2000 / 2月
都已經半年了，雪碧汽水廣告仍在大陸播放，另一支影片畫面：阿妹在後台有點緊張，兩個同事努力勸她做回自己，然後她大唱「come on、 come on 、給我感覺，」隨後，她又起舞、衝浪，快樂的宣稱：這是我愛做的事情。
Coral Lee /tr. by David Mayer
In Beijing musical circles, they're say-ing that Chang Hui-mei, better known by her nickname "A-Mei," is the first superstar in Chinese pop music since Teresa Teng. Some even say she's "a miracle." Throughout the 1990s no one took mainland China by storm the way Teresa Teng and Chyi Chin did in the early years of their careers. What is it about A-Mei that so captivates her audiences? What is the message of her super-charged concerts? What do they think of her in China?
"It's been a long time since I last had trouble getting tickets to a concert," says mainland Chinese singer Li Huizhen as she recalls her difficulty trying to get into A-Mei's concert early last August. Once there, she was surprised to see that so many people from the entertainment world had turned out. "It's very unusual that everyone in the business in Beijing would all be interested in a single performer."
The audience was excited, and kept calling her name. A-Mei strode out onto stage and asked, "Can you hear in the back? How do you want your show tonight? Hot and spicy?" At concerts across the mainland, tens of thousands sang along once the songs got rolling. "I like the feeling of lots of people on stage singing and dancing together," says A-Mei. "Concerts are a lot more fun than recording studios. There are no rules. They're so exciting and packed with emotion!" Once when she was getting ready to sing "Can I Hold You?" she urged the audience, "This is an opportunity to hold the person next to you, whether they're your lover, a family member, a good friend, or whatever." It was an indescribably moving experience to see so many people holding each other.
In an interview in Beijing, A-Mei explained why she gives every ounce of energy during a concert: "Everybody has so much feeling and emotion, I've got to be 100 times more so to make it worth their while to come out and see me." By the time the concert ends, you can be sure that A-Mei has nothing more to give!
This type of enthusiasm is infectious. According to Zhang Weining, producer for the popular mainland singer Tian Zhen, "A-Mei's performance style is suited to the outgoing, unrestrained character of the northern Chinese." He feels that A-Mei is one of the few performers in pop music with a distinctive personal style. Long-time music critic Jin Zhaojun notes that some singers who are popular in the south don't do so well in the north: "Komuro Takuya's 1998 concert in Shanghai was a huge event, but the people in Beijing didn't care for him. CoCo is a good singer, but she's just a so-so performer. There's no excitement." Beijing is China's "Big Apple" though. Once performers make it big there, they are almost assured of big success nationwide.
Slick music industry
A-Mei's success involves more than just her own personal appeal, however. It is widely felt in the mainland that the A-Mei phenomenon reflects the sophistication of Taiwan's pop music industry as a whole, including everything from production concepts to marketing strategies and distribution methods.
Chinese Broadway deputy editor-in-chief Ding Ning notes that on China Central Television (China's national television network) pop music stars dominated prime-time commercial spots in the month leading up to A-Mei's tour. While A-Mei plugged for Sprite, rival Pepsi-Cola fought back with Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson, Faye Wong, and Aaron Kwok. In one Sprite commercial, A-Mei leads a throng of youth in a celebration of song and dance in the streets. A-Mei runs into beauty shops and restaurants, where she pulls off bystanders' masks and invites them to join in the revelry. The song from the ad, "Make Me Feel Something," has become a huge hit in the mainland.
A-Mei's tour set a number of new precedents. It was the first time that the Workers' Stadium, often the venue for National Day celebrations and other major events, was used for an individual performance. Record-high ticket prices and rampant scalping received extensive press coverage, and the news media scouted out every conceivable angle for stories on A-Mei herself-"A-Mei Goes Home to Do Farm Work," "Too Sexy for Her Clothes," "A Cinderella Story," etc. The influential daily Beijing Evening News ran a series on her prior to the beginning of the tour. The concert tour sparked a month-long media frenzy, with news outlets large and small getting swept up in the excitement.
Spotlights from all quarters were trained on A-Mei, causing her popularity to skyrocket. "You have to hand it to them," comments Zhang Weining, "it was an impeccable public relations blitz." Veteran music critic Dai Fan wrote in the Beijing Evening News, "A-Mei's electrifying concerts contrast sharply with the performances of mainland Chinese pop musicians." Dai went on to advise mainland musicians to learn from artists in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The noted mainland Chinese songwriter, composer, and producer Xiao Ke states flatly that mainland recording studios are not professional enough. "Even as recently as two years ago, the process for deciding what songs to include in an album was positively primitive. People just decided at the last minute. Sometimes they would go with the singer's favorites, and sometimes it would be whatever the producer liked personally." After seeing A-Mei, says Dai, he had to tip his cap to the professionalism of music companies in Taiwan.
Many music industry insiders in both Taiwan and the mainland agree that her former producer, the late Chang Yu-sheng, played a huge role in A-Mei's rise to stardom. In songs like "Sisters" and "Bad Boy," Chang masterfully brought out the "feral intensity of this small-town aboriginal girl." Chang used distinctive lyrics, catchy tunes, A-Mei's unique image, and an effective PR strategy to great advantage.
Xiao Ke points to another example of slick promotion in the Taiwanese pop music industry. When the very popular mainland singer Na Ying signed a contract with Taiwan's EMI Records, she underwent an image remake and started singing different types of songs. The resulting album, Conquest, was a hit first in Taiwan and then in the mainland as well. Apart from Na's own vocal prowess, this success was also due in large part to the fact that the producer had done such a good job of creating a product suited to the singer's free-spirited character. Her success brought this point forcefully home to record companies in China.
Praise for the Taiwanese commercial juggernaut is not unreserved, however. Many mainland Chinese caution, "Excess commercialism can ruin a good singer." According to Wang Dong, a DJ in Beijing, there is no feeling in A-Mei's later albums. He recalls the huge popularity of "Sisters" and "Bad Boy," which were released at a time when A-Mei did not yet enjoy such great fame. Even now, radio stations still receive the most requests for songs from A-Mei's first two albums.
Straight from the heart
When he saw A-Mei at a press conference last year, "She didn't have that spark in her eye any more. She just wasn't the same person who came here the year before to help with the flood relief effort. I think she might be tired out from all the commercial promotion." In Wang's opinion, Taiwan's music industry over-packages the "product" and leaves it looking like a gaudily painted lady. Without music that moves the heart, how can a performer last for long? A-Mei's current popularity rests largely on the strength of the first two albums that she made with Chang Yu-sheng. If no changes are made for future albums, her popularity could begin to slide.
It has already been a half-year since the mainland concert tour, but A-Mei's Sprite commercials are still showing on TV. In one of them, A-Mei waits nervously backstage while a couple of people give her encouragement. Their efforts apparently are successful, because A-Mei begins to belt out the words from her monster hit: "Come on, come on, make me feel something." She gets into a groove, dancing and having a good time, as if to say: Yes, this is what I love best!
The straightforward, confident, and unrestrained A-Mei has made quite a splash in the Chinese-speaking world. Perhaps it is not surprising that someone with such a distinctive personality would elicit strong feelings both positive and negative. Wang Dong is not alone in his views, for many in the mainland have asked how long A-Mei will continue her spectacular run of success. Hopefully she will always "speak" straight from the heart, and can keep that natural verve that set her apart from the crowd in the first place.