Sun rose in the East but set in the West

PHOTO: The New Paper

Ho Yeow Sun wanted to be a pop star but also someone who could use her celebrity status to promote the church she co-founded with her husband, Kong Hee.

But did she have a real shot at making it big?

By 2002, she had already scored a number of hits in the Mandopop scene and had a following in Taiwan.

While her fortunes were good in Asia, her attempt to make it in the US was followed by a police complaint here alleging misuse of church funds and a trial that led to six church leaders being found guilty of fraud.

And among the six was her husband, who helped engineer and support her singing career.

The music business can be a cut-throat industry and Sun Ho's (her pop moniker) team may have been naive in their westward push.

For one thing, the timing was off, says US music career consultant Robert A. Case.

He says: "I've never even heard of any of her music. If I had $24 million back then, I wouldn't even put the money in the music business."

He tells The New Paper on Sunday that Ms Ho entered the market at a bad time as the US music industry was in a downwards spiral. She had moved to the US in 2003 to carve out her singing career.

But in 2003, the emergence of online music services such as the iTunes Store was killing off the retail music industry there, says Mr Case.

Many upcoming independent artists failed to see that and simply kept on spending.

For her, the seven years in the US were the glamorous years. She received personal dance lessons from top choreographers and worked with top artists, directors and producers for her music videos.

She was even invited to an award show.

PAYING TO GET A BREAK

But where she had success in the East, her team had to pay for her to work with personalities just to get a break in the US.

A total of $24 million in church funds was spent on Ms Ho's singing career.

E-mails revealed in court showed that US$1.5 million (S$1.9 million) went to rapper Wyclef Jean. Another US$1.5 million was for rapper Missy Elliott to get her to appear in Ms Ho's music videos, in the "worst-case scenario".

The money spent also got her the chance to work with veteran record producer and 16-time Grammy Award winner David Foster, who helped produce her debut English single, Where Did Love Go.

The song reached the top spot of Billboard's dance breakout chart.

But Mr Case, who has managed several artists who made it to the Grammy Entry List, in categories such as Best New Artist and Album of the Year, said making the charts is also "useless" if she was unable to capitalise on the momentum.

"So she charted on the Billboard. That's cool. But if she didn't have the team or the experience to go out and follow up on this success, then it doesn't matter," says the consultant, who has been in the business for 28 years.

The chart is also not representative of success, says London-based freelance actor Alex Liang.

The Billboard dance chart is compiled from reports from a nationwide panel of club DJs, detailing the tracks that elicit the most audience response, according to the Billboard website.

Says Mr Liang: "It really reflects the opinions of a relatively small handful of DJs in the US who are willing to play these songs, so while it is nice to be popular among this small group of influential DJs, it doesn't necessarily translate into commercial success."

Mr Liang wrote a scathing review of Ms Ho's US endeavours from his perspective as a freelance entertainer on his popular blog, Limpeh Is Foreign Talent. The UK citizen has worked on music videos alongside Madonna, Duffy and Mylo.

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 25, 2015.
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