Part 1: “Who The Hell Is Eason Chan” and My Long History of C-Pop Love

Well, aside from who Eason Chan is to the world (King of Asian Pop, or #6 in the 2013 Forbes China Celebrity Top 100 List) I can tell you who Eason Chan is to me – and why it’s so complicated that I’m now going to his concert in Vancouver in December.

My Early Chinese Pop Days

I discovered Eason’s music in 1998 or 1999, almost 15 years ago.

Back then, I was at Oklahoma State University, a junior in my undergrad degree. I had friends from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam…and heard more Asian pop music. Napster hadn’t hit yet, Yesasia.com wasn’t a thing yet, so I was buying CDs of Chinese music in Chinatown in LA or San Francisco, borrowing or copying friends’ CDs…whichever I could get to, early Jacky Cheung (張學友), Faye Wong (王菲) and Andy Lau (劉德華)…these CDs were like gold.

Musical discovery of Chinese/Asian music for someone in TX/OK was haphazard and incremental, and required a significant investment compared to today’s Spotify/iTunes/Pandora discoveries. Buying compilation CDs was the best way to discover new artists. I only invested in an artist after I had heard their music — I didn’t have much money back then, supporting myself through college on a waitress’ salary.

As the internet grew up, and Napster and mikemike.com became real resources, translation still far from automated, and a big issue for me. I learned a lot of Chinese characters through memorization of shape combinations, and found music mostly by looking at the backs of CDs for the artist’s name in Chinese, and combing web sites for those character combinations in online chatrooms where MP3s were traded/offered for download.

Finding 陳奕迅

I know I happened upon Eason Chan (陳奕迅)’s Nothing Really Matters MP3s on mikemike.com (much faster than the month delay in getting CDs from HongKong) because my MP3 metadata still says “mikemike.com” in the Notes section. I fell in love with the final track, 愛上你是我眼睛的錯, “Loved You At First Sight” (lit. Loving You Is The Fault of My Eyes). Eason replaced Jacky Cheung as my favorite singer from then on.

I always loved the sound of Cantonese, and Cantonese songs always had a different, less-mainstream, more-experimental flavor to me. Both Cantonese and Mandarin songs are unapologetically sentimental, sweet and romantic, which touched a chord in the young-romantic me. Most Chinese artists have songs in multiple dialects of Chinese (Mandarin songs for Taiwanese and Mainland artists, Cantonese for the Hong Kong audience, Taiwanese for the Taiwan audience).

Asian pop was also remarkably free of explicit sexual references. I appreciated it as a softer, more-romantic genre. As I was learning Mandarin and Japanese in school, my fascination with Asian pop helped me a long way toward my linguistic goals. In high school I had watched Japanese Dramas and listened to Fumiya Fujii (藤井フミヤ) and Yutaka Ozaki (尾崎 豊) — I learned a lot of words in popular culture and from friends, actual living language, that I’d never have been able to learn in the textbooks, and I learned patterns of accent and phrasing, which for me is better-learned auditorially. I never really learned much Cantonese except for 有冇搞錯呀, 多謝/唔該 and how to count to 10. And of course, 好靚仔 (What’s up, Kong Kok-Cheung, wherever you are…).

Creating My Eason Chan Construct

con·struct /ˈkänˌstrəkt/ noun: An idea or theory containing various conceptual elements, typically one considered to be subjective and not based on empirical evidence; “history is largely an ideological construct”

Eason’s music has played a (huge) role in my audio life. My friend Carmen came to visit from Singapore early this year, and it was the first time I have seen her since the early 2000s. She heard me playing his music in my car, and was surprised that I still love Eason, but for me if I love you, I love you. I heard his music in my headphones all day at work, I heard it when I was happy, listened to the sad songs when I got broken up with or left for another woman. I watched the videos, read other fans’ posts, watched interviews, bought CD sets specifically to see the karaoke videos…Like a non-judgmental partner, his music’s always “been there” for me.

While I know that the actual Eason knows nothing of me, and I nothing of his real personhood, the construct of him in my mind through music, videos, karaoke videos, concert videos, and so on, has a real, visceral weight to it. I know that voice inside and out, can pick it out of a lineup any day of the week and twice on Sundays. (And it’s far easier to say “I love him” instead of saying “I love the construct of him that I have in my head that touches my heart in vulnerable places”.)

I can understand how fans can become delusional about “relationships” with famous people because there is a real in-my-head-in-the-dark intimacy about listening to someone for years, half your life (your whole adult life, no less), that makes them very real, in a very personally-constructed way. Even when “nobody loved me”, he sang to me, and it meant a lot. Still does.

Up until January, 2012, I was a die-hard fan. He was My Dream Man, the ideal, and not in the “he’s perfect” sense, but he’s about as impractical and emotional and flawed as I am, and his dark chocolate velvet voice…whew. And he’s funny and adorable and playful, and he speaks perfect English, which is a bonus — I can listen to him in my native language and get to know him that way.

I supported his career in my own tiny way thorough the musical ups and downs (2001’s Shall We Dance? Shall We Talk! Ugh, seriously, man.). I adored him with the unrequited bittersweet eternal devotion I hadn’t given to a star in my adulthood, or really, anyone since I had a Michael Jackson Billie Jean poster on my wall as a young girl. Eason had it all and I was completely devoted…until January of 2012 when he broke my heart.

Time Out Article

Since I discovered and fell in adore with him, I’ve devotedly purchased his albums, and I never questioned whether I should because…Eason. I was going to name my son Eason when I had one, that much was decided. I Liked multiple Eason pages on Facebook to keep up with his music, concerts, and I was so sad for him when his mother passed, and somewhere along the way, had fan-ed Time Out Hong Kong’s FB page.

One day there was a huge stir on the fan pages — Eason had hit London in a big way. From Time Out Hong Kong,

“On November 25, 2011, Time Out received a text message from Eason Chan’s assistant. It read: ‘The [London] ticket officer is asking who the hell Eason Chan is! All the servers are down because his tickets sold out in 20 minutes… faster than Lady Gaga!’”

The magazine had a feature article on Eason, in ENGLISH, and I wanted to read it, desperately. I was ready to buy a copy of the magazine, just that issue, to have it in my files. $30 maybe, NBD, worth it.

I contacted Time Out HK via email Jan 4, 2012:

Heylo! I saw on the TimeOut Facebook page that the current issue has an article on Eason…how can I get a copy of this? 😀 Dying. I live in Dallas, Tx — Thank you so much!

They responded ever-so-kindly:

Dear Colleen,

Thanks for your support to Time Out Hong Kong!

I’m sure you would be happy to pay for a copy but the postage & bank charge is too high when compare to our selling price. It’s like HK$18 cover price plus a few hundred HKD going to post office & bank.

Therefore, here comes the low res pdf version of the interview. Hope you enjoy it…

YES VERY YES PLEASE. I read the article immediately, devoured paragraphs like

He isn’t your usual rock n’ roll megastar who cruises dangerously close to the heavens while looking down on the world as if every word he says comes from Yahweh’s hymnbook. Rather he’s more like your long lost friend, someone who guffaws at shared jokes and tells you to buzz off or shut up; someone who rolls about on the sofa trying to make a fart as audible as possible, or sneaks up behind you to steal your cigarettes. If anything, Chan’s boyish charm does nothing to diminish his supernova aura. In fact it makes you adore him even more.

because DUH, what could make me adore him more I KNEW HE WAS AWESOME.

…when I stumbled on this line:

Time Out: Okay, President Obama might get kicked out of the Whitehouse…

Chan: I don’t care. I don’t know America. [Laughs] I don’t like Americans. I think America is already quite mental.

I…what. what?

I stumbled through the rest of the article, barely comprehending what it said. Maybe I should have been prepared for this because,

Chan, whose verbal diarrhoea is a charming mixture of Freudian slips, epic Spoonerisms and a heavy splash of plain old foot-in-mouth disease…

but until today I have been hurt, deeply, by this simple statement.

Reality check: This man is known for saying things that he doesn’t really mean (like me). This was probably a flippant, off-the-cuff comment. As a media person, I know words in print have so much more weight than words tossed about in verbal conversation. He doesn’t know me. Audience-wise, my little drop-in-the-bucket album sales are nothing. I’m not his target demographic. At. All. Why should he watch what he says about Americans, anyway? Even the English, in the country he spent many years in as a kid, ask “who the hell” he is.

It’s silly, in a way, my reaction, and I try not to beat myself up for it regularly. He didn’t mean it to hit me squarely in my chest, but I felt like such a fool. I’ve made a lot of effort to gain access to his music, music of an individual who dismisses my country and my self and who I am out of hand, so easily. It’s pure prejudgement, which is simultaneously not at all personal, and completely personal. He has an audience he cares about, and that audience isn’t…me.

Now, I have never attempted to “make myself known to him”, written fan mail, or anything like that, because really, it’s a drop in the ocean of attention/false affection he gets, and as such, not at all special. But a construct of him is alive and powerful in my mind. I’ve wanted to write about it since it happened, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit foolish, and I couldn’t think of a way to explain it that didn’t make me look like a rube.

I immediately stopped listening to his music, but I couldn’t bring myself to take it off my phone, or out of my library. I still “love” him. I’d happen upon a song occasionally at random, but I didn’t want to give that headspace back because…yeah. Burn me once, shame on me. I removed the subscription updates to the FB fan pages, stopped buying his CDs, and Kpop fell into the vacuum. I don’t make any real effort to learn much about my favorite Kpop stars because I’ve learned that’s probably not in my best interests, really.

Now listening to his music, when I actually do, has the (ridiculous) keen edge of a lost romance mixed with a bit of shame in yourself for having loved so foolishly, like hearing a former lover’s voice in a recording you didn’t expect to hear again, like remembering an emotion you’d thought was gone.

Maybe you’ve lost some respect for me, but it is what it is. This musical-emotional journey between the construct and myself took a very unexpected twist, and I never really recovered from it.

On to Part 2: “Who The Hell Is Eason Chan” and My Long History of C-Pop Love