– or –
I think that for a lot of Mayday fans, the Shin Band (信樂團) was the band we loved to hate. Take two nominally “rock” bands from Taiwan, each with five members and a lead singer named “Ashin,” both making inroads on the mainland, and watch the sparks fly.
The Shin Band and their fans seem to enjoy deriding Mayday – their music isn’t rock, their lead singer has the wrong nickname (per Taiwanese tradition, 陳信宏 should be nicknamed 阿宏), their lead singer is frequently off-key, their music is bubblegummy and omnipresent.
A Mayday fan myself (no, really!), I take my fair share of shots at the Shin Band – why the constant trash talk? Jealous, anyone? But really, my major issue is with this whole “real rock band” nonsense. Okay, Mayday’s music isn’t hard rock. That’s not even debatable – point taken. But what about the Shin Band? Sure, the style is rock, but the composition issue is a sore point for me.
I am perpetually amazed by the failure of Shin Band’s fans and consumers of Mandopop in general to care about this point. If an Anglophone band came out and didn’t write their own music, they wouldn’t make it out of their parents’ garages. Covering songs is great for practice, but after you graduate from high school and the local beer joint, it is time to put pen to paper. By relying on covers, remakes, and the composing talents of their American producer, the only thing that separates the Shin Band from idol groups like 5566 is the substitution of instruments for synchronized dancing.
I remember when I first discovered the Shin Band. I bought their CD “天高地厚” while I was living in Nanjing, and I remember being really excited… all the way until I got home and opened up the packaging. Who is Keith Stuart, I wondered, and why is he credited for writing almost all the music? Playing the CD, I found it oddly familiar – every track sounded a bit like the songs of late 80s and early 90s hair bands. Monster ballads done mandopop style.
Actually, I have discovered quite a few Shin Band songs I really enjoy (after all, I like monster ballads), or should I say, I’ve discovered a few Shin Band performances of other people’s songs that I can appreciate. Korean-hit-turned-mandopop-classic “離歌” is quite difficult to sing, but Shin does a good job with it. Off my one Shin Band album, I also really grew to like “因為有你” and title track “天高地厚.” Two other famous Shin Band hits, “One Night in 北京” and “死了都要愛” are also rather addictive. In general, Shin strikes me as a rather good live performer, and I keep that one studio album in regular rotation on my iPod.
As of last week, Shin will continue to take his singing skills on the road, but without the assistance of the rest of the band. Part of me feels like this is about right – the man is a singer, not a musician. He can belt out his rock ballads with just about anyone or anything providing backup. I, for one, will be far less prone to criticize him if he’s not mouthing off about being a part of a rock band.
The band’s break up, though, is nothing short of bizarre. Shin has been seduced away from his old record company by a new label that apparently considered signing the whole band… but didn’t want to fork over the money. So they grabbed the lead singer, who (frankly) is the Shin Band, and declared that it has always been his dream to “go solo.” (Shin also had an existing dispute with his management.) The rest of the band – caught wholly off-guard by the news – has a half-finished album languishing in the recording studio, and without Shin, they can’t really carry on as the “Shin Band.”
This is beyond contemptible – if you’re leaving the band named for you, can’t you at least make a few phone calls to the other members and give them a quick heads-up? Or make an effort to finish what you start, so as not to waste the time and money of everyone who worked on the album? Lots of groups put out albums after they break up… if they can break up amicably. It is hard to imagine any scenario under which Shin’s actions would leave a path open for future cooperation. Nor is it going to make life as a solo artist any easier, I think. Meanwhile, the old record company is angrily filing lawsuits over breach of contract and the like, though it is not yet clear how much of a case they have.
I don’t think it is a secret that however much I might enjoy listening to him sing, I’ve never much cared for Shin as a person. This unholy mess does little to improve my opinion of him. But I also suspect it is not the time for Mayday to be jumping into the fray with talk of taking on the Shin Band or having a song-contest to see who’s best – boys, there is no Shin Band. Let it be.
Shin himself seems a bit uncharacteristically quiet at the moment, but I doubt that will last long. I even doubt that the absence of a band will stop him from continuing on with the “Mayday isn’t really a rock band” trash talk. And that’s almost good – we need him, I think, as a foil for our own Ashin. If he disappeared altogether, I think I’d miss him. But maybe what can come out of this – if both sides can manage to behave – is an end to the bad feeling between the diametrically opposed Shin and Mayday fandoms. If we’ll be nice and not dance on the Shin Band’s grave, can you not be quite so condescending about the rock credentials of Mayday?