Ann Bai, tender and wild as she is, is an existence unlike any other.
My most enduring memory of her lives in one of her newer songs, ‘让我逃离平庸的生活 Escaping the Mediocre Life’. She is a wide-eyed revelation in the music video: she dances her way through crowds in a foreign country, stares out of train windows, and runs along the sea, arms stretched out, head tilted towards the sky. It’s a stunning chronicle of freedom and independence, and a fitting introduction to the indie chanteuse whose songs embody the desire to be more than this, whatever this is, and the heavy restlessness of the zeitgeist.
Amidst an increasingly saturated soundscape, Bai is an extraordinary force of nature with her diverse and incandescent discography. She proves her impeccable virtuosity, opening the show with a medley of ‘寻找精灵’, ‘不听 Not Listening’, ‘接下来是什么 What's Next?’, and ‘我只想在乎我在乎的 I Just Want to Care About What I Care About’, never once faltering despite the high-energy nature of these tracks.
She stops to say a quick hello, expressing her gratitude for our presence, “I’m very happy all of you came down to keep me company this afternoon." She smilingly notes the masks on some of our faces, "I know the world isn’t in the best state right now - there is nothing more important than keeping ourselves healthy, and I can see some of you wearing masks. Please remember to drink more water and to wash your hands often. Welcome to our time.”
With that, she kicked off the next five songs, ‘我们的时代 Our Time’, ‘离开后 After You Left’, ‘就让我像个孩子一样 Let Me Be Like A Child’, '一日一生 Life In A Day', and a cover of Michael Bublé's 'Feeling Good', prefacing the third song with a short speech tinged in muted nostalgia, “No matter how old we are, even as we give ourselves up to the passage of time, and even as we accept the difficult times that life thrusts us into, I believe that all of us, deep down, long for freedom and sunlight.”
Her performances are an intimate study in reverence—her eyes glazed over and head bowed as she sings, she looks almost otherworldly, unspooling heartfelt testimonies of life, love, and loss in the swell of her songs. Her music becomes a manifesto that rings loud and true, a testament to all the worlds she has traversed.
Over the course of her career, Bai has been likened to many prolific artists fronting the mantle of Mandopop, with many quick to make comparisons to Jay Chou and Stefanie Sun due to her off-lilt, airy pronunciation. In that moment though, watching her stand before us, eyes closed, as if awaiting a signal invisible to the rest of us, I only see Ann Bai—inimitable, unparalleled and transcendent; a quiet, riveting reverie as she is.
She comes back to reality during the small chats in between songs, embarking on empathetic preludes to the songs she’s about to perform. “Whether you’re already working or still in school right now, I find that when we were all a little younger, we used to always rush ahead so anxiously towards adulthood,” she reminisces. "But when we actually do get a little older, we hesitate when we find ourselves stumbling across difficulties or floundering aimlessly due to our uncertainty of the future.”
She pauses, seeking out her next words and trying them out delicately as her gaze roves over the crowd, “That’s usually when we begin recalling memories of the past. We think of the places that we grew up in, everyone who has ever loved us, everything that moved our hearts; we remember the very beginning of time when we were bursting with dreams and hopes.”
Smiling, she gifts us ‘所爱之初 Begin of Love’, a narrative about growing up and the way we eventually circle back to our roots no matter how far we are thrown, followed by her ballads, ‘不安于世 Seeking a Newer World’, ‘是什么让我遇见这样的你 What brings me to you’, and ‘最想见到你 Let's be together’.
All too soon, the afternoon has slipped away, and Bai prepares her final track, ‘让我逃离平庸的生活 Escaping the Mediocre Life’. Here it is—the very first song of hers that I came to know; the song that I fell in love with. It is the last song of the show—at least that’s what we thought—and I hang onto every word, willing for time to melt away.
As she crosses the stage during the song, she notices someone waving at her. She reaches out to grasp their hand, and holds on. From a distance, someone else reaches up towards her, so she walks over, interlacing her fingers with theirs in a ready offering of affection. It is a simple response, perhaps one born from reflex, and should not be this moving—but it is. This entire afternoon, she has been nothing but gentle to us, sharing about her life, taking care not to neglect her fans on the second level and waving to them intermittently, as well as slipping in reminders to drink water and wash our hands. These are small and possibly inconsequential gestures, but this unreserved display of softness is compelling, and her fans are not unmoved. As the crowd rides out the chorus together, the woman beside me puts her phone down and looks up at Bai, singing along under her breath with a fond smile that speaks volumes of the high esteem in which Bai's fans hold her.
The song is done, and Bai revels in the glowing residue of the performance, before thanking everyone and making her exit with a firm promise, "I'll see all of you again." Her fans aren't ready to let her go just yet though—they chant for an encore, and before long, she obliges, reemerging from backstage to an outpour of excitement. “So, I heard you guys calling for an encore. But I didn't prepare one,” she laughs, fending off a cacophony of suggestions ("C'mon, wait, let me think!") before finally indulging our wish with '你爱我爱你 Love Circle'.
It is so strange - we are pressed together before a low stage in a compact space, swathed in artificial stage lights, and yet in her music I see skies, mountains, vast plains, trains, the child I used to be and the adult I will soon become. In one short hour, she has taken us all over the world and across different timelines: there we were, children still bursting with dreams; here we are now, a little older, a little wiser, struggling for purchase in the wake of all our blistering ambitions.
As the final strains of the song grow distant, she makes to leave the stage, for real this time. She gives us one last, lingering smile, as if to tell us what her songs have been saying all along: may the world be kind to you, and may you be kind to it in return.
Special thanks to Esplanade for the invite.
- 组曲 （寻找精灵 + 不听 + 接下来是什么 + 我只想在乎我在乎的）
- 就让我像个孩子一样 + 一日一生
- (Cover) Feeling Good
- (Encore) 你爱我爱你