A-mei's back with a bang

Mando Pop diva A-mei performs at the 2014 Spring Wave Music and Art Festival, held at Gardens by the Bay on 7 June 2014.

It's been a long time. Thirty-eight months, in fact.

That's how long it was between A-mei's last album (R U Watching? in 2011) and her recently-released studio effort, Faces Of Paranoia.

This latest album is an emotionally-charged ride through a diverse musical landscape of lush piano chords, downtempo house beats and ambient electronica.

She may use a multitude of styles, but by Mandopop standards, the 41-year-old diva's output has been modest.

In the same timeframe, fellow pop queen Jolin Tsai has not only put out an album, but a best-selling diet book too.

Another superstar, Singapore's own Stefanie Sun, gave birth to her first child, then launched an album - all done way before A-mei's new material hit the airwaves.

But this is A-mei, the sassy Taiwanese aboriginal songbird - she is from Taitung county's Puyuma tribe - who takes her time to deliver top-notch songs and could not care less about being prolific.

M looks at why her return to the Mandopop fray could very well be the comeback of the year...

There's no secret that A-mei (right) has been battling criticism about her weight gain.

While performing on the finale of talent show The Voice Of China in September 2012, she stunned audiences by appearing visibly heavier on stage.

With the release of Faces Of Paranoia, the buzz about her piling on the pounds sweeps us once again like a merciless hurricane.

Earlier this month, China Times reported that fans were angry as to why the music video of A-mei's lead single, March, showed only close-ups of her face, with not a single full-body shot.

"No normal person can stare at the same face for four minutes," someone wrote curtly online.

Others speculated, saying that the sole reason behind using close-ups was to mask her plumpness.

A-mei's manager Edward Chan swiftly refuted such claims, and explained to China Times that the singer "deliberately wanted a minimalist concept" for March. "She is not hiding anything," he stressed.

Her next few videos, he promised, would be "a lot more visually enticing".

Other Taiwanese media outlets pointed out that A-mei did not look fat in her promotional pictures for Faces Of Paranoia. She is seen draped in fantasy-like, bizarre-looking metallic white and silver outfits.

But A-mei herself acknowledged the burning desire to get back into shape.

"A woman's confidence is definitely linked to her physical figure," she said in a candid interview with Chengdu Economic Times.

"Being healthy and happy is the most important, I know I have the determination to transform myself."

And A-mei has another reason to celebrate. Coinciding with the release of Faces Of Paranoia was her new corporate appointment as record label EMI's Greater China brand director.

At a press conference in Taiwan, Universal Music Group, which acquired EMI in 2012, officially announced A-mei's new role. It was called an affirmation of her "iconic stature in the Chinese music scene".

As proof of her clout within showbiz, A-mei managed to rope in Taiwanese singers Show Luo and Rainie Yang to sign with EMI.

In an interview with Beijing's Morningpost.com.cn, A-mei could not hide her excitement at what the future holds for her career.

"I'm very lucky to be given the freedom to do the music I desire, instead of being put under all sorts of restrictions," she said.

"My label has signed Show and Rainie too, which is a great thing for Mandopop. It breaks the unwritten rule that A-list stars cannot work with each other."

She has never been one to play it safe.

From the sensual, titillating R&B rhythms of One Night Stand, to the pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) lyricism of Rainbow (which was barred from her set list at Singapore's Spring Wave Music And Art Festival last month), to the evocative, sadomasochistic imagery in her music video Black Eat Black, A-mei's songs have raised eyebrows.

To put it simply, this pop queen doesn't shy away from talking about sex. And it's apparent, as one delves into her new songs.

On the title track, A-mei wails: "Every nerve of my body is brought to a climax/ But my heart is still in pain", while on groovy dance number Booty Call, she morphs into a playful cooing kitten: "Let's explore a little deeper together/ Explore till we reach a dizzying state".

A-mei is reportedly dating Taiwanese bartender Sam Yao - seven years her junior. She told Morningpost that she "cannot do without love in my life".

"Many people have asked me how I'm able to convey the emotions in my ballads. To be able to sing those songs, I need to feel love and be in love. I need to go through ups and downs, the break-ups, the passionate, fiery romances."

This article was first published on July 16, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.