Written by Lance on June 1, 2010
Read our interview with Taiwanese popstar Cindy Yen as she shares information on becoming a star in Taiwan, her early life, what it's like working with Jay Chou, and more.
AmpedAsia.com: What groups did you participate in and what activities did you do while you were at UT?
Cindy Yen: When I was at UT, everyone knew me as the "busy-bee"... running around everywhere all the time. Haha, my roommates never saw me. I double-majored in piano performance and broadcast journalism, and I was also actively involved with my church and campus fellowship. I also found and directed a capella singing group, and was a member of a hip-hop dance team on campus. These are just to name a few... of course I also performed at a lot of talent shows, beauty pageants, etc. I guess in college I just tried to seize every opportunity to do what I loved... and it was also in college that I first started songwriting and gathered up the courage to perform my own songs in front of audience. But all these experiences in college kind of helped train me, in a way, for the career path I am on now. So even though I hardly slept and had to sacrifice a lot of "play time"... I am so grateful because those experiences have really helped shape me as an artist now.
AmpedAsia.com: What kind of life did you have as a student in the United States before you became a popstar ?
Cindy Yen: Haha... so yea...when I wasn't busy with extracurricular activities, I was pretty much a homebody. I don't like partying (cause I don't drink or do drugs), and I find myself enjoying playing computer games more as a hobby and pastime entertainment (Starcraft, Counterstrike, World of Warcraft... bring it on!!!). I was outgoing in the fact that I loved socializing and meeting people, but I'm also pretty careful when it comes to really making true friendships. I don't just let anybody in... it takes a lot of time for me to really trust someone and share things with them. So even though I know a lot of people, I only have a few people that I would truly call my "good friends" that I trust. Because I was a piano major, I had to practice at least 4-6 hours of piano every day, and because sometimes it just go so tiring and lonely practicing... I also loved playing sports. I was on every intramural team possible (flag football, basketball, volleyball, softball, bowling... you name it), and actually my intramural co-ed flag football team won "C league" champions my senior year!! Yes, I'm very proud, as you can see. It was one of my main accomplishments in college - haha. So I guess I was a good student, but my focus was always more on the "extracurricular activities" than the classes I was taking. Now that I'm reminiscing... I'm really starting to miss college...
AmpedAsia.com: Before you got signed, was it your life's ambition to become an idol star? What other career paths did you envision yourself pursuing?
Cindy Yen: People don't believe me when I tell them I've dreamed of being a singer since I was four. Yes – FOUR. Although before that I used to think the people hanging off dumpster trucks were pretty cool. I used to wait every morning at 6 a.m. and tiptoe on my window sill to see the dumpster truck come by...and then I'd tell my mom that I thought those people were true heroes and that's exactly the kind of job I'd want someday. My mom thought I was crazy. But my reasoning was, picking up trash is dirty work, and most people would never want to do that kind of job. So to me, it was heroic that these people would come by every day to pick up everyone else's trash. They are doing the job no one else is willing to do. That's always been my outtake on life: do the things that other people think are impossible, make the sacrifices that other people are not willing to make, and you'll always be one step ahead. When I attended my aunt's concert in Taiwan around the age of four, I was struck in awe by the loveliness and beauty of her performance. The costumes, the stage, the lighting, the music, and most importantly, the audience...somehow it all just captured my heart and I was completely sucked in. From then on I made up my mind that I wanted to do that too... I simply wanted to perform on stage and sing for people. Well, a dream is a dream right?? I wasn't exactly the best-looking kid... so I remember how people would laugh at me when I told them my dreams of becoming a singer. Actually, even my family didn't think it would ever happen because being a singer is literally, "one in a million." And everyone wants to be a singer. But to me, it was never about the money or the fame...it was just the beauty of it, and it was about the passion for music I had growing inside me. Although in college I was a piano teacher and a broadcast reporter, those were just "backup"jobs in case I ever failed at achieving my goals. This is going to sound cliché, but I guess I'm really lucky, because in the end, my dreams really did come true.
AmpedAsia.com: What was the process like for getting signed to a record label in Taiwan?
Cindy Yen: I think we could look at it both ways: I could say it was a difficult process, but I can also say it was pretty smooth. When I was 17, I interviewed with many record companies, and although at the time some were willing to sign me, my mother was very adamant about me finishing college first. So when I finally graduated, I immediately went back to Taiwan to send demos to record companies. I couldn't believe how much had changed in just a mere four years. Every record company, manager, producer, etc. that I met all told me the same thing: they don't really have money to invest in new artists, my music is to "Western," and my Chinese singing isn't exactly up to par. Actually I remember one night when my mom was crying because she felt so bad for me... she knows how much I've wanted to fulfill my dreams, but the ominous reality was: it may never happen. I promised her that I'd try for two more years, and if by the time I'm 24 I still don't have a contract, that I'd go back to the U.S. and work a regular job. I don't know how it happened, but it happened much faster than my mom and I ever imagined. I had only been back in Taiwan for ten days, but in those ten days we'd met lots of record companies and agents. JVR Music was the last company I sent a demo to. I never even dreamed that they would actually be interested in meeting me, let alone signing me. But I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and I know how lucky I am to have found such a great company. What this has taught me is: NEVER GIVE UP. No matter what... give your all, so that you won't have any regrets in the end!
AmpedAsia.com: What tips would you give for someone who's looking to become an artist in an Asian country like Taiwan?
Cindy Yen: Yikes...I don't know if I should be giving tips...cause honestly I don't even know. What I mean is, I still don't know what's going on with the entertainment industry in Taiwan. I am only a new artist, and I'm still learning so much every day. But I do think that perseverance and hardwork is key. There will be many people who have incredible talent, but it's up to you how much you want it, and how much you're willing to work, to sacrifice, for it. The life of an artist isn't easy, and you'll find that being an artist sometimes isn't as "glamorous" as a lot of people think it is. In the end though, you have to be true to yourself, cuz the audience will see your honesty and your hardwork through your music and performances. I've been training myself since I was four for this opportunity, because I believe that opportunities come to those who are well-prepared. From my observations, Taiwan has become more and more focused on the "composer/songwriting" artists lately. So I'd say that if you really want to become an artist in Taiwan, you've got to be able to compose, sing, play instruments, dance, act, etc.... do EVERYTHING. That's how competitive the industry is now. Don't give up, and have confidence in yourself!!
AmpedAsia.com: How did you feel about working with a multi-talented artist like Jay Chou and what did you learn from the experience?
Cindy Yen: Hrm...I think I feel like Justin Bieber getting discovered by Usher, or Esmee Denters who got discovered by Justin Timberlake. Although I wasn't exactly "discovered" (like on Youtube or something), Jay was someone who was willing to give me a chance. And to me, that's all that really matters. He is my "magnate," you could say. I know there are a lot of people that would love to be in my shoes and work with Jay Chou... trust me, I never ever EVER thought that would be ME someday!! Even now, sometimes I feel like I'm still dreaming. Every day I learn so much from him, because he is the epitome of hardwork and success all in one. The main thing I've learned from Jay that stands out to me most though, is his positive attitude and deep passion for his work. I mean, THIS GUY NEVER SLEEPS. He is a workaholic. But even after ten years of this, he never once complains about being tired. When I see his enthusiasm, whether it's toward his music, his films, or directing music videos, etc... I'm just so inspired. I really hope that after ten years, I can still have that passion and enthusiasm the way Jay does. He doesn't let anything influence him or get in the way of his goals...and I really admire his focus.
Cindy Yen: Wow, there are so many obstacles... where do I start? For one, it was my first time living on my own away from family and friends in a foreign country. It's like learning how to fly, or feeling like you're a lamb surrounded by a pack of wolves. (Haha, I don't know if that's a good analogy...) None of my family and friends could help me... every obstacle I faced, I had to face alone. And because I'm an ABC, the culture shock, the culture difference and language barriers are what got to me the most. I couldn't help but always feel somewhat foreign and misunderstood, and it got to the point where I didn't know how to communicate anymore.
AmpedAsia.com: Do you think there are any wrong ideas about being a celebrity in Taiwan (for example, all celebrities are rich, all celebrities have easy lifestyles)?
Cindy Yen: Oh yes, oh yes yes yes... a lot of people back at home always ask me: "so what's life like now being the rich and the famous?" "do you get free VIP treatment and go to VIP parties every day? Do you get to drive Ferrari's or go around town in a Limousine??" And I just laugh and say, "I wish." Actually, the life of a new artist, is very very poor. And besides work, I don't go anywhere. Sometimes it feels like I'm in jail, or I'm a caged bird. But I think that has more to do with my "homebody" personality than anything else. But honestly, after you are a celebrity it really is hard for a lot of people to just go wherever they want and do whatever they want. You definitely lose a sense of freedom and privacy. And artists are not necessarily treated "better" than average... unless you are Jay Chou. *wink* haha, just kidding. I see myself as just another normal human being, going to work every day and doing what everybody else needs to do in terms of advancing their own careers and working hard.
AmpedAsia.com: Now that you're a singer what does your daily schedule look like and how much free time do you have?
Cindy Yen: People might be surprised that I actually have A LOT of free time when I'm not promoting or on tour or overseas, etc. I update my facebook, blogs, and fan pages every day (sometimes twice a day). I think I'm pretty much addicted to facebook... I can't go a day without checking it. And believe it or not, I still play my computer games. (I just recently started playing World of Warcraft again!! Woot!!) We don't have normal, day-to-day basis set schedules. There will be months where we hardly get to sleep and we're worked to the core, and then another few months where we find ourselves bored out of our minds with nothing to do. (but I think that's probably only for new artists like me, haha) When you become as big as Jay Chou, though... it's completely different. Well, he manages to have fun and work at the same time, but I don't know how he does it. I guess that's why I say, he never sleeps.
AmpedAsia.com: What are some of the main differences between living in Taiwan and living in the United States?
Cindy Yen: One. I don't have a car. And that just simply sucks... Even though Taiwan has convenient transportation devices... I usually can't just go on a public bus or subway. And of course...I miss my mom and my friends. They are so so so far away!! I wish I could magically make them all move to Taiwan. That would be awesome. Loneliness definitely sucks, but I'm learning to accept it. But both are places that I have started to feel as "home"to me. And I love that I can fly back and forth between the two and separate my work life from my private life.
AmpedAsia.com: You said that your parents' divorce was a big part in helping you write songs. For the people that don't know about that, can you explain why?
Cindy Yen: Some people might misinterpret it as, "Yay thanks parents for divorcing!" (as some media wrongfully translated it) But I want everyone to know that NO, I am not happy or grateful that my parents divorced at all. It has been a serious shadow in my life and it's taken me long time to get out of it. When I compose, I write what I feel. And all my songs are inspired by true stories, whether it's mine or my friends'. What inspired me to start writing though, were the years following my parents' divorce where I needed to find an outlet for my pent-up emotions. I guess that's why I do say that my parents' divorce "helped" me write songs. But honestly, it was more a cry for help, and a way for me to find some sort of "escape." I started out first just writing poetry, and then slowly I put melodies to the poetry. And then I added piano and structured it so it would be a verse, bridge, chorus song. For example, the track"I'm Sorry" on my debut album was written for my mom and dad... because after all these years the pain is still there, and we all still have so many apologies to make to each other.
AmpedAsia.com: What does the future hold for you?
Cindy Yen: I have absolutely no idea!!! I can only hope for the best. Right now, I'm just trying to enjoy every moment and treasure every experience. I'm grateful if I can even get the chance to make a second album (which I'm starting to work on – yay!!), cuz that means my company still believes in me and is still willing to invest in me. What every artist ultimately needs... is TIME. We need time to learn, to grow, to change, to improve... and every opportunity to record another album gives us that. But actually, more importantly, fans' support gives us that. Without fans, there would be no opportunities for artists... so I'd really like to thank all my fans out there that have supported me from the start. It's because of them that I have a chance to make a second album, and hopefully share more music with them!!
AmpedAsia.com: Currently, are you dating anyone?
Cindy Yen: Haha...tricky tricky subject! I wish I was... because I'm quite lonely. So as you can see... I am not.
AmpedAsia.com: What kinds of traits do you like in someone that you are dating?
Cindy Yen: Mmm... definitely kind and generous. Gentle, caring, compassionate, considerate, patient... those are the basics. They don't have to be a musician, but I would prefer someone I could share my passions with and also love music in some way, because that's really important to me. And because I'm Christian, I do hope that my significant other would share my faith and beliefs so that we can grow together spiritually. Oh, and I need someone who likes to eat, cuz I love to eat and I LOVE to cook!!
AmpedAsia.com: Please give a final message for the fans out there. THANK YOU GUYS SO MUCH!! I read every message and mail sent, and I treasure every gift and card given. You guys really make me feel like everything I'm doing is worth it... and you guys give me the support and encouragement I need to keep believing in myself and keep going. Thank you for keeping me accountable and helping me stay true to myself, and thank you for allowing me to share my music with you guys!! I can't wait for what the future has in store for all of us. It's a long journey, but I feel confident because I have you guys walking along with me.
AmpedAsia.com: Also if you want to promote anything like your Facebook fanpage or Twitter or website, please let me know.
Cindy Yen: Yay!! You can go to: www.jvrmusic.com for event, updates, information for all the artists under JVR Music label. And you can also go to the forums to leave messages for us as well.:) I also have an official facebook fan page here. And a blog on Sina.com here. Feel free to add cuz I update it almost every day and I usually respond to any messages fans send me. After all, you guys are like family to me now!!