Cheer Chen's (陳綺貞) nine-year music career was officially launched in 1998 with the now defunct record label Magic Stone (魔岩). Although she only has four albums to her name, she is now rated by many as Taiwan's foremost indie songstress and her lyrical folk rock has spread far beyond Taiwan, her popularity built up through touring gigs at small venues and on campuses in Hong Kong and China, as well as at home.
Like other emerging local singer-songwriters Deserts Chang (張懸) and Summer Lei (雷光夏), Chen avoids the media limelight. This has not stopped her winning better record sales than many big-name pop singers and her previous three large concerts in Taipei saw the songstress playing before a full house.
Not surprisingly, tickets for Chen's long overdue first islandwide concert tour, which kicks off tonight at Taipei International Convention Center, are already nearly sold out, and all without the benefit of big media hype. The event was promoted solely through Chen's official Web site www.cheerego.com.
Chen's voyage into the music business began with her winning at the Wooden Ark Folk Song Competition (木船民歌比賽) in 1996. Two years later, the then philosophy major at National Chengchi University (國立政治大學) became the first female artist to join Magic Stone, which was most notable for signing Chinese rockers Dou Wei (竇唯) and Tang Dynasty (唐朝樂隊).
A slump in the music industry forced the label to close-down in 2002, and in response Chen set up the one-woman operation Cheergo Studio (好小氣工作室) a year later. Three singles were produced in a family-factory sort of way. The music was recorded sitting on a bed at home and Chen would later trek back and forth across the city to find the best price for packaging and then deliver packs of CDs to record stores herself.
To Chen, making singles in between larger projects is a natural way to express her creativity, to experiment with forms and new concepts. Her single, Pussy, released last year, was recorded live at Taipei Main Station to recapture an impressionistic moment riding the Paris subway.
In 2006, a bank loan helped the 32-year-old musician put together her forth album Fabulous Adventure (華麗的冒險), which sold 300,000 copies in two months and was the center of considerable attention at the Golden Melody Awards (金曲獎) the same year. Up till now, Chen remains a hotly pursued yet elusive star in the eyes of local press, who have described her music as being "like a delicate blade that rips open both the cruelty and tenderness of the world."
At a press conference held in between intensive rehearsals at a music studio on Tuesday, the folk songstress was reticent, accompanied by her close friend and fellow songstress Jasmine Leong (梁靜茹). "For the concerts, we will try to present a placid atmosphere for the audience to communicate with the music undisturbed," Chen said.
Leong will appear at tonight's concert as a special guest.
Another fan, rapper MC Hotdog, will join Chen on stage for the Tainan show. To the songstress, the choice of special guest was a matter of instinct. "When I thought of going to Tainan, the name MC Hotdog immediately popped into my head. It's a physiological reaction," Chen joked.
For those who won't have the chance to catch Chen's concerts, keep yourselves posted at the musician's Web site for her equally powerful performances at smaller venues across the island.