Last year was a productive year for the Mandopop industry, with A-listers like JJ Lin and A-Mei releasing albums, and many songs from lesser-known artistes going viral. Here are 17 standout songs from 2017 that you should give another spin.
If we missed your favourite, let us know in the comments!
A-Mei – 'Story Thief (偷故事的人)'
Amidst her busy tour schedule, queen of Mandopop A-Mei found time to release her 19th album Story Thief. In this album, ‘Story Thief is the simplest song – and in a bold move, is also its lead single. As the first song of the album, listeners are immediately greeted with A-Mei’s voice with little introduction. The song continues for four minutes with only her voice and a simple piano accompaniment, sounding almost like an unplugged version of a more complicated song.
Composed by the current holder of the Golden Melody “Best Female Singer” award Eve Ai, the poignancy of ‘Story Thief’ engulfs you by the first chorus, and sounds as though the Taiwanese singer is sitting next to the listener, sharing a personal story. By the time the song ends, the track lingers for an additional 10 seconds of silence, leaving the listener alone to digest this masterpiece.
While other ballads in this album may be performing better on the charts, ‘Story Thief’ is unlike anything A-Mei has ever done. 21 years into her career, A-Mei delivers emotions with just her vocals in a way that lesser singers can only dream of doing.
JJ Lin – 'Little Big Us (伟大的渺小)'
JJ Lin has been churning out karaoke staples for his entire career, and his latest hit ‘Little Big Us’ is no different. The song has some sonic similarities to JJ’s classics, like ‘Practice Love’ and ‘Those Were The Days’, and will undoubtedly lead the charts on karaoke top hits this year.
‘Little Big Us’ is also reminiscent of 'Twilight (不为谁而做的歌)' the lead single of JJ’s last album From M.E. to Myself. While both songs seem to be in the same mould as the many love songs that Singapore’s most successful singer is known for, a closer look at the lyrics of both songs actually reveal that they're songs JJ has written for himself and no one else, moving away from well-tread lyrical territory of lost love and childhood crushes. These show JJ providing a fresh take on his more recent ballads, avoiding the cheesiness that accompanies most love songs in Mandopop.
This song is also a collaboration between JJ and Singapore’s most successful lyricist Xiao Han, making it a truly Singaporean masterpiece that local music fans cannot miss.
G.E.M. – 'Light Years Away (光年之外)'
Just like other aspects of the entertainment industry, the Hollywood movie industry is now doing its best to figure out the Chinese market, which only takes in a limited number of foreign films each year. One of these films which made it into China last year is sci-fi blockbuster Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. To appeal to Chinese viewers, the movie’s marketing team came up with a fresh strategy – get a famous Chinese singer to sing the movie’s theme song.
The singer chosen for this task was Hong Kong starlet G.E.M., a young singer who rose to fame in recent years after her impressive performances on a China reality singing show. For the movie, the singer composed the song ‘Light Years Away’ and also wrote the Mandarin lyrics herself, a rare feat for Hong Kong singers, who are usually more well-versed in Cantonese.
The song was closely tied with Passengers throughout its marketing campaigns in China. While the movie does not rank among the top-grossing films China last year, the opposite can be said for ‘Light Years Away’, which captured the hearts of listeners not just in the Chinese box office, but also throughout Asia, furthering cementing G.E.M.'s position as the most exciting female singer in Mandopop.
Mayday feat. Jam Hsiao – 'Song of Ordinary People (凡人歌)'
2017 was Mayday’s 20th anniversary, and the Taiwanese band marked this milestone by launching their Life tour in March, beginning at Kaohsiung. In their third show, the rock band covered the Mandarin classic ‘Song of Ordinary People’ with guest star Jam Hsiao, and the recording was subsequently released as a single the next day.
In the song, Hsiao, known as Mr. Rock to his fans, unabashedly flaunts his belting abilities and rocks out with Mayday lead singer AShin, who also gives his all. The vocal battle between the two singers gives new life to the 90s song, and is almost unrecognisable compared to the original rendition by Jonathan Lee, a singer with a calmer singing style.
Namewee feat. Leehom Wang – 'Stranger in the North (漂向北方)'
Malaysian YouTuber-turned-singer Namewee first went viral in 2007, when Taiwanese-American singer Leehom Wang was at this peak of his career. Wang had just released his iconic Change Me album, was listed among “The 100 Most Inspiring Asian Americans of All Time”, and even starred in director Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
Now, Namewee is a professional singer with two Golden Melody Award nominations to his name, and is riding on the success of his most viral song yet, ‘Stranger In The North’, a collaboration with Wang, the biggest star he has ever worked with. The song reached a million views within 55 hours upon its release on YouTube, and has now exceeded 100 million views, inspiring covers from YouTube singers all over Asia.
For listeners of Western music, ‘Stranger In The North’ follows an old formula from the late 2000s popularised by rappers like Travis McCoy and B.O.B., where a memorable hook sung by a big-name singer cuts in between rap verses. While this may be an overdone style for English music, it clearly still works for the Mandopop scene, propelling Namewee to even greater heights over the past year.
Namewee is also not the only one to benefit from this collaboration, as this song has managed to outshine any of the songs from Wang’s experimental EDM album A.I. Love, also released last year, helping to keep the singer in the spotlight in a competitive year for the industry.
Crowd Lu – 'Fish (鱼仔)'
‘Fish’ was written as the theme song to television series Q Series: A Boy Named Flora A, in which Crowd Lu also plays the lead character, his first time in such a prominent role. Rising with the success of the series, ‘Fish’ quickly became one of the most recognisable songs in Taiwan in 2017.
Usually known for his extremely cheerful, energetic, and fast-paced tunes, Crowd Lu portrays a very different side in this melancholic song. Once you get over Lu's uncharacteristic seriousness, 'Fish' is a memorable tune that will get you singing along, especially to the Hokkien chorus, even if you have no idea what the lyrics mean.
'Fish' was also one of the most covered songs last year, giving Crowd Lu a much-needed push back into the spotlight after his hiatus, which he took to complete his national service.
TFBOYS – 'Our Times (我们的时光)'
Chinese boy band TFBOYS first rose to fame with ‘Manual of Youth (青春修炼手册)’ in 2014, which launched them into international stardom around Asia. Till 2016, the trio were still riding on the popularity of the two-year-old song, which was their most recognisable hit.
With ‘Our Times’, released last year, they may finally have a new hit to replace ‘Manual of Youth’ and shake away the dangerous label of “one-hit wonder”. While the song isn’t exactly groundbreaking – it follows the trademark TFBOYS style of extremely youthful bubblegum pop – it goes a long way in dispelling rumours of unhappiness between band members.
Already four years into their career, the TFBOYS have been plagued by countless rumours of their breakup. In the music video to ‘Our Times’, the boys stage a mock press conference, with reporters blatantly asking questions about the group disbanding or disputes among the members, before breaking into song, sending a clear message to worried fans that TFBOYS will remain united for many years to come.
Eason Chan – 'Who Will Cut The Moonlight (谁来剪月光)'
Non-Cantonese speaking fans of Eason Chan would have been thrilled when in October he finally released his first Mandarin album in three years, C’mon In~, the song ‘Who Will Cut The Moonlight’ in particular reminding fans why they fell in love with the Hong Kong singer in the first place.
While this is no massive breakthrough for him, the song is definitely going to become a karaoke favourite, just like many of Eason’s older hits. In the Mandopop scene, Eason Chan remains one of the only singers who can deliver such levels of emotion with just his simple vocals, without having to flaunt any techniques.
Cosmos People – 'Let Me Go (现在就让我走)'
Indie band (and some might say, Mayday’s eccentric cousins) Cosmos People has never been among the Mandopop mainstream in their eight-year-long career, preferring to stick to their own unique style of funk music, catered to a niche audience.
Last year, Cosmo sPeople released the album RIGHT NOW, which features ‘Let Me Go’ as the lead single. Many fans have since reflected that the song highly resembles the style of The Chainsmokers, which is definitely a factor for ‘Let Me Go’ being well-received by mainstream fans who may not be familiar with Cosmos People.
If the Taiwanese band is able to continue making music like this while still retaining their personal identity, it won’t be long before they attract a wider audience and finally break into the mainstream.
Escape Plan – 'Flash Memories (闪光的回忆)'
Chinese rock band Escape Plan is definitely the most unknown among all the artistes featured on this list, but their presence in the music scene cannot be ignored. The band is responsible for the song ‘Brightest Star In The Night Sky’, which burst onto the scene in recent years and has been covered and made popular by Hong Kong singer G.E.M.
The band returned last year with their new single ‘Flash Memories’, which is very much in the vein of their style of old school rock. The song may not be as memorable or “coverable” as ‘Brightest Star In The Night Sky’, but it is a great example of the Chinese pop-rock style that Escape Plan is best known for.
While Escape Plan may still be obscure outside of mainland China, they are one of the bands most representative of China’s rock scene, and this song is definitely a must-hear for any music fans who wish to learn more about Chinese rock.
A-Lin – 'Sea of Light (光之海)'
Taiwanese pop diva A-Lin’s latest eponymous album is a departure from her usual sentimental ballads, containing many uncharacteristic fast-paced and cheerful songs. One of the songs that retains A-Lin older style is ‘Sea of Light’, which was written by the singer herself, along with producer Arai Soichiro.
In an earlier interview with Bandwagon, A-Lin also shared that ‘Sea of Light’ is her favourite song in the album. In the song description published on YouTube, A-Lin shares about her own experiences of chasing her dream to be a singer. As a child living in Taitung, a young A-Lin would often run to the beach and sing to the sea. She even describes the sea as her “first-ever fan”.
While the song retains A-Lin’s signature style, it also differentiates itself with its encouraging tone, as opposed to the darker shades of her older songs. Enjoying the finest years of her career, A-Lin shows appreciation for her success through ‘Sea of Light’, and sends a message of encouragement that with hard work and perseverance, anyone can achieve their dreams.
Stefanie Sun – 'A Dancing Van Gogh (跳舞的梵谷)'
Ever since her first pregnancy in 2012, Stefanie Sun has been extremely quiet on the scene. While she did release an album Kepler in 2014, it wasn’t exactly successful or memorable, and one may be forgiven for thinking that the Singaporean singer is past her prime.
However, with her 2017 album No.13 - A Dancing Van Gogh, Sun immediately proved all her doubters wrong, especially with her lead single ‘A Dancing Van Gogh’.
The song – a tribute to the titular artist – shows an unruly side of Sun that fans have not seen before. In the song description, Sun shares that she had consumed alcohol before the song’s recording, and after a quiet moment with herself, she shed all her inhibitions and allowed herself to fully indulge in the music and sing, even dancing at one point, when she was fully immersed in the song.
Sun was also both director and actor in the music video for 'A Dancing Van Gogh', a first for her. If she is able to continue surprising with works like ‘A Dancing Van Gogh’ and its album, Sun will quickly find herself reclaiming the Mandopop throne which she owned at the peak of her career.
Xiao Yu – 'With You (同在)'
2017 was a great year for Taiwan’s R&B scene, with newcomers like J.Sheon and Julia Wu making their mark. While these newcomers have impressed with their music, many fans of the genre may have forgotten that R&B veteran Xiao Yu has been doing his thing since his debut in 2008.
It does not help that before his 2017 album With You, Xiao Yu had not released anything since 2012. The singer had been left without a label during his five-year absence, and ended up completing his national service and moving behind-the-scenes as a producer. In 2017, he joined Warner Music, and was finally able to return to his true calling as a singer with this album.
With the lead single ‘With You’, Xiao Yu shows that despite his long hiatus, he has not lost his talents, and even keeps his music timely, incorporating very modern EDM inspirations into the song. With the resurgence of the hip-hop and R&B scene in Taiwan last year, it is a great time for Xiao Yu to make his return and win back his fans from all those years ago.
JiaJia – 'Playhouse (家家酒)'
Powerful singer JiaJia is a veteran when it comes to singing theme songs for television dramas, and ‘Playhouse’ may be her most successful song yet. The song was written as the ending theme to Taiwanese drama The Perfect Match last year.
In ‘Playhouse’, JiaJia continues to do what she does best – tug at the heartstrings of listeners with her emotional and strong vocals. While this was among the most popular songs in Taiwan last year, JiaJia needs to break out of her theme song streak in future works, before she gets typecast as a typical ballad singer.
Hua Chenyu – 'Heaven's Equal (齐天)'
‘Heaven’s Equal’ is a great example of what Chinese music can be, as opposed to the many ballads that it is often associated with, and it's no surprise it comes from Hua Chenyu, one of the most exciting artists in the industry right now.
The young Chinese singer rose to fame in 2016 as one of the judges on music show The Next, especially through his extraordinary renditions of songs ‘My Skate Shoes’ and ‘The Great Sage’, turning the two ridiculous or unremarkable songs – the former a widely-derided joke song, the latter just an instrumental – into impressive rap pieces.
In ‘Heaven’s Equal’, Hua combines his newfound rapper image with the highly emotional singing he was known for as a newcomer. The song opens with a sense of helplessness and sorrow, but quickly transitions into a fierce retaliation when the rap portion comes in. The song even helped Hua claim the first place in his first episode of Singer 2018, another reality singing show, dethroning the mighty Jessie J, who had claimed the top spot in the past three episodes before Hua joined the show.
This song was initially written as the theme song for the movie Wu Kong, starring Eddie Peng. While the movie turned out to be a box office bomb, ‘Heaven’s Equal’ is definitely not a disappointment, and may even be the beginning of a new career high for Hua Chenyu.
Lala Hsu – 'The Prayer (言不由衷)'
Just like the first song on this list, ‘The Prayer’ is written by incumbent Golden Melody “Best Female Singer” Eve Ai, and she once again shows her amazing talent with another lead single, this time for Lala Hsu.
In this song, Hsu goes against her typically adorable image, showing a maturity befitting her 33 years of age and and near decade into her career. While most Mandarin love songs usually approach lost love with heartbreak and sorrow, in ‘The Prayer’ Hsu sings of acceptance and moving on, wishing both parties eventually find true love in the future.
For most Mandopop listeners, it is highly therapeutic to sing their hearts out to a sad ballad at the karaoke when experiencing heartbreak. While ‘The Prayer’ may not be such a song, it may just be the most healing song in recent memory, leaving the listener with a sense of peace by the time it finishes.
Aska Yang & Zhang Bichen – 'Bracing The Chill (凉凉)'
Eternal Love was one of the most-watched television dramas in mainland China last year, and its ending theme ‘Bracing The Chill’ also impressed.
The song is a duet between two powerful singers Aska Yang and Zhang Bichen, with beautiful lyrics written by lyricist Liu Chang. They sing of a romance that transcends lifetimes – three, to be precise – in line with the plot of Eternal Love.
Outstanding Mandopop duets have been rare in recent memory, and ‘Bracing The Chill’ stands out thanks to Yang and Zhang, who are able to deliver the emotion of the entire 58-episode drama series in just five-and-a-half minutes. The song was also featured among the top 20 songs of the first half of 2017 in the Global Chinese Golden Chart last year.