Entertainers need to acquire additional skills to sustain the interest of fickle-minded fans
By Yasminka Lee in Taipei
These days, it’s not enough that you can sing or act if you want to stand out from the crowded world of pop stars that the entertainment industry churns out regularly.
You have to be like Taiwan’s Lin Yu Chun, he with the bowler haircut and the pudgy frame that would prompt talent scouts to turn him away on the spot, or Singapore’s notorious ex-beauty queen Ris Low with her controversial antics.
But controversy and going against the stereotype are not enough to achieve lasting fame.
Stars have to acquire additional skills so they won’t fade into the woodwork of equally talented singers and actors. It’s simply not enough to be pretty or handsome, or have a nice voice and good acting chops anymore. You need to be a cut above the rest, you need to be different, more than just controversial or “un-pop-star-like” in order to stand out.
Perhaps, this was what singer-actress Rainie Yang (Yang Cheng Lin) aimed for when she mounted her first major concert at the Taipei Arena on April 24. She sang, danced ballet and performed acrobats.
The 25-year-old chose ‘whimsical’ as the theme for the concert and if it meant having a dog, a unicorn, acrobats and ballet in one show, then she succeeded.
But these tricks won’t be enough if singers don’t have a rich discography to sustain the audience for at least two hours. This could only mean Yang has been in the business long enough and has several hits to her name that prompted Sony Music to mount the concert for her. She has done free concerts, not only in Taiwan, but in Hong Kong and China too.
Yang, who rose to fame via TV dramas, was part of the all-girl pop group 4 in Love before going solo five years ago. She has released six albums and it was the first time for her to perform at the 15,000-capacity dome where many successful Taiwanese artists have earlier played, confirming her position in Taiwan’s pop culture.
In an interview with popdom prior to the ‘Whimsical World’ concert, Yang said she did not dream that one day she’d be doing a show at the Taipei Arena and the enormity of the challenge had put a lot of pressure on her that two weeks before the concert, she got sick.
But four days before the big day, Yang was up and about conducting interviews in the basement of a dance studio in Taipei’s Songshan district. Her face showed no hint that she was nervous over the upcoming show and that the previous night, her mentor Angie Cai—who has produced most of her TV dramas—took her to a TCM doctor because of back pains.
Yang said it was a “dream that I never thought would come true”. “It means something to hold a concert where I have been born and lived in all my life,” she said.
Her fans—including those from China, Hong Kong and Singapore—filled the dome and screamed their lungs out for the nearly three hours concert that opened with Yang singing Ai Mei (Ambiguous) while sitting on top of a unicorn that floated across the arena. Ai Mei, the theme song from her drama Devil Beside You was the one that launched Yang as a singer while the drama paved the way for her to join the ranks of bonafide ‘idols’ in Taiwan. Mike He (He Jun Xiang), her partner in Devil Beside You, travelled all the way from Kaohsiung in the south where he had work that day, just to support and watch her perform.
The concert was filled with Yang’s hits, many of them used as theme in her dramas such as Que Yang (Breathless) and Dai Wo Zhou (Take Me Away), but since the concept was ‘whimsical’, it lacked coherence in terms of chronicling her rise as a singer-actress the past decade. This is quite a disappointment since the concert after all marked her 10th anniversary in the business.
Yang explained the concept earlier: “Many people perceive me in many ways depending on what role I play in my dramas or the songs I sing. So I can be different in any way. I can be cute, sexy or be a rocker. There’s really not one unified personality and that is why this concert is whimsical.”
And perhaps in keeping with the show’s whimsical theme, she even took out her pet dog Yumi for a walk around the heart-shaped stage in the final encore number when she sang Yu Shang Ai (Meeting Love).
She gave inputs on the choreography of some of the dance numbers as well as ideas on how certain things should go. “I also thought for my fans, like what kind of songs they would like me to sing.”
Prior to the concert, more experienced artists including Harlem Yu, Coco Lee and A-mei gave her advice. “Surprisingly, they told me the same thing. That those fans all came to see you, they all support you so you don’t have to worry too much. Just give it your best.”
The physical routines exhausted her during rehearsals and resulted in injuries. She admitted that this was the biggest challenge she has ever experienced in her 10-year career. “The pressure is not just for a couple of days, it’s for a period of time and it’s the kind of experience I never had since I was small.”
Yang indeed showcased different facets to her personality in 25 numbers: as a ballerina, rocker, acrobat, cheerleader, fairy, even Aladdin and Cinderella in search of her prince. “I know that in this journey of life, I would meet many different types of people. I hope that I would be able to find someone I really love, and he would be the right person,” she told her audience.
At one point, Yang—whose parents divorced when she was a teenager—became emotional while thanking her mother and sister. She has been her family’s breadwinner since she debuted in the entertainment industry in 2001, starting out with a support role in Meteor Garden.
That drama gave birth to a new generation of stars led by Jerry Yen (Yen Cheng Xu), who incidentally, was Yang’s special guest at the concert. Both Yang and Yen have been friends since working together in 2001 and thought it would be nice to collaborate again, even just on the concert stage. They did a duet of a classic Taiwanese love song before Yen sang solo.
Their duet and the banter afterwards was one of the highlights and they expressed their desire to work together in the future. In Meteor Garden, Yang played the best friend of Yen’s love interest. Today, she has become no less than the lead actress and no longer plays second fiddle.
Counting a decade in the business, Yang says she has become “more optimistic and I now know what I really want to do”.
After the concert, work is already cut out for her. She is set to do another drama and promote her horror movie with Hong Kong’s Pang Brothers, Child’s Eye.
It has crossed her mind that there may be little left for her to do after realising her dream concert.
“After all, this concert is my dream and I don’t really know what to do after this. But I thought I’d keep on doing what I have been doing, just be more careful in the roles I choose and that instead of picking up the same roles in dramas, I’ll pick the more challenging ones. In other words, I’ll do more and better in terms of levels but I’d still be singing and acting.”
For sure, like other entertainers who learn magic tricks or perfect their dancing with a baton, Yang would acquire additional skills to sustain the interest of fickle-minded fans and last in the whimsical industry she has chosen to work in.
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(First published in AsiaNews magazine on May 7, 2011. Copyright: Asia News Network)