All hail Jay
Jay Chou has the stature of an emperor in the realm of Mando-pop and he's giving Taipei a one-night audience tomorrow. Feel grateful
By Max Woodworth / STAFF REPORTER
Last Thursday, reporters on the Jay Chou (周杰倫) beat were summoned to a warehouse deep in the marshy industrial wastelands of Neihu for a few minutes of pre-concert face time with Taiwan's biggest pop star. It was called a "dress rehearsal," but to no one's surprise it would be scripted and micromanaged like all of Jay's public appearances.
\nIn any event, it would be the only scrap that Alfa Music was going to toss to the media in the runup to tomorrow's stop on the Jay Chou Incomparable Tour.
\nThe drab warehouse where Jay and his band have been practicing was stacked floor-to-ceiling with scores of amplifiers the size of Volkswagen Beetles while piles of thick cable were coiled in the back, along with stacks of enormous klieg lights.
\nUpstairs, reporters jammed into a tiny antechamber, the shaggy cameramen and newspaper photographers chain-smoking and the lady reporters chattering nervously. The only quiet, smoke-free place to await Jay's arrival was outside in the rain. And keeping people waiting is part of what stardom is about, which is why he showed up over half an hour late without anyone seeming to mind.
\nWhen Jay arrived in the company of his entourage of managers and sound people it was difficult at first to pick him out, as he was the only one ducking his head and staring at his feet. The others strode with purpose, politely shoving reporters aside and radiating a confidence attributable perhaps to their close proximity to celebrity. The star, though, showed mild ennui and seemed unimpressed by reporters calling him by his nickname Chairman Chou (周董).
\nHe returned the hellos in his awkward, camera-shy manner before being ushered by his manager into the session room. The reporters spilled in after him, elbowing their way to the best spots at the foot of the singer's keyboard while he warmed up for what would be a truncated and mumbled version of two songs, off his latest album Common Jasmine Orange (七里香). It's been at or near the top of the charts in Taiwan most of the summer.
\nWith that part of the event taken care of, Jay got down to the real business of the day, which was having his photo taken at his piano, draped over bongos and standing next to a turntable that provides the scratching on hip-hop numbers.
\nHe played along for the media, even smiled a bit and explained his mumbling as a precaution against straining his voice when a couple of concerned reporters asked whether he'd recovered from a cold picked up recently in China.
\nThe question-and-answer period was cut short, though, thanks to a reporter asking whether Jay would sing at the National Day celebrations on Oct. 10, a topic that Alfa had said beforehand was off-limits. The reporters were then asked to please leave and Jay was off the hook.
\nSo the reporters, including myself, dispersed feeling a mixture of elation at meeting with the top icon of Mandarin pop music and disappointment that the only quotes he offered were trite soundbites of the, "Lately I've just been resting and practicing so I can put on a great concert," variety.
\nBut these stage-managed media moments are part of the game for a singer whose album sales bankroll an entire record label's operations and who's graced the cover of Time, as well as practically every other publication in Taiwan since his 2001 eoponymous debut album.
\nJay has also single-handedly redrawn the Mando-pop map with five albums by defying what was long accepted as the only format for success in the industry: ie, a handsome star singing simple love songs over harmless melodic instrumentation. Jay, by contrast, can rap in Taiwanese about nothing in particular before segueing into a more standard love ballad and then moving into a heavier, guitar-laden piece decrying a social ill. All without coming across as forced or insincere.
\nHis album Jasmine sold 300,000 copies in Taiwan and Chou's total album sales in Asia are approximately 10 milion, from five albums.
\nHis outward persona as the befuddled class dawdler who somehow happened into success also seems to strike a chord with young people's need for an anti-hero amid Mando-pop's crowded pantheon of polished, packaged pop stars.
\nAt 173cm and of average looks, with a tendency to hide under a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap, Jay could be any other 25-year-old wandering around Ximending. Except, he's not. At the annual Golden Melody Awards he has for the past three years walked away with the lion's share of trophies in the pop categories.
\nAt tomorrow's concert Jay can be expected to perform some of the hits off that album and selections from his earlier ones. A word of caution, though: if he goes through all his hits, while breaking for the half-dozen or so outfit changes he's known for, the show could go until morning. So wear comfortable shoes and keep in mind that etiquette calls for raincoats not umbrellas.
\nWhat: Jay Chou Incomparable Tour 2004
\nWhen: Tomorrow, 7:30pm
\nWhere: Taipei Municipal Stadium, 5 Dunhua N Rd, Taipei
\nTickets: Tickets remain for NT$1,200. Available at the door or through artsticket.com.tw
Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.