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Jay Chou, The Musical Genius


Cultures make music. The desire to string notes together into something like a melody seems to be innate to humans.

There is the degree of variation that exists across cultures in terms of how people hear, evaluate, and create music.

Some cultures have a background in musical harmony. Their musical traditions involve playing their traditional instruments with multiple notes at the same time.

The melodies we prefer may not be quite so universal. But, if the melody is good enough to make people feel something, no matter what kind of music or language the artists are singing: Chinese, Indian, or Spanish, people can still enjoy the music.

Jay Chou, a Taiwanese musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, film producer, actor and director, combines Chinese style music and Western music.

The combination of Chinese and Western music is not something new. Some musicians have done it long before Chou makes music. But, Chou makes it different. He established the complexity in his musical arrangement with various musical instruments to produce songs that fuse R&B, rap, rock, jazz, and pop genres.

As a Hollywood actor, Jay Chou is no stranger to Western audiences. However, Chou's clearest self-direction is in music. He is one of influential figure in popular culture, who able to create strong nuance of pessimistic romantic, sweet-love story, sad moment, brutal-thrilling situation, and the epic drama in his songs. The music videos employing graphic storytelling to evoke vivid imagery to his audience.

"Nunchucks" (雙截棍), lyrics by Vincent Fang, music composed by Jay Chou. The song appears on Jay Chou second album, Fantasy, released in 2001

The term "Chou Style" has been popularized to describe his trademark cross-cultural music and his insistence on singing with slurred enunciation, to infuse the vocals with the music and make it blend well together.

He also adopted clearer pronunciation for certain songs, particularly more traditional Chinese style songs, such as "Chrysanthemum Terrace" (菊花台), "Lan-Ting-Xu (蘭亭序), and "Passer-by" (天涯過客).

Some of Chou's songs are written in the Pentatonic Scale as opposed to the more common seven-note scale (Diatonic scale) to accentuate an oriental style.

Besides Chinese classical instruments, he also incorporated Spanish guitar in "Red Imitation" (紅模仿), American techno/electronica in "Herbalist's Manual" (本草綱目), rap with subtle classical music undertones in "Reverse Scales" (逆鱗), blues in "Free Tutorial Video" (免費教學錄影帶) and bossanova in "Rosemary" (迷迭香), to name a few.

"In The Name of Father" (以父之名 官方完整), lyrics by Jun-Lang Huang, music composed by Jay Chou. The song appears on Jay Chou fourth album, Ye Hui Mei, released in 2003. The album features songs about Mafia and drug lords

Sound effects from everyday life are frequently woven into Chou's music, such as bouncing ping pong balls, touch tone phone dialing, helicopter blades, dripping rain, and radio static noise.

Chou took piano lessons at the age of four and trained in classical music. In the third grade, he became interested in music theory and also started cello lessons. While in high school, he showed talent for improvisation, became fond of pop music and began to write songs.

His formal musical training is evident by the use of classical textures in his compositions. For example, counterpoint was used in "Perfection" (完美主義) and "Sorry" (對不起), while polyphony can be found in "The Wound That Ends War" (止戰之殤) and "Twilight's Chapter Seven" (夜的第七章).

Meanwhile, there is a great man behind Chou's great songs. That man is Vincent Fang, a Taiwanese lyricist.

Fang has been writing lyrics for Chou since Chou's debut album in 2000, titled Jay. Since then, Chou produced albums in which Fang contributes the majority of the lyrics.

Fang using a writing style similar to traditional Chinese poetry, making frequent references to Chinese history, folklore, and Confucianism. He calls his style of lyrical poetry "Su Yan Rhyme Poetry", which has become a new poetry form in modern Chinese musical literature.

Vincent Fang and Jay Chou

Fang's lyrics are noted for covering a wide of issues from family, war, the Bible, sports, and martial arts, beyond what is normally discussed in love ballads.

Fang's lyrics helping to establish an important element in Chou's music: the use of meaningful, imagery- and emotionally rich lyrics, have made the songs authentic and epic.

"Chrysanthemum Terrace" (菊花台), lyrics by Vincent Fang, music composed by Jay Chou. The song appears on Jay Chou seventh album, Still Fantasy, released in 2006. It's also a soundtrack of 2006 Chinese film, Curse of the Golden Flower 

Chou himself has written lyrics for many ballads, but has also discussed societal ills such as drug addiction in "Coward" (懦夫) and loss of the rural countryside to urbanization in "Terrace fields" (梯田). Domestic violence discussed in "Dad, I am back" (爸,我回來了), received a great deal of commotion since he was the first to bring up this taboo subject in Sanscript music, made the songs revolutionary.

Since his debut in 2000, his music has gained recognition throughout Asia and in the Asian communities of Western countries. He has sold more than 30 million albums and has received numerous awards for his musical works.

"Passer-by" (天涯過客), lyrics by Vincent Fang, music composed by Jay Chou. The song appears on Jay Chou thirteenth album, Aiyo, Not Bad, released in 2014