Jay Chou is one of those rare Asian artistes who have managed to crack the two inscrutable entertainment codes of longevity and relevance. Ever since the multi-hyphenate talent burst onto the scene in the early noughties with his debut album Jay, which comprised 10 self-composed tracks, the superstar has won a multitude of awards, appeared on the silver screen and also broken into Hollywood.
I was first introduced to the music of Jay Chou close to two decades ago back in secondary school. It was the era of music CDs and boomboxes and one of my classmates Sam, who was a Jay Chou fan, would play Chou’s second album Fantasy every morning before the flag raising ceremony. Because he owned the boombox, we had no say on his playlist.
I didn’t understand what Chou was crooning about at the time (my Mandarin was limited to wǒ shì Farhan and wǒ bù shuō huàwén) but his compositions and melody appealed to me. It might have been pop music but the complexity was intriguing, especially since I could only concentrate on the instrumentation and not the lyrics. The fact that he was the first Asian artiste to so successfully combine R&B and hip-hop elements into mainstream popular Chinese music also helped. Chou’s music stoked the desire in me to learn the Chinese language. And I did.
Even today, I still listen to Fantasy every now and then. It’s an album that has aged extremely well, a testament to Chou’s timeless production. And I’ve begun appreciating his lyrics too. I’d imagine that it was this musical depth that also intrigued Jacky Wu, the man who discovered Chou. The veteran musician was the host of a musical variety show called Super New Talent King, which Chou was a part of. The latter’s female friend, an aspiring singer, had enrolled the both of them for the show without his knowledge. At that time, Chou was working as a waiter.
While a floppy-haired Chou tinkled the ivories, his friend sang. The judges weren’t impressed by the singing but Wu was bedazzled by the piano score and hired Chou as a contract composer. That was how it all started.
If there’s one thing that you cannot fault Chou on, it’s his insane work ethic. Since his debut, the musician has gone on to release 14 albums in 18 years, done eight world tours, and appeared in 14 films, of which many were either starring or major supporting roles. And he doesn’t show any signs of stopping. The latest feather in his cap was being appointed as a Tudor ambassador earlier this year. Thanks to the watch brand, we managed to get some time with the man himself in spite of his busy schedule.
“We can never turn back the clock. The only thing we can do is to cherish every stage and every moment of our lives. I guess when you look at your timepiece, it is a constant reminder to treasure the present moment.”
Could you tell us more about your relationship with Tudor and how this partnership started?
Tudor feels that I embody the “Born to Dare” spirit and reached out to me. I am incredibly honoured to be its brand ambassador. Tudor is aware that I have always admired Chopin and that I continually pay tribute to classical music while showing innovativeness in my musical creations. This is in line with the Tudor manifesto, “We are devoted to the classics. But reject the status quo.” This was how our partnership started.
What does the slogan Born to Dare mean to you?
My fans know that when I have a new idea, I will quickly make it come to life. As I have said in my campaign video, “People think that I am creative and talented. Do you want to know the truth? I am just Born to Dare.” What I’m getting at is this: I have always been brave enough to tackle new challenges. When you are in the process of pursuing your dreams, I strongly believe that you must be bold enough to just go for what you would like to achieve. You might just reap unexpected returns, as I have.
Were you a watch person before your partnership with Tudor? Or has this whole experience made you more interested in watches?
I am interested in both classic and new watch creations. Tudor watches are indeed a combination of both classical elements and modern innovations. As a watch brand, Tudor has continuously re-interpretted its classics and I must say it is quite difficult not to be interested in them. [laughs] Needless to say, the brand’s quality and craftsmanship is also remarkable.
How would you describe your personal style?
When I’m on stage, the clothes I wear are made specifically for the performances. It’s necessary to be seen in clothing that is more glamorous or theatrical to achieve the effect of a spectacle. Off stage, however, my personal style is to dress in comfortable, natural and relaxed apparel. But that doesn’t mean that I ignore the design of my clothes. I like wearing clothes from my streetwear fashion labels Phantaci and Woof. Fans and friends can easily identify my style on my Instagram and Facebook.
You’ve achieved almost everything a person can achieve in an entertainment career. What’s your next challenge? What would you like to tackle?
I am currently preparing for a personal project. It’s a Hollywood film that I will direct and also act in. The film will have a number of elements such as suspense, mystery, logic and reasoning, music, etc. It is currently still in the early stages of development, and I’m still exploring ideas, so it’s going to take a while. It may take another two years before it makes it to screen.
You have been in the limelight for close to two decades now. How do you think you’ve changed from when you first joined the entertainment industry?
When people look at me, they may feel that I have changed a lot and become more vocal. They’ll see that I’ve even taken on hosting and mentorship roles, and that my portfolio is getting bigger since I am not just playing music, but I’m also acting in and making movies. But, to be honest, I feel that my original intention has not changed at all. Music has always been my passion. Through my movies, I hope that people can get to know my music as well. What’s more, filmmaking as an art and career has also given me lots of musical inspiration.
If you could pick one highlight from your career, whether good or bad, what would it be? And why?
I feel that every moment, whether high or low, has its value. Sometimes, I reminisce the days before my debut when [Vincent Fang] Wen Shan hand-delivered our demo tapes, and we would wait for the moment we get notified that our music has been selected. Thereafter, we would go for a celebratory meal at the night market. We can never turn back the clock. The only thing we can do is to cherish every stage and every moment of our lives. I guess when you look at your timepiece, it is a constant reminder to treasure the present moment.
Would you like to tackle the Western music industry next?
Music is my roots and movie-making is one of my creative ambitions. Through movies, people can get to know my music. If foreigners watch my films, I will be able to slowly introduce them to my music. I’ve always believed that music transcends geographical boundaries.
* This interview was conducted in Mandarin before being translated to English