The J of all trades

There are several Js in Mandopop.

Top on the list is Jay Chou, the multi-hyphenate Taiwanese whose portfolio spans singing and songwriting to acting and directing. Singapore export JJ Lin (does he count as two Js?) has built a name of his own.

Yen-j, the latest J in the scene, is a force to be reckoned with.

With four albums under his belt, the 25-year-old Taiwanese singer-songwriter pulled every trick in his hat to showcase his repertoire in his first solo concert here.

He opened with the electronic dance numbers Year 2000 and Donna Lee, amid pyrotechnics and psychedelic lights.

Yen-j performed some neat moves with his hip-hop troupe but his lanky build made him look somewhat awkward.

It was only from the third song, the radio-friendly Temporary Boyfriend, that Yen-j and the audience of 3,000 warmed up.

The singer quickly went in for the kill - he was most suave with a musical instrument. The jazz-trained musician played a mean trombone solo for the rearranged Large Building Next Door, sweeping every female fan off her feet with endless running notes.

From then on, it was smooth Yen-j all the way. In a teal suit and purple shirt ensemble, he performed Stevie Wonder's classic Sir Duke at the piano, exuding sincerity and charm with his rich vocals. He continued to display his musical finesse, playing the guitar, keyboard and singing a cappella with his back-up singers.

The Indoor Stadium did degenerate into pandemonium when Yen-j left the stage to distribute red packets to the audience.

You could not help but feel a sense of irony, as women and men alike rushed towards him to grab the hongbao, while he sang: "The world is not bad/ When someone is willing to do some things for you/ Not to return a favour/Not for the money/But for love".

Herein lies Yen-j's biggest strength - beneath the oh-so-cool persona are streaks of mischief that translate into creativity.

Case in point, the romantic 1980s classic Little Umbrella was transformed into a rap-pop-R&B fusion.

The lyrics were deconstructed to include English, Mandarin and the original Minnan dialect. "Both of us" in Minnan was delightfully transliterated as "blue tender wolf".

The innovative spin highlighted Yen-j's background as a Kaohsiung-born singer, who moved to the United States at the age of 10 and went on to study jazz, before returning in 2008.

Yen-j could do comedy too. While the stage was being set up for the song Searching, the audience cajoled the singer to do a dance solo. He obliged with a backflip, with the assistance of two dancers, and then quipped: "Why is waiting for the piano to be raised up so tiring?"

His last act of comic relief was reappearing for his finale in a suit much like that worn by the Jack in a deck of poker cards. Give him a few more years and the talented J should trade that costume for a king's instead.

stlife@sph.com.sg


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