Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Chou Style: The Essence of Jay

That's Jay striking a characteristic pose as he sings (obviously) Nunchucks, one of his most popular rap songs ever, which is immediately recognisable and a must at practically all his concerts. In fact, he has said that he hopes to be able to keep singing it until he's in his 50s...lol!

For tonight's post, I'm going to highlight some aspects which I feel are distinguishing features of his music and the essence of Jay Chou.

1) Rapping

The irrefutable fact is that nobody, but NOBODY raps like Mr Chou!
From Wife on his first album, to Nunchucks on the second, all the way to Super Sports Goddess on his latest Exclamation Mark, Jay's signature rapping is evident in many songs, and not just the fast ones. Even for slow numbers like Rainbow, Fireworks Cool Easily and Chinese-style ballads viz Hair Like Snow, he effortlessly inserts in some form of rap which actually enhances the song, whether as a main part or in the background.
He feels that's his trademark sound and he really does it very well.
I think his success can partly be attributed to the quality of his voice, which has a natural timbre....which I find very pleasant to listen to.
I caught an interview with him where he explained how he got started on rapping in his school days when he used some of his recorded sounds to make fun of his friend and wanted to add words on top of it....which developed into a sort of rap.
Frankly, I have never enjoyed listening to Western English rap songs, mainly because many of them sound very crass (to me) and have questionable lyrics.
But not Jay's, which I shall never tire of, as his lyrics are always nice and 'clean'.

2) Sound effects

Whirring helicopters on Loveable Woman, thunder and rain in Father I'm Home, birds chirping on Fragrance of Rice, gunshots in The Final Battle, spoken conversations on Mr Magic, Free Instructional Video, ping pong balls in Third Year Second Class....the list goes on!
Jay just loves to include all these and more which make his songs stand out.

Update on 7 March 2013:

Here's an awesome vid compilation of all the sound effects Jay has used, starting from the very first album all the way to the present OPUS 12:

3) Slurred enunciation

I've mentioned this in my Introduction post but this is one aspect which is also very essentially Jay!
He often 'blames' it on Vincent's complicated lyrics...haha...but has admitted it was something which he did not consciously set out to do; that way of singing was just him. And although his fans obviously love it, I also know many people who were turned off...well, their loss!
My view is that his music is the more important component of his songs and as long as I can hum along to the melody, the words do not matter.
Jay has also cleverly given this another angle by telling listeners to read the lyrics if they want to know what he is singing....after all, that is why CDs come with lyric sheets and one should also regard the words as a work of art to be appreciated by reading them.

Here's a link to an interview where Jay talks about his 'unclear way of singing':


However, do note that he doesn't sing like this in ALL his songs. :)

4) Interweaving tunes and harmonies

Jay is a master at putting three or more themes or melodies together in one song, with a strong bass line. As a simple example, I shall share a song which I have not yet featured in the other posts viz Shadow Puppetry aka Pi Ying Xi:
Translation: http://www.jaychoustudio.com/jay-chou-translations/shadow-puppetry/155

The intro itself already has three different tunes. Jay then comes in with the verse in a rap manner, with that same background which recurs all the way through....this song sounds simple but is really not! Likewise for most of his other songs. Jay is genius!

5) "WOO!"

The first note on his very first track from his very first album starts with this totally Jay-esque and fabulous "WOO!"
I think more more than half of his songs have this sound somewhere or other and which he very naturally adds in...and it sounds appropriate even in the slow songs, as he tempers the volume and length of the "WOO!" accordingly. :)

6) Ornamentation

By this, I'm referring to how Jay sings certain lines in a way which makes the tune more interesting. A simple example would be in the chorus of Tornado: wo bu neng ~~, where he sings the 'neng' in a 'wavy' manner.
Just listen to it and you'll understand.
If not, just take it from me; he's a natural at this and I think it comes from his strong classical music background.

7) Strong and memorable melodic lines

The melody is the raison d'etre for any song and this is where Jay excels, whether using just a limited range of notes or otherwise, or as different lines all mashed up as mentioned in Point #4 above.
I cannot always sing the lyrics of his songs but humming or la-la-ing the melodies are fulfilling enough for me. :))

8) Unusual modulations and chord progressions

In music, a modulation refers to a change from one key to another and it makes a song much more interesting when used.
Chord progressions can range from simple to complex to fit and add a different feel to the melody.
Remember that Jacky Wu was impressed by Jay's complex music score when he was on the talent contest?
Well, in playing Jay's music on the piano, I've realised that his use of these devices are indeed unusual and a significant reason why his songs have a certain character and flavour...I can't say it otherwise.

9) Lyric improvisations during performances

Jay loves to change the lyrics of his songs during concerts and other performances. Sometimes it's because he forgot the words!
But more often than not, he likes to use this as a way to add humour, entertain and almost always to thank his fans.
And the response is always resoundingly, hysterically approving!
One great example was during the Incomparable concert at the end of his rendition of Return To The Past.
Another example was in The Era concert, during I'm Not Worthy, where he changed the lyrics of this serious song to funny ones which were about him forgetting the words and improvising...lol!
He also does this very often impromptu and it seems really natural and effortless on his part....and it's a major reason why his fans love him so much!

That's all I can think of for now.
If there are more, I shall add in so do check back periodically.
And yes, I'm still entranced by Mr Chou's music even after more than a year. :)

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