El País (Spanish newspaper, June 2011)

A couple of months ago, fans (including myself) discovered on Weibo that Jolin had an interview with Spain’s N°1 newspaper El País back in 2011!

Since I can read Spanish, I thought I’d translate it for you. Enjoy!

She’s the Queen of Pop in the Asian giant.
A role model to imitate for tens of millions of youngsters.
A real diva who admires Madonna, but she has no interest in the Western market.
We interviewed Taiwanese Jolin Tsai before her concert in front of a huge audience in Shanghai.

When she finally makes her entrance and that 50,000 throats burst into a deafening roar, any stage becomes small. Including Shanghai’s biggest soccer field, which seems insufficient for Jolin Tsai (Taipei, 1980) to be able to move freely. The unquestionable number one of Chinese pop is a giant who knows how to make full use of every curve of her body. Her extremities seem elastic. She’s jumping and contorting herself like an acrobat without losing control of her voice or of her 1m61 & 45 kg body. The guys don’t blink. The girls take good note of the look, that they will try to copy the following day. The girls have the choice because Jolin broke a strange record: she’s able to change outfits in only 30 seconds. A period of time in which she moves from fairytale princess singing sugary ballads to black-leathered dominatrix with lights on the chest who runs her hand on her crotch before sucking one of her fingers.

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Pictures from her concert in Shanghai (2011)

Lady Gaga has a serious opponent in Asia. Each creation with which Jolin appears on stage is flirting with surrealism, just like the rotating piano on which she lets herself fall while the number one male pop singer, Jay Chou, tries to be heard in the roar of a collective orgasm. “I love you Jay!” Jolin shouts.

Jolin and Jay Chou perform Nothing left to say in Shanghai(2011)

An hydraulic platform swallows them both, and there you go, rumours are starting to spread according to which there is more than professional cameos between the two of them. “I learned not to care about what people say about me, about every gossip, which affected me a lot before and made me withdraw into myself”, assures the Queen of Mandopop (pop in mandarin).

Jolin debuted in 1998 in a contest on MTV Channel. In this precursor of Operación Triunfo, she left everyone stunned with her rendition of The Greatest Love Of All by Whitney Houston.

Jolin performing Hero by Mariah Carey at the finals (1998)

Universal didn’t hesitate to sign her, and the following year she hatched out with her first album JOLIN 1019. Since then, the main global record companies have been arguing over her, and she grew up with each album, she has 11 of them, besides almost 60 awards, proof that she’s not a disposable product. In China not a year goes by without a number one single by Jolin in charts.

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JOLIN 1019 cover (1999)

With her fourth release, J-Game (note: they’re wrong, it’s her 7th album), she managed to sell one million copies in just one month, and in 2009, under record company Warner, now representing her, she broke every record: Butterfly shipped nearly 3 million copies in Asia, and the song Slow Life (愈慢愈美丽 Yu Man Yu Mei Li) replaced the usual recreation bell in more than 3,000 Taiwanese schools. According to Chinese media, in 2010 she earned $14.5 million, a record that only Jay Chou exceeds in China.

Slow Life MV

One look at her albums’ covers is enough to guess what have been Jolin’s transformation in the last decade. Actually, if it wasn’t for her distinctive tattoo on her left arm, we could think that they are pictures of different women. On the four albums released by Universal prevails the angelic face of a young girl who seemed totally harmless, and the infectious melodies are clearly aiming a teenage audience who makes a clean break with previous generations. In 2003, now with Sony, Jolin grew up all of a sudden, it was as if she moved from childhood to adulthood in a year. Suddenly, her body gained curves, and her behaviour balanced between childish and sexy. Then were born the wild dances which became her trademark, and ballads acquired a rhythm more in agreement with what makes economy and society move. 3 years later, EMI Music confirms the mutation: pants stick to her curves and lose almost all their material, her lips are half-opened and her eyes gain a sensual touch. Sales went through the roof to 2.5 million copies, a real record for an area pioneer on the field of piracy, and Jolin was in Mainland’s good books.

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Album covers

“Ask Men” magazine granted her last year the 39th spot in the “100 sexiest women in the world” ranking, a spot above Shakira, and 81 points over 100 in the sex appeal department. Maybe are we going a little bit too far by describing her as “a sexual puppy who can contort herself in order to gain more curves than a globe”, but her new attitude brought her for sure more followers. This year she did not release an album, but her fame is not declining. She’s on the verge of ending Myself World Tour, probably the biggest Tour successfully completed by an Asian singer.

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Myself World Tour promotional poster

She explains her professional rise with moderation: “I learned to control the show and to express better what I feel. When I debuted I had no idea how this industry worked, and I was in college, so I let myself be led by professionals. Then I took the reins to build my own image. I like challenging myself. Like this the audience doesn’t get bored. I’m trying to maintain this part of innocence from my debut, but I’m older and I want to do sexier music, which, obviously, must be linked to my appearance.”

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Jolin’s graduation from Fu Jen Catholic University (2003)

Despite her knowledge of English, Jolin does not intend to broaden her horizons. “I have no interest in the West. I am Chinese and I want to succeed in my own market, with it I have more than enough, because it’s huge.” Internet seems to give reason to her. A search for Jolin Tsai on Google returns a little bit more of 2 million results, while her name in Chinese signs provides 26 million results. On the ultimate seach engine of the Asian giant, Baidu, those figures get multiplied by 2. “I do not intend to launch a studio album entirely in English, because my audience would not understand it. I don’t have the ambition to go to the United States. It makes me sad to see other artists who really want it and see themselves forced to adapt their music and stop being themselves.”

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Love Exercise (English cover album w/ English learning book & CD Rom)

Jolin is the perfect example of Chinese culture. When it comes to self-censorship for instance: “As far as I’m concerned, Madonna is a goal. She has a character similar to the one I would like to have. Madonna reflects that a woman can do whatever she wants, like a man. Or more. I can’t say the same. She can express herself the way she wants, including using the “F” word, something that I can’t do. Society, and especially my audience, which is mostly composed of teenagers and youngsters, looks at me and searches in me a mirror in which they can look at themselves. So in public, I have to set an example.” And in her lyrics, no political reference. Even though Taiwan is governed by a capitalist democracy, the artists of the “rebellious province” of China, which is independent in fact, have in mind that their market lies in the womb of the big Dragon. And to be played on the other side of the strait, lyrics must pass through the censors’ hands, so it’s better to put aside beliefs on liberties and human rights, something that the newspaper also had to put away in the interview.

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Madonna “voguing”

Nonetheless, Jolin is betting on a music without boundaries. She doesn’t care being compared to Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, but it really upsets her when she’s accused of copying them. “Music is international, and it doesn’t have restrictions bound to states. Talking about copy doesn’t make any sense whether in China or in Spain. Songs just have to appeal to the audience. I don’t think I have to introduce Chinese elements to look Chinese.” What she’s really concerned about are illegal copies and downloads, another global phenomenon in which China takes the lead. “It threatens the musicians’ talent. We want to promote legal downloads, but the piracy phenomenon can’t be helped, and we can’t fight it by not creating. Because people really pay to attend a concert. So we have to improve live shows and surpass ourselves on stage. Undoubtedly, this moment of transition can be a threat for more humble groups, but in the long run I think that Internet is a big opportunity that, as in many other areas, music must learn to make profitable.”


Taiwan, star factory for Asia

China might be the world’s factory, but if there’s one thing that it doesn’t produce it’s music stars. Whether it likes it or not, it still has to import them from Taiwan. Even though this country only has 23 million inhabitants, it dominates the music landscape of a market of more than 1.350 billion eager consumers that is Mainland China. Jolin Tsai, Jay Chou, S.H.E, Mayday or F.I.R are some of the names that rose at the top of Chinese music for mass consumption.

“It’s true that marketing always matters more than music quality”, Ella admits, the “E” from the acronym that lends its name to the most successful girl group in China, S.H.E, which is stranded since Selina, the “S”, had an accident while shooting a TV show.

“The breakthrough of foreign bands is low, because the audience wants products that adapt themselves to their culture”, Hebe underlines, the missing “H” to complete the trio. It’s obvious that this doesn’t prevent phenomenons like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber from being some of the most successful artists in China, although they manage to sell studio albums with difficulty, and huge stars of very different genres such as Beyoncé and Bob Dylan from including the Asian giant in their World Tour. And with a huge critical acclaim. But even the music giants can’t compete with groups from the small Asian island, whose tentacles go through countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia. “Taiwan is the R&D of mandarin music, and China, the market”, Faye considers, the voice of another number one band, F.I.R, acronym for Fairytale In Reality. Unlike others, its members state themselves Christians and democrats, and they really see themselves as a gear of the motor that can lead to social changes. “You don’t need to write explicit lyrics to get the message across”, she adds when she’s being asked about censorship.

However, while it’s rising in every area of the economy, China is also narrowing the gap on the musical staff. “Everytime there are more interesting bands in the Mainland and we might lose our advantage”, Jolin predicts. But at the moment, Taiwan is ruling over China. “I don’t know why, but the audience tells us that they connect more with our lyrics than with the ones from Mainland China”, Ella comments.

Note: Don’t hesitate to tell me if you see awful spelling or grammar mistakes, I never translated a text this long before, and English is not my first language after all.

Source: El País.com

Special thanks to Jaime Prados Gruesos for reading my translation

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