King of Cantopop Eason Chan sits on throne unchallenged

PHOTO: China Daily/Asia News Network

In the 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong held huge sway over the music markets of the mainland, Taiwan and other parts of Asia with its Cantopop, four of its best-known exponents being Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and Andy Lau, who came to be known as the Four Heavenly Kings.

But these days the volume has well and truly been turned down on Cantopop as music tastes worldwide continue to diversify, and the four kings have given way to a sole sovereign, Eason Chan, dubbed the King of Cantopop. In fact, Chan is just about the only Cantopop singer these days who might be considered anything like a global phenomenon.

Every year, Chan, who has more than 15 million followers on his Sina Weibo account, releases one Cantonese album, one Mandarin album and begins a world tour.

His latest Cantonese album, Getting Ready, was released a fortnight ago, and Chan, 40, came to Beijing to promote it.

At a news conference, wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with the declaration "I give up wasting paper" and a pair of loose blue pants, he said that putting out a Cantonese album once a year has become a tradition for him, even as the Cantopop market continues to shrink, and many Hong Kong singers do a voice change, singing in Mandarin to add to their appeal in the mainland market.

"To the listener the sound of Cantonese lyrics is unique," Chan says. "You can easily identify a Coldplay song in the same way you can identify an Eason Chan Cantonese song."

It may have been that uniqueness that helped Chan win the top two awards-best Mandarin album and best Mandarin male singer-for his last Mandarin album, Rice & Shine, at the annual Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, akin to the Grammy Awards, in June.

In Beijing Chan spoke of the time in which Getting Ready had its genesis, saying the album was the fruit of a year in which he faced considerable professional difficulties.

His manager, who for Chan was a mother figure, retired, leaving the singer with the difficult task of finding a replacement. In addition, Chan says, he had been touring internationally for about seven years and he felt he needed a good break.

If all that were not enough, he was dissatisfied with the lyrics he was presented for the new album.

"Now things are falling into place and I am ready to move on to the next stage of my career and my life," Chan says.

Lyrics for the album's 10 tracks, among which are Unconditional, The Halloween Nightmare and Monologue From One Soul, were written by the Hong Kong lyricist Yuen Leung-poon.

The Hong Kong singer-actor Nicholas Tse, a longtime friend of Chan, wrote one of the songs for the album, Origin Destination.

One of Chan's favourite songs, Life and Marathon, was inspired by his wife, Hilary Tsui, a former actress who is a regular participant in the annual Hong Kong Marathon.

"It's a metaphor, comparing life with a marathon," Chan says. "The result doesn't really matter. It's about the passion you have."

Chan was born in Hong Kong and spent his teenage years at boarding school in England. He rose to fame after winning first place in the New Talent Singing Awards in Hong Kong 20 years ago. Then he signed a professional contract and later broadened his career to include acting.

He has starred in more than 20 films and has been nominated for the Hong Kong Golden Horse Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards.

The Hong Kong singer-actor Jacky Cheung once said Chan's solid singing, musical style and boyish charm have sustained his longevity in the industry.

In 2012, Chan became the first Chinese performer to play at the O2 Arena in London as part of his Duo World Tour. He performed more than 25 Cantonese and Mandarin songs to an audience of more than 10,000.

"I was surprised by how many fans I have in Europe," he says. "It doesn't matter what language you sing. The world is so connected now, and it's about the energy you give out with music."

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