Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) could just be the nation’s most unlikely new pop icon — if you can consider someone who doesn’t sing or dance an icon.
The 63 year-old former premier under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government isn’t about to give up this role just yet, not even after being dealt a devastating setback last November.
“Some people might not like me, but they like the band and the music,” Su said in an interview with the Taipei Times late last month.
“This is how we continue the dialogue — the very thing that is missing in Taiwanese politics today,” he said.
In an ambitious campaign to give his political message wider appeal, Su has turned to music, dance and all that jazz not normally found in political campaigns.
The balding politician, known affectionately among supporters as the “e-ball,” in reference to his shiny forehead, relies on a group of indie rock bands and underground rappers to rouse old supporters and attract new fans.
Certainly, it was a surprising move for the one-time Pingtung County commissioner to suddenly transform himself and base his message on an untested medium that has so far yielded mixed results. However, he appears undeterred and hopes that more will follow.
Take a look at any of his “Open Taipei” concerts — which he has continued even after losing a bid for Taipei mayor last November. His most recent, at Daan Park, is more reminiscent of a music festival featuring a dozen young performers than a political event.
Under the glare of the spotlights on stage, Su waved his hands to the heavy beat by Dog G (大支), a rapper best known for his pro-Taiwan lyrics and Taiwan Song, a piece that questions the lack of Taiwanese assertiveness.
Su said he didn’t do it for show; he simply liked the music.
“To be honest, I don’t know music, I only recognize what I think is good,” he said. “And these artists, these bands, they’re the best in Taiwan.”
His transformation — he now wears a pink polo shirt more often than a black suit — can be attributed to his group of assistants, none of whom is over 40. Most of them started as trusted staffers during his tenure as Taipei County commissioner and followed him despite his setbacks — first in a vice presidential bid and then for Taipei mayor.
“He is very trusting of young people and willing to try what we recommend,” said Xaviar Chang (張惇涵), a 29-year-old responsible for Su’s campaign ads and YouTube videos, which have so far received 2.1 million views.
“He doesn’t think of age as a number, but rather how you feel at heart,” Chang said.
Indeed, it was intuition and not coincidence, Su said, that led to his choice of music as a way to disseminate his message. He had never received any musical training and even now, after spending countless hours with bands and artists, he can only beat the drums, albeit off rhythm.
“I met [some of the bands] at the Hohaiyan Rock Festival, when I was Taipei County commissioner,” he said, referring to the annual beach fest on the outskirts of the now renamed New Taipei City (新北市). “I realized then that we have similar ideals for Taiwan ... and thought that we can accomplish them together.”
His roster of bands and artists who frequently appear at his events includes The Chairman (董事長樂團), who combines traditional Aboriginal beats with Taiwanese rock, Dog G, soft-rock singer Suming (姜聖民) and September Campers (九月露營人), an indie band with roots in Toronto, Canada.