Pop Stop rang in the new year backstage at Taitung's 35,000-person outdoor concert. Plenty cold it was, despite the nebula of hot stars gathered for the occasion: Luo Mei-ling (羅美玲), Chiang Mei-qi (江美琪), Huang Xiao-hu (黃小琥), Sky Wu (伍思凱) and Sticky Rice (糯米團).
It looked like a pop concert and sure sounded like a pop concert, but after Huang Xiao-hu introduced her third number, a peppy Mando-pop favorite titled Desert of Passion (熱情的沙漠), the music that cued was a syrupy Taiwanese ballad (perhaps that should have been Passion Dessert). Since there were no musicians on stage, she could have been excused for the miscue. But the audience was aghast when they heard her start
singing despite the fact that she was staring slack-jawed at technicians off-stage, microphone at her side.
"It's fake! It's all fake!" screamed one front row fan. Huang went on to recover all but her dignity then smiled and waved her way off stage.
Pop Stop had been talking to Sticky Rice lead singer, Ma Nian-xian (馬念先), and asked just how frequently pop concerts contain canned vocals.
"Well, uh," he said, "for such a big event, sometimes it's necessary or the sponsor will request it."
So we wanted to know if Ma's own vocals were canned, but thought better of asking such a question to a 1.8m-tall man nicknamed "Horse Piss" (馬尿).
Just at that moment, the CD backing Sky Wu began to skip -- dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit -- and the audience quite vocally demanded that he actually sing. He did so -- a cappella -- and got the dejected girls in the front row screaming with joy again just in time to save 2004 from a bogus finish.
Fireworks signaled the start of 2005 and backstage became a hug-fest, though we're not sure if everyone was happy because it was the New Year or because the "concert" was finally over. We asked Ma if we'd see him in Taitung again in a year's time. "There probably won't be a next time," he said.
Elsewhere around Taiwan, the stars shuttled between New Year's programs in the major cities playing to over 50,000 people in Taipei who had braved the biting cold at City Hall.
The ones who looked most miserable in the weather, though, were the stars, especially Singaporean Stefanie Sun (孫燕姿), who almost managed to make it through her entire set with her left hand and most of her forearm stuffed in her jacket pocket. And on the few occasions that she raised her left hand to wave to the crowd a bundle of heat pads could be seen practically spilling out of her pants.
The hero of the night, though, was Lee Hom Wang (王力宏), who managed to squeeze in five appearances around Taiwan before the night was through.
Despite the cool shows, the mood at this year's celebrations was a bit chilly, taking place less than a week after the tsunami disaster in South Asia.
But pop stars in the region came out in force during the week, led by Jackie Chan (成龍) and Andy Lau (劉德華), to offer donations to the relief effort. Chan wrote a big check for HK$500,000 (NT$2 million), while Lau pledged HK$300,000. A fundraiser concert has also been organized to take place in Hong Kong tonight that will include a raft of local stars. In Taiwan, meanwhile, a charity pop concert is also in the works that will feature A-mei (阿妹) and other local big names, though a date is not yet confirmed.