Mandopop Year in Review





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If you are an avid Mandopop fan like me, chances are you would also have noticed that various Mandopop artistes have been releasing a slew of new songs one after the other over the past few months—2022 has really been a treat for us! Notably, they also include big names like JJ Lin, Jay Chou, and G.E.M., three of my favourite singers. With that, let’s take a look at some of their new songs.

JJ Lin

  • 无拘 Unchained

林俊傑 JJ Lin《無拘 Unchained》Official Music Video

This is a promotional song for a video game called Naraka: Bladepoint, as evident from the music video (MV), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it works well as a standalone too! The first time I heard it, I hadn’t watched the MV, nor did I have any clue what the game was about, or even that it was meant as a promotional song. Yet, I still absolutely loved how uplifting the song and its lyrics are.  

Utilising a mix of singing and rapping, Unchained is an inspirational song about tackling and rising from the curveballs that life throws at us, and also one that I feel showcases JJ’s versatility in different styles of music very well. I particularly liked the escalation of the song and how it gets more and more layered each time into the chorus, until the final act where the harmonisation, rap and singing all blended together seamlessly to push the song to a climax. 

For those unfamiliar with the Chinese language, there is also an English version of the song called From The Ashes.

From the Ashes

  • 那些你很冒险的梦 Those Were The Days (JJ20版) 

那些你很冒險的夢 (JJ20版)

Continuing with the theme of game-inspired songs, this second song is a rearranged rendition of the 2011 version of the song 那些你很冒险的梦 for a video game called Ragnarok Online. 

The first hint I got about this new song was from a teaser video JJ Lin posted on his Instagram that made me both excited and curious about how he would improve on it—after all, the original version holds a lot of nostalgia for me (having listened to it for about a decade now!) and it is one of his famous songs, so the new version had big shoes to fill. And indeed, I’m sorry—as much as I love JJ, I have to say that I was disappointed by it *cues sad face*.

Let’s start with my expectations of the new version: I was hoping that the tune and the way he sang the lyrics would be completely different from the original one in terms of style. However, I found that it remained largely the same, with most of the rearrangements being made only to the background track. Although there were still differences in some parts of the singing, they were minor and I wished it could have been more distinct from the original. Perhaps he did not want to rock the boat by making too many changes to such a classic piece?

That being said, there are still parts of the instrumentals that I really like as well—the tune generally sounds more cheery and lighthearted. But to each his own, and to my readers, I would love to hear which version you prefer as well. For reference, the original version is below—can you believe it’s been over ten years?

林俊傑 JJ Lin – 那些你很冒險的夢 Those Were The Days (官方完整 HD 高畫質版 MV)

Jay Chou

This is perhaps the biggest Mandopop drop of the year—the King of Mandopop releasing his 15th music album after a six-year hiatus (finally!). The album, titled Greatest Works of Art, features twelve tracks, and I have picked out four of my favourites below. 

  • 最伟大的作品 Greatest Works of Art

周杰倫 Jay Chou【最偉大的作品 Greatest Works of Art】Official MV

This first single is the eponymous song of the album and its MV is a work of art in itself, weaving together the themes of magic and time travel with various iconic Parisian locations such as the La Samaritaine department store. The song lyrics draw references to important historical artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and Claude Monet.

The song starts off with a piano solo by Jay Chou and includes elements of classical music infused with pop. Acclaimed Taiwanese-American violinist Ray Chen also plays the violin solo in the song. 

My favourite part is the climax at the 2:45 timestamp, where Jay Chou battles a mysterious pianist, played by renowned Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang, to a piano battle, resulting in an intricate blend of classical melodies that is a feast for the ears. I also really enjoyed watching the MV as it not only has an interesting storyline but also a stellar artistic direction befitting of a title song.

  • 还在流浪 Still Wandering

周杰倫 Jay Chou【還在流浪 Still Wandering】Official MV

The second single is a more mellow and bittersweet one about memories with a former lover, as the lyrics depict one reminiscing about the good times in all the places they have been together:

By the time you get my letter, I’ll still be out wandering

That promise of ours is still kept in my heart

The photo of you smiling, I still carry it around

My dear, how are you doing?

The fairly simple MV sees Chou walking the streets of Las Vegas, past brightly lit casinos, hotels, and restaurants, with cutaways of him lounging, deep in thought, at home, before he ultimately packs his luggage and leaves. I like this song for its chill vibes—not going to lie, I could even fall asleep to it!

  • 错过的烟火 You Are The Firework I Missed

周杰倫 Jay Chou【錯過的煙火 You Are The Firework I Missed】Official MV

From its catchy opening tune that drew me in the first time I listened to it, to the familiar rapping style, and topped off with the picturesque scenery in the MV, this work hits all the right spots in creating a song one can relax to—I can totally imagine playing this while in the car on a road trip to the countryside. 

I particularly like the instrumental at the 3:02 timestamp; there’s just something about those types of musical solos which I love. The MV is also an aesthetic one, with him and his band playing against the backdrop of a beautiful mountainous wilderness and—woah, how in the world did they move that piano there?

粉色海洋 Pink Ocean

周杰倫 Jay Chou【粉色海洋 Pink Ocean】Official MV

This is the quirkiest and most fun-sounding song of the lot, and for good reason—the kid in the MV is actually Chou’s 5-year-old son, Romeo! The MV is absolutely adorable with oh-so-sweet parallels drawn between the father and son as they each stroll along the beach in a carefree, playful manner, depicting the similarities between their demeanour.

The song itself is extremely catchy with a blend of singing and rapping. At the same time, the MV itself is an aesthetic you won’t want to miss—filmed in Australia, it features scenic sights of Hutt Lagoon, a lake famous for its pink colour, and Rottnest Island, known for its beaches, crystal clear waters, and quokkas. 

G.E.M.

Another notable album drop in the Mandopop scene is Hong Kong singer-songwriter G.E.M.’s latest album, Revelation, which she announced after a six-month social media hiatus. The 14-track album has a MV for each song, and they all come together to tell a story of her character Gloria, who hails from a futuristic, metaverse-like utopian universe. Each song represents a revelation that “taught [her] more about [her]self and about love”.

In the MV series, her character, a paralysed woman, has an avatar in the virtual world who meets and falls in love with another avatar operated by her real-life neighbour.

As there are a whopping 14 songs each featuring her signature powerful vocals in a variety of ways, I had to be very selective about which songs to include here and so the following are my top four picks! 

  • 你不是第一个离开的人 Man Who Laughs

G.E.M. 鄧紫棋《你不是第一個離開的人 MAN WHO LAUGHS》Official Music Video | Chapter 04 | 啓示錄 REVELATION

The song starts off with a despondent tone as her avatar is stuck in a wasteland and realises she is all alone there. The lyrics of the chorus is heartbreakingly impactful, reading as follows:

And so I’ll just keep smiling and laughing

I’ll keep smiling for you

I’ll long for your happiness 

Even if it means my loneliness

With a smile, I’ll turn the tears on the edge of my eyes

Into your guardian star

I’ll save the heavens for you

And keep the darkness for myself

I love how the instrumentals and vocals start fairly calmly, before gradually building up in tandem with her character’s rising feelings of frustration at being unable to reach the person she loves, presumably because her presence itself is not real.

  • 老人与海 Old Man & Sea

G.E.M. 鄧紫棋《老人與海 OLD MAN & SEA》Official Music Video | Chapter 09 | 啓示錄 REVELATION

Although just slightly over three minutes long, this song still manages to fit in a narrative of how Gloria’s avatar learns to navigate the desolate place she is in.

No matter how brutal the sea batters

I shall never surrender 

For love, I exist. For love, I’m alive

If love is absent in one’s life, it will be a pale life

I particularly like the way the verse and the chorus seem to flow seamlessly throughout the whole song such that it is hard to differentiate between them, and yet still comfortable (if not more so) to listen to. I also love how the climax and the stunning visuals come in at the 1:55 timestamp, offering a hint of hopefulness as she believes she will be saved despite her tumultuous situation, since there is someone on the other side who has never given up on her.

  • 离心力 F=mw²r

G.E.M. 鄧紫棋《離心力 F=mw²r》Official Music Video | Chapter 11 | 啓示錄 REVELATION

The catchy disco-like tune in this song is extremely befitting for what is, to me, the climax of the MV series. This takes place as her avatar asks her love interest the million dollar question: 

If perfection only existed in the virtual world, would you love the real me?

The character also comes close to meeting the avatar that she abandoned for the first time, and I held my breath for how they would interact. It’s hard to put into words, so I would highly recommend you watch the MV for yourself to experience the full glory of the song and the story. 

  • 天空沒有极限 The Sky

G.E.M. 鄧紫棋《天空沒有極限 THE SKY》Official Music Video | Chapter 14 | 啓示錄 REVELATION

Finally, we have come to the finale of the whole series! I shall not spoil the story too much for you, so I will just say that I picked this song because I liked that it showed how one can be happiest when there is something to hope for. This is a song that I feel utilises drums well to bring across the climax and ultimately the revelation to the audience, ending the series on a beautifully complete note.

Overall, the MV series exceeded my expectations in many aspects—in terms of musical and vocal abilities, artistic direction, and storyline. I would highly recommend you check out the MVs and listen to the whole album on YouTube, which also has English subtitles, here.

Final thoughts 

Each of these individual artistes have their own unique styles—with G.E.M. pushing the envelope by incorporating long-form storytelling in her works, Jay Chou leaving fans wanting more of his signature classical flair, and JJ Lin challenging himself in different styles of music. While some may prefer their older songs due to the nostalgia they hold, these new songs also show us how the potential of music is truly limitless, be it to tell stories of challenges or to encourage others with hope.