Experimental MandoPop?: Wang Leehom’s Compositional Chops

A couple of my students in my Music in Asian America seminar are writing their term papers on the Taipei-based ABC (American-born Chinese) pop singer Wang Leehom. Their projects re-piqued my interest in Wang Leehom’s music, particularly his 2006 album Heroes of Earth (蓋世英雄). At the last annual meeting of Society of Ethnomusicology, I heard a smart paper written by Anthony Sheppard, a musicologist faculty at Williams College. Incidentally, Sheppard taught Wang Leehom in college as Wang majored in music and took courses on world music and western art music.

Wang Leehom uses the term “chinked-out” to distinguish this album from the others. This project traces and builds on his Chinese ethnic roots. Referencing the academic discipline of ethnomusicology, Wang explains the creative processes of collecting and learning traditional Chinese music. Before jumping into a cultural critique of Wang for his usage of the derogatory epitaph “chink”, I want to make a few comments on his music.

I’m not a big fan of Mandopop love ballads. Digging through the songs on this album, I found four tracks of such chinked-out style. (I'm tempted to disrespect the integrity of the album to make a playlist of only the chinked-out tracks.) Wang deconstructs melodies and instrumentation drawn from Beijing opera and folk styles from the minority groups of China. Remixing and sampling these sounds, he recombines these elements while integrating them the common song form in pop and R&B genres. I’m impressed by his songwriting skills. In particular, I am impressed by his songwriting skills in track 9 of the album “Move Over” or "Rang Kai" (讓開). In this song, he mixes samples of Chinese cymbals and digitally synthesized bass beats with a bleak dissonant trumpet track providing a syncopated rhythmic environment for rhyming and the interspersing melody of “In the Summertime”. Wang’s diction changes from a straight-ahead hip hop rhyming style and R&B vocal style to a Beijing-opera inflection. A mash-up experimentation!

I’d love to sit down and analyze these tracks when I get a chance. But for now, I just want to put Wang Leehom on the map for YellowBuzz readers.

Here's the official music video of Wang Leehom's chinked-out ballad (track 2 on the album) titled "Mistake in the flower field" or "Hua Tian Cuo" (花田錯):

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