Tina Nai-hui Pan
Professor Kate Liu
English 483200510

Chen Shan-ni (陳珊妮) :

An Instance of Eclecticism in Music Creativity and Mystification of Female Images

     I intend to propose the analysis of the image of another female artist and the process of this image-making. Sandee Chan or Chan Shan-ni is a so-called "alternative" singer or music writer/composer within the market of popular music since her music is still published by a label (Friendly Dogs) belonging to a rather mainstream company in Taiwan (Rock Records). As a woman artist, how do her music and her image correspond or corroborate to extend or reinforce the discourse of a "female voice" ( 女 聲)distinct in its meaning and audience. To put it more precisely, different from the apparatus or mechanization of pop music and its particular formula and systematic production, Chan's music is somehow out of the norm "permitted" to be a smash hit and a well-sold or popularized commodity. The strategy of keeping her works within a limited audience or consumers is positive in the sense that it preserves its quality and "originality" from being groomed gradually into the pop or trends decided by both the majority of the market and taste of the audience. However, whether her music is truly out of the control of the market or less decided by the dominant style of the field or it is the "myth of individuality" at work (Hall 75) (pseudo originality and pseudo individualism brought up by Ardono and Horkheimer) is the main question of this paper. The same argument can be fitted in the question and nature of her image. Since she seldom sells her albums along with her outer appearance and little publicity, I will discuss the female image by interpreting the lyrics, which are mainly her own writings. Furthermore, the interaction between the image of this female artist and the market expectations is interesting to explore because of her "alternative" concept of selling her albums, peculiar compared with other (female) artists. 

    In the lyrics of Chan's albums, a more personal yet widely shared section of life (that of a female singer or an underground music ambiance embodied in its nonconformitism) is presented. A part of the composer or lyrics writer is being exposed to unite with the kind of music or vocalizing in the Bob Dylan's style of talking-singing( 念 唱 ), only with a bit more melody and complexity and variety of the use of instruments and their arrangement. Her image is that of a typical female singer deriving from the mode of cooperation or unit of underground bands. Despite her affiliation with the circle of underground music featuring its differentiation from the mainstream of the pop music market, Chen did not utterly resist the typical or standardized process of commercializing music. From my own observations, her refraining from appearing in the variety shows to follow the customary means of publicity is an effective strategy to distinguish her role and image of a music professional, doing and selling the music that particularly appeals to herself. This also creates another mystification of an alternative female singer-composer-writer. In this manner, it demonstrates a very good example of how artists are still and always under the hegemony of market-determination. The subjectivity of Chen is built up outside the discourse of love songs (the favorite and the main feature of Chinese pop songs in Taiwan); yet on the one hand, her individuality is created dependent on the existence of a "mainstream" and the alternative choice other than the mainstream offered systematically and mechanically by the majority of the market and the audience/consumers. On the other hand, the myth of her individuality and alternativeness is constructed to meet the preference and need of an alternative local music. If the taste of any music artist or any artist is predetermined by the products offered and produced by the market, then the so-called alternative music or even experimental music can not originate or be created out of nothing. Any former experience of listening must be decisive in one choice of a music style, instrument-arrangement, a vocal style and representation of image. Then here comes the question of pseudo-individuality and -originality. The necessity of identification of the audience with the artist requires the artist to cater to a certain category of audience and music taste. The change of style or obliteration of the promised tendency might cause great harm and disrepute on the part of the artist, for example, Bob Dylan's using the electric guitar in one of his concerts. The identification of the artist with the audience then becomes compelling if the artist intends to keep the market (c.f. 搖 滾 樂 社 會 學 3 5 4). This bondage or linkage between the artist and the audience is a crucial catalytic agent of popularizing the works or albums. It would then develop a stronger discourse. The alternative music in Taiwan is based on the emergence of underground groups. In the initial stage of the popularization of their work or concepts, without any expectation or preference of previous audience, creativity may have the largest and the vastest space to itself. Now as it progresses (or retrogresses), the alternative music (foreign groups or artists) in Taiwan and world market, which is mainly decided by the English-speaking cultures, is no longer alternative and takes the position of a second "mainstream" if we look at the selling and popularity of Brit-pop and techno-dance. 

    Chan's music or image is not totally "contaminated" by commercialization and the exploitation that follows because of her precaution to stay outside intentionally this trend of upraising the "alternative" and the admiration for the "different." The formation of her music or the production of her discourse, that is, a female singer capable of composition lyric-wise and music-wise and at the same time, originality (in Leavisite's words, "sincerity") (搖 滾 樂 與 大 眾 文 化 3 4 7), is consciously established in the circumstances under which the least damage is done to the so-called personality and originality through which the artist still possesses the most proportion of decision-making. In this direction, it would be very controversial to discuss the influence and restraints of market-orientation in the production of her music. In the environment of Taiwan's popular music, it may be a bit demanding and over-reaching to discuss the verity or existence of pseudo originality and pseudo individualism, for it is already gratifying if there is any suspicion of originality involved in an album and it would seem too ungrateful to question the work. Of course, I am being cynical here, and it is still arguable whether it is the better kind of music if it is more original and more creative in cultural studies. Then it would go back to the controversy over the definition or value-judgment of popular culture or artistic involvement or participation in this big machine. If we are as pessimistic as Ardono and Horkheimer (Hall 76), then even the alternative music in Taiwan is no doubt also the feigned "conceit" prepared and pre-organized to fit in the realm of alternative music. However, the originality and the definition of creativity are more or less relative here. 

    The female image of Chan in the macrocosmic view of the whole market provisions of images of female singers or artists is self-sufficient in one way and yet unstable, endangered by the main discourse of the image production of female singers or artists. In limiting her own image as actual physical appearance in public occasions (no publicity period or activities or deliberate polishing of a public persona), she somehow achieves to win over the monopolization (temporarily) and the potentially threatening exploitation by the market (including the record companies and audience requirements or tastes). And all this is based on the premises that her music and style are not to appeal to the majority of the market. With this acknowledgment or hypothesis borne in mind, we may continue to ask whether she is developing consciously or unconsciously a gradually dominating discourse, that is, a process of myth-making and self-adjustment into a grander and powerful discourse. 

 Compared with the established and standardized systems of making or sculpting the image of a female singer, Chan is much more independent and self-conscious. The lyrics of many of her songs are evidently aware of the perilously devouring monster of music industry and the conventions it contains. In her latest album, 《 當 壞 人 還 沒 變 壞 ,“ 往 高 雄 的 最 後 一 班 車 沒 有 歌 聲 ”challenges the glossy intent of enhancing the self-awareness of Taiwan's aboriginals and how the music industry can exploit and profit from the minority in the disguise of proliferating and advocating the right and identity of the group. She criticizes, "寫 一 首 歌 頌 土 地 的 台 灣 歌 / 唱 這 裡 的 人 沒 有 靈 魂 / 出 一 張 唱 片 告 訴 大 家 原 住 民 都 是 神 / 賺 了 三 百 多 萬 不 和 他 們 分 / 出 賣 土 地 的 感 情 歌 / 出 賣 自 己 的 靈 魂 / 出 賣 自 己 故 鄉 的 精 神." Her perspective of love songs or love in today's popular music has the critical and self-reflective quality also. They are not mere love songs with the usual sighs, complaints, moans and self-pity dominating or pervading 90's Chinese love songs in general (probably with the exception of a small portion of folk songs). They may not be intended to suggest any narrative or ideology that claims to be the right solution or attitude, but they are sung with a shade of inquisition and decadent and flippant contempt. The tone is satirical yet matter-of-factedly presents the real aspect of love relationship, "大 白 天 裡 看 星 星 / 越 看 越 傷 心 / 看 不 見 你 的 眼 睛 / 思 念 到 生 病" in " 貧 血 ." With a tinge of pessimism and melancholy resignation, the works manifest an involuntary playfulness and levity issuing from the urban culture. The lyrics of Chan appear to be personal and oftentimes passages of the records of a woman's daily experience, which are full of far-fetched metaphors and symbols to create a rather extended space of imagination and philosophization. This side of her writings are quite similar to the conceits of metaphysical poets. That is also why a review in China Times comments that the latest album is much closer to our life experience, but the possibility for imagination is less compared with the previous albums (China Times of Dec. 13, 1997 by 翁 嘉 銘 ). A very impressive influence of Chan's music is the ambiance of a urban decadence or indifference and a hallucinatory effect that can work paradoxically with the self-awareness conveyed by her lyrics concerning love relationship and the insecurity and danger ("天 冷 怕 黑," "地 球 上 的 女 人 ," and "最 後 一 班 公 車") generally felt by women in cities. The absurdness and inconsistency in the meanings or alignment of words persist as the first-time audience may sense certain poeticality in the physical images or curiously constructed of the new dimension in a singer/artist. This new space is very alike that of the disorderly and nihilistic psychological territory or mapping of set of mind the urban youngsters, however, and even more and more so into the end of the 90's. Lyrics not making any sense on the surface provide a room or fugitive moment of escapism, only this one is foregrounded with a strongly personalized and life-abounding elements. The music with these lyrics is a keyhole through which a more "profound" voyeurism can take place. Actually, we can find the lyrics quite imaginative and creative; conversely the attractiveness was produced through a very realistic presentation of a woman artist's thoughts whether they be the true Chan or not, which is highly debatable here. 

 In the bustling emergence of new idols with the intentional shaping and adornment of images by the record companies, Chan somehow tries to stay the group of singing and writing music for the sake of music. This is also what a lot of pop singers who are able to write their own songs claim to contrive all the time. Nevertheless, Chan has fashioned her own style by not compromising to the market demand with personlization and option her music style. This is also a strategic device to make room for the minority's taste. The contradictory part of her image production is that she alleges to make her "own" music and to maintain the quality of her music according to the traditional standard of the folk music of not mechanically reproducing the trends of the market; however, simultaneously, she creates another myth of "alternative" image that would certainly make allowances for the group tired of the mechanic production of popular music, as many of the alleged or publicized "alternative" groups or singers today, such as "亂 彈," "黑 名 單 工 作 室," and even the "alternative" vocalizing of 楊 乃 文 or 王 菲. The manners of being alternative may be very diverging among these artists, but the mass media or the mass for one reason or another can not refrain from classifying them as the "alternative" artists, and thus a myth of contemporary Taiwan's music market. Another paradox in Chan's image is that she emphasizes the content of her music and the concepts of her works, and indeed, her works do weigh a great proportion in her image; on the other hand, the booklets of her discs are full of images of herself, either in the form of photograph or of paintings/sketches. At first, I was mesmerized at the capability and versatility of an artist devoted to music. Yet, at a second thought, I begin to suspect the fullness of her own pictures on the covers and booklets. Of course, these images are not solely pictures of publicity; on the contrary, they are well-wrought and well-designed to assert a certain meanings or notions to match the whole ambiance and style of the album. While avoiding the power of subjugation by the market, she unconsciously takes side with the market tendency or ways of presenting female singers, in particular, "alternative" ones. These female figures in her albums may correspond with the lyrics, but they also arouse a serious consideration of the contradiction of a folk musician confronting the dilemma of selling her music along with her image and preserving the attributes authentic to herself. On this matter, we might as well conclude that Chan is good at manipulating the apparatus of record industry to make her voice heard in a limited and well-selected group of audience, and at the same time, to label her music as "alternative," which is also emblematic of non-conformitism. There is however another doubt lingering in my mind--should any individual asserting her/his identity and assuring his/her existence with the exposition of his/her image to the extent of megalomania, which is the general or necessary evil of public profiles or mass media? In the reinforcement of female voices and their multiplicity, is it a mere strategy or still a symptom of self-absorption? 

    Lei Guang-xia's only album "我 是 雷 光 夏" can be a text of comparison here. This release belongs to a series or sub-label called "Herself" or "女 歌 製 樂" from Crystal Records, a major "alternative" label which took the initiative of publishing some underground music in the 80's in Taiwan. This album is a special sound reservoir, collecting a variety of sounds of ambiance from diverse occasions. This specialty is used to concatenate the voice of Lei, which is revitalizing and reminiscing of the simplicity and clarity of Taiwan's Chinese folk songs of campus from the 70's or early 80's. The female image of Lei is not merely embedded in the visual presentation, but clearly in the music recorded even though the music style may not be as strong and powerful in its originality and choice of instruments as Chan's. There is also reflection on life, childhood, environment, land, and for sure, female perspicacity. The texts of music or lyrics of Lei stress the concept of self-expression as a female vocalist and the presentation of a female artist by means of sound and voice. I think to say that plenitude of self-image in visual presentation is unprofessional or vulgar is not fair to any artist, especially in popular art, but again, it raises the alarm to see how the convention and the stereotype of the use of female figures or bodies can be unconsciously repeated or imitated out of norm instead of purposeful manipulation. 

    From the perspective of music production, we can not neglect the fact that Chan is still contracted with one of the biggest record company in Taiwan and that her image must have been well controlled by the market investigators of the company, otherwise she would not have been an object of contracting. The passage in 《 搖 滾 樂 與 大 眾 文 化 》(360-3) is rather helpful in my understanding and expansion of the positioning of the artist confronting the gigantic formulation and apparatus of music production and commodification. A popular music artist is not exempt from the inclusion of the apparatus of music industry, maybe not even in the field of classic music nowadays. The production of an image or discourse is supported by a grander and more powerful discourse. The birth of an artist can not be completely self-made because the recording of the music, the machines, the technologies and the manufacturing of discs or cassettes are all under the control of the financially and executively stronger and superior. Chan's music in the posture of urban audience of the 90's generation in Taiwan is very revealing, but while or before I try to develop more critical points out of her image and her music, I realize that I have to commit the act of commercializing and consuming a product under the domination of music orientation and maybe vulgarizing the purely rock-n-roll or folk music spirit. I, as an audience or a critic, can not even evade the grouping of the market strategy, and to criticize or extend a studying stance, I have to spend money or borrow the discs that friends have bought. All kinds of listening or reading involve the act of purchasing and consuming. In this age of consumerism, all human activities can not be outside the capitalistic mode or habits. The economically enhanced class or power is still at work. 

    In fact, I do admire the courage of a female artist as Chan's in the pop music field here in this island because she does contribute concretely her capabilities and talents to the market dominated by the banal and harangued types of bemoaning songs and repeatedly copied styles. Although any artist committing her/himself to commercializing her/his music has to somehow encounter the various choices and turning points to survive in the market of all forms of arts, Chan's example explains how another "alternative" option in the currents of fast-changing modes and types of images has positively set a track which other (female) artists can refer to and also reflect upon in their process of "voicing" themselves. The main problematic in the paper can be efficaciously probed in a passage by Chan in her 1995's album, "乘 噴 射 機 離 去," which accentuates again the key to dilemma of pop music and the market determination, " 我 很 想 告 訴 大 家 聽 音 樂 時 要 有 使 用 前 搖 一 搖 的 觀 念 / 但 是 你 可 能 就 抱 著 陳 珊 妮 的 專 輯 猛 力 搖 晃 起 來 / 以 為 這 是 一 張 能 使 封 面 顏 色 改 變 甚 至 封 面 人 去 表 情 改 變 的 特 殊 包 裝 / 因 為 人 害 怕 改 變 自 己 / 所 以 希 望 去 動 搖 別 人 / 這 就 是 為 什 麼 Bob Dylan 改 彈 電 吉 他 或 是 Susan Vega 用 了 MIDI 就 會 被 一 些 樂 評 人 批 評 / 其 實 使 用 前 搖 一 搖 的 意 思 是 告 訴 你 不 要 害 怕 搖 晃 自 己 太 過 安 定 的 腦 袋." 



Works Cited

Chan, Shan-ni. 《 華 盛 頓 砍 倒 櫻 桃 樹 》. Friendly Dogs, 1994. 

Chan, Shan-ni. 《 乘 噴 射 機 離 去 》. Friendly Dogs, 1995. 

Chan, Shan-ni. 《 四 季 末 的 唱 遊 》. Friendly Dogs, 1996. 

Chan, Shan-ni. 《 當 壞 人 還 沒 變 壞 》. Friendly Dogs, 1997. 

Lei, Guang-xia. 《 我 是 雷 光 夏 》. Crystal Records, 1995. 

《 搖 滾 樂 與 大 眾 文 化 》