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Home  /  Inside China  /  周杰伦 Jay Chou – Different appeal in East and West
周杰伦 Jay Chou – Different appeal in East and West print version
A singing model or a skillful songwriter? A honorable spokesman of Chinese companies or a proud Taiwanese? Different forces are linked to the Zhou Jielun (Jay Chou) enterprise, but it seems that they all push his popularity forward.

There is no doubt that Zhou Jielun, known in the west as Jay Chou, is more than a music artist. He presents products, he acts in movies (until the new Hollywood The Green Hornet his most celebrated role was in Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower) and he is all over the place. Still, it is surprising to hear that many Chinese, including girls who admire Zhou, don't regard him as a 'pretty-boy'. 'His eyes are too small' is a common response I got when asking Zhou fans how come they don't think he is good looking. On the other hand, even Chinese who don't like his poppy music often express respect to the fact he has been a songwriter-singer-producer for around a decade already (though he is only 32) and that he is a true musician.

It seems that the fact Zhou is engaged in many commercial activities and doesn't focus on music only, doesn't make him a less credited musician in the eyes of many Chinese. Maybe this has to do with the lower level of cynicism Chinese might have towards model-actors-singers or perhaps something in his music is truly unique.

Zhou shot a commercial for Sprite with NBA star Kobe Bryant not long ago, but he is also a presenter of Chinese enterprises, such as China Mobile, local milk tea and various brands of clothes. The familiarity of his face is induced through his appearance in CCTV productions, including performing a few times in the popular Chinese New Year Gala (央视春晚), the peak of national television (and of national sentiments among viewers). The fact that Zhou Jielun is Taiwanese doesn't really prevent Chinese from seeing him as one of them (just like most of them view Taiwan as Chinese), though there is more complexity in this equation.

Some internet posts about Zhou Jielun in mainland China indeed see him as a source of national pride, while other mention his nice songs, while not approving the fact he is a proud Taiwanese and hardly a patriotic Chinese. A higher level of disapproval of anger rarely exists in public debates about Zhou.

Overall, the Taiwanese roots mostly play in favor of Zhou Jielun's success in China. His cool style and success overseas (even if in the west he still has a way to go, in Japan, Korea and southeast Asia he is a phenomenal star), along with his familiarity with Chinese culture make him both a local role-model and a foreign star, enjoying the halo of both positions. The Taiwanese pop culture in general is more modernized than that in mainland China, and thus esteemed in by the latter, though the two are also integrated and associated with each other in numerous ways.

If most Chinese see Zhou Jielun as a talented artist who is expanding into other domains, foreigners meeting with the Jay Chou phenomenon in China first see a huge popular star and only then might stop an listen to his music. Furthermore, the 'small eyes' isn't necessary a drawback for such foreigners who might actually think Zhou is very good looking.

Zhou announced in the past that he will sing only in Chinese and it is more likely that he wins western hearts through his acting and modeling than through his music. Even if his songs would be sung in English, it is probable that the values and topics he mentions, while they are appreciated in China, won't be regarded as too conservative and sissy in the west (take for example this line - Listen to Mama's words, I want to grow up quickly so I can take care of her, taken from his hit 听妈妈的话 Listen to mama), not matching the cool rebellious look he is trying to portray.

The differences appeal Zhou Jielun might have between east and west might be slightly transformed by small one-on-one cultural bridges, such as westerners who are familiar with Chinese culture, who could present his songs to native friends, as well as Asians in the west, who perhaps inform the people in their surrounding that Zhou is more than a pretty face. Anyway you look at it, while Zhou might be misunderstood or not appreciated to the fullest in some domains, he still enjoys different types of popularity and, needless to say, incomes that most Hollywood stars can only dream of.

Zhou Jielun showing off with another Chinese movie star

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