For the sake of the ang mohs reading this who are even more clueless about Faye Wong than I am, the quick overview is that she’s a hugely famous Chinese singer whose success and popularity is surprising given the relatively adventurous nature of her music (relative to the world of Chinese pop music, that is), but perhaps less surprising given that she is very beautiful and has the voice of an angel. Musically, I’d describe her sound as Dolores O’Riordan meeting Sarah McLachlan at a Teresa Teng concert attended briefly by Bebel Gilberto, but in a good way, apart from when she does the awful Dolores-stylie banshee-keening. I’m sensing disbelief. I’ll move on.
I’ve never heard a fast Chinese pop song that didn’t suck, and unfortunately that trend mostly continued for me during this concert. Her ballads are generally enjoyable because they showcase her exceptional singing ability, but the fast songs sound like I could throw them together in ten minutes with a shitty synthesizer and some bog-standard trance samples. The only exception was a song which is either called Kai Dao Tu Mi or Tian Dao Tu Mi or Kai Dao Tu Ling (look, when you don’t understand what something means, it’s hard to remember exact wordings, okay?) which is very much like Tori Amos when she started experimenting with beats on From The Choirgirl Hotel. Feisty tune, snazzily performed, fun touches like singing through a megaphone so her voice sounds like a raspy vocoder, and interesting, thank God.
But let’s move on to the ballads, because they’re really what get those multi-coloured lightsticks in the audience swaying arrhythmically in the air, and inspire those screams of “WANG FEI! WANG FEI!”
[Why do Chinese audiences shout out the artist’s full name? This is so odd, it’s like going to an English gig and yelling “JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE!” or “WEIRD AL YANKOVIC!” I mean, in other concerts I’ve attended, I certainly never bothered with “Jackson” when I was screaming “I LOVE YOU MICHAEL!”, and my secondary three form teacher didn’t bother to add a “Bon Jovi” when she yelled “FUCK ME JON!” either.]
So anyway, she sang Tian Kong and Dan Yuan Ren Chang Jiu and Wo Yuan Yi and Hong Dou and Xiao Wang Shu and Ren Jian, which was very nice, because they are among the 17 songs of hers that I actually know. She also sang some cover versions with varying success – The Cranberries’ Dreams (fine until the banshee-keening bit, which is dreadful no matter who sings it), The Look Of Love (unexpected, but actually quite nice and Bebel Gilberto-y) and Tori’s Silent All These Years, which seems to be the most successful crossover English song ever in the Chinese pop world, given the number of Chinese pop chicks who keep covering it.
[I asked Terry if they retained the meaning of the Silent All These Years lyrics when they translated it to Chinese. “Of course not,” said Terry, “in Chinese music nothing is about domestic abuse; everything is about breakups.”]
The thing about Faye Wong is that you don’t have to know her songs or understand the lyrics to enjoy her concert, because most of the time, her amazing voice is enough. Depending on the song, she can showcase the rich vibrato of a traditional Chinese chanteuse, she can do the playful delicacy of a funny Broadway number, and she can do the sort of modern balladeering that Sarah McLachlan used to do well and Dido still wishes she could do well. At the end of the day, that voice bridges the gap of my ignorance and my cultural condescension, and is all I ultimately need as explanation of her richly-deserved fame.