhang” (Twilight Chapter 7) is another example, this time written and directed by Jay Chou himself. The song once again brings the coolness factor and the music video looked rather elegantly filmed. Most of the song is rap by Jay Chou, with a chorus sung by a female in a style leading rather western. The melodies used are also rather western, with a rather eerie feel to it, similar to those mystery movies (which are also somewhat a western influence), nothing that you would hear in traditional Chinese music. Jay Chou and his partner are investigating the death of an old man, and after many leads and endless nights searching for witnesses, at the end it is finally revealed that it was Jay Chou’s partner who killed the old man. Another point to note is that Jay’s partner and the witness they are pursuing (who eventually dies) are both members of Nan Quan Mama, one of the groups that Jay writes music for recognizes as juniors in the music industry.


  1. Jay Chou seems to mark a transition in Chinese pop culture. As we talked about in class, contemporary American music artists seem to focus on appealing to the masses to earn fame and a high profit. Jay Chou may be bringing this to China's music industry.

  2. And he does that by latching on to Chinese iconography, attempting to imply both a geographic and temporal portability. I'm curious as to whether people think that works.

  3. I feel that people really like Jay Chou's songs because it sounds very fresh even when it incorporates traditional Chinese instruments like the 'er hu' and classical lyrics. Although most of Jay Chou's audience have not grown up around these traditional instruments and lyrical expressions, they still enjoy it and recognize the significance and the ways it has shaped Chinese culture.

  4. @jen and charlie
    yes and by doing so the government is profiting from using jay chou as an icon and jay chou himself is also profiting


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