When looking at Taiwanese music, the first thing that comes to people’s mind are Pop songs. Jay Chou, Mayday, or any other well-known artists are the boundary of most people’s knowledge of Taiwanese music. However, if you look deeper, you may find out the fact that there are so many more talented artists hidden in this realm of independent music:
No Party In Cao Dong (草東沒有派對)
Cao Dong’s success at Taiwan’s 2017 Golden Melody Awards was a miracle. As the dark horse of 2017, the band defeated the well-known band Mayday and was awarded the “Best Musical Group” and “Best Song of the Year”, are the top two prizes of the ceremony. No Party In Cao Dong is one of the few indie bands that could make it to the top, since indie bands in Taiwan are usually neglected by the public.
Roaming between alternative rock and disco, Cao Dong creates an energetic but somehow melancholy rhythm. Poetic lyrics combined with the gloomy voice of the lead singer, the songs faintly describe the helpless life of people who suffer from failure, simply called “losers”. Even without thoroughly analyzing the lyrics, you can easily notice the sorrow and sadness conveyed through the words. Take one of their songs as an example: “I tried holding her hand, but still feeling empty. I never really thought about how ugly I am.” In just one sentence, the song conveys the hopelessness and inferiority of those who have experienced failure.
Some say that they are the opposite of Mayday, whose songs are mostly composed with mellow beats and melodies, coupled with an optimistic and motivating theme. Cao Dong is a mirror that gives us a chance to examine the weakness of ourselves, and to accept your weakness instead of fighting against it.
Soft Lipa (蛋堡)
Unlike other rappers, Soft Lipa, also known as Tu Cheng-Xi (杜振熙) created his own style with a much softer approach. Instead of loud bass and drums, he focused on the musical elements in his songs. He gave himself the nickname “Soft Lipa”, also called “Soft Lip”, aiming into making his music soft and tranquilizing. In some of his songs, he managed to capture the tender feeling of jazz, without losing the flow and pattern of a rap music. In other songs, old songs were often sampled in his beats, creating another sort of atmosphere.
Soft Lipa’s songs are mainly about fragments and details of what people would normally experience in life, things that are trivial. About love, about teenage lives, about a phone call, a dream, or events as simple as taking a bath, anything can become a song. Associated with a fairly poetic lyric, something small can also be converted into an amazing story.
Shawn Sung (宋岳庭)
In 2004, the “Best Lyricist” for the Golden Melody Awards wasn’t given to Jay Chou, it wasn’t given to any other famous singers who had a mass following and thus could easily win the prize. Instead, the award went to Shawn Sung, a rapper that had never been a monster hit in Taiwanese music.
Sung Yue-Ting had an unusual talent in dancing and music. With his creativity, he managed to master and improvise his work even without any standard musical training. Shawn’s mother sent him to the US when he was 14. It was during this period that he learned and mastered Hip-Hop and street dancing on his own.
When Shawn was 19, his friend used his Asian identity and referred to him as a Wah-Ching gang member, in order to blackmail for cash. Not only did this make Shawn an accomplice to a crime, his friend then blamed him as the one responsible for everything. He was then sent to prison and was slapped with three years of probation.
During his stint in jail, Shawn spent his time experiencing what shouldn’t be experienced by a 19 year old teenage boy. Rage, misery, and the bitterness of being deceived, all these feelings surrounded him like fog blinding him from finding his direction. After a series of regretting, self-encouragement, and writing, he made his own conclusion with the song “Life’s a Struggle”.
Shawn spent his 20th birthday in probation; he stayed in home composing music. He never intended to save his work, but it was all collected by his mother and brother, through fragments of papers and video tapes. The songs didn’t contain complicated techniques and were recorded with simple equipment. The beats were sloppy and not well-polished as they were never intended to be made into a perfect song. However, the lyrics in combination with Shawn’s rapping are so powerful and filled with so much emotion, it feels like you are the one experiencing his pain when listening to his music. The feeling of loneliness, of being betrayed, and everything he regretted or hated were all part of his work.
In 2002, Shawn passed away due to bone cancer at age 23. His mother and brother decided to publish his song a year later. The song “Life’s a Struggle” later made him the “Best Lyricist” of the year 2004, and his work finally had a chance to be brought out to the public, but Shawn himself never get to witness this moment of joy.
The explorations of different musical artists are remarkable adventures. Not only is it amazing experiencing various types of good music, it is also a journey into the stories and lives of the musicians. Diving into the world of independent music is definitely a great way to achieve this.