Taiwan singer Jay Chou looks East to crack the West

By Alice Hung

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan pop star Jay Chou looks to thelikes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, who made it big in the Westwith martial arts from the East, for inspiration.

What they did with Chinese kung fu he reckons he can dowith his Chinese blend of rap music.

Unlike some Taiwan pop stars, who have borrowed heavilyfrom the West, Chou’s music interwines Western R&B and hip-hopwith a distinctive Chinese flavor.

“In order to be noticed in the West, the Chinese culture isthe starting point,” he told Reuters in a recent interview.

“I feel I must take my own, different path, not to followthe paths already taken by other people,” he said in hisstudio.

Chou has yet to make it in the West, but his style hasdrawn a huge following since his debut with the album “Jay” in2000.

He has received awards in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China,Singapore and Malaysia and all his albums have made their wayto the best-selling lists. He is also huge in Japan.

“People notice me because they think my music is unique. Iam always full of confidence in my music,” said Chou, 26, whocomposes his own songs and also plays piano, cello, guitar andthe drums.

In his “Dragon Fist,” Chou combined Chinese instrumentswith rock and roll. He brought Chinese poetry to “East WindBreaks” and the Bruce Lee fan even wrote a song called”Nunchuks” after his favorite martial arts weapon.

The power of his songs did not go unnoticed in Beijing.Some were among this year’s list of 100 approved songs formusic lessons in Chinese middle schools.

“Except for the music, I am an idiot in all aspects oflife. I can’t live without music,” Chou said, who is stillsingle, admitting that he did not even know how to chat to hisfriends on the Internet.

Brought up in suburban Taipei by his mother, Chou flunkedhis college entrance exam and had thought about becoming apiano teacher.


“If I wasn’t a singer, I would have been a piano teacher,”said Chou, whose mother made him learn piano at three. “I thinka man teaching piano is cool because most piano teachers arewomen.”

There was a time when Chou wanted to give up piano becausehe couldn’t stand the endless practicing.

“But my piano teachers got prettier and prettier, so Icarried on,” he said, offering one of his trademark boyishgrins.

Chou was discovered by a TV host at a singing competition.But he started his career by writing songs for other singersand said he was not surprised by his success because he hadfound a formula that works.

“Building on the foundation of classical music, my popsongs combine the Chinese musical elements and Chinese martialarts.

“I see myself as a musician with a unique character. I amnot a puppet. I don’t do what the record company tells me todo,” said Chou, who intends to incorporate Bach into his songsand dislikes being referred to as a pop idol.

“An idol should be good-looking. I am not handsome so Idon’t expect people to notice me because of my looks,” saidChou.

The important thing, Chou said, was to stay cool.

“I hope I will always be number one. Maintaining the levelI am at right now will be my biggest challenge,” Chou said.

“Even when I go downhill, I will go down gracefully,” headded. “I won’t go stumbling.”

For now, Chou is tapping growing popularity of rap music inAsia. In China, a new generation has embraced hip-hop as anemblem of free-spirited expression while the sound has been adominating influence in Tokyo sub-culture since the late 1980s.

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