Don't mess with Jolin Tsai.
Or, to quote the title of her new release, don't play play with Mandopop's sexy queen.
The 34-year-old Taiwanese superstar's 13th studio album - Play - comes on the heels of setback and controversy.
In August, the Taiwanese media made a huge fuss over fellow singer Jeannie Hsieh's "landslide victory" over Tsai on YouTube, suggesting that the latter's popularity had dipped.
The perceived rivalry between Hsieh and Tsai is inevitable - both are well-versed in dance, have no qualms putting out provocative visuals and specialise in addictive earworm electropop.
So when 39-year-old single mum Hsieh's hit song Wanna Be Rich garnered an impressive 1.3 million views on YouTube in three days, reporters had a field day pointing out how poorly Tsai had fared in comparison.
Tsai's synth-heavy English single, Now Is The Time, released in July as part of a Pepsi campaign, had only managed to score 20,000 views in three days.
More recently, Korean netizens accused Tsai of plagiarising K-pop female trio TaeTiSeo's music video.
According to Chinese portal Sina.com, Tsai's colourful clip for lead single Play contained scenes of her glamming up for the red carpet and striking poses in front of the paparazzi, which "looked eerily similar" to TaeTiSeo's Twinkle.
It didn't help that TaeTiSeo, a sub-unit of top girl group Girls' Generation, have a rabid fanbase.
Yet, despite the whirling negative buzz, Tsai continues to reign supreme in the Mandarin music world.
Last month, she made history when Play swept the top spot on a record 109 album charts in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, including iTunes, G-Music, KKBox and Spotify.
Fears of Tsai losing her crown to Hsieh turned out to be unfounded, as she has replaced Hsieh as the ambassador of an online video game, pocketing a hefty endorsement fee of TWD $8 million (S$340,000).
"I feel that Lady Luck has been on my side all this while," Tsai told Chinese video streaming platform Youku.
"For me, work has never stopped. I guess I've been very blessed."
As for those attacks about her "copycat" video, Tsai came down hard on her detractors.
Through her agency, she released a strongly-worded statement scoffing at the possibility of it even happening.
"There has been no plagiarism. Taiwan is creative enough not to copy such trivial things from Korea," was her curt response.
Netizens on popular K-pop forums Allkpop and Soompi came out in full force to back Tsai unwaveringly, slamming the accusations as "ridiculous", "dumb" and "stupid".
Needless to say, few stars in Mandopop hold as much clout as Tsai.
For Play, she managed to secure two of Asia's biggest female stars, Japanese pop diva Namie Amuro and veteran award-winning Hong Kong actress Carina Lau.
Tsai duets with Amuro, 37, on infectious Mandarin-English dance anthem I'm Not Yours. The pair have also shot a yet-to-be-released wuxia-themed music video in Wufeng district, Taichung, reportedly playing brothel madames.
On-set photos show the two decked out in stunning, regal-looking period costumes.
"This is the first time in my career I've donned ancient attire for a music video," said Tsai in a press release sent via her label Warner Music.
"Everything is fresh and exciting, especially with Namie Amuro on board.
"I can't wait to show audiences our finished product."
In another music video, the dreamy The Third Person & I, Tsai got her "idol" Lau, 48, to make a cameo appearance as the "future version" of herself.
Even megastars find themselves starstruck at times too.
"I was quite nervous seeing Carina up close," said Tsai, in a candid TV interview with Taiwan's Chung T'ien Television.
"For a while, I didn't know what to say to her. Several thoughts went through my head, such as, what should I talk to her about?''
With a laugh, she added: "Maybe we could chit-chat about (Lau's actor-husband) Tony Leung?"
This article was first published on Dec 3, 2014.
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