Sunday, July 8, 2012

From pastor-singer to geisha girl

Sunday, July 8. 2012


Sun Ho’s career has raised a few eyebrows since her debut in 2002.
FROM the start of her singing career, Ho Yeow Sun, or Sun Ho, stood out from the crowd because she was marketed as a pastor’s wife.
But by the time Ho was dirty dancing in the 2007 video for China Wine, the pastor’s wife label had long been set aside.
Her husband, Kong Hee, 47, is the founder of Singapore’s City Harvest Church. The couple have a seven-year-old son. Along with four others, Kong has been charged with conspiring to cheat the church in order to finance his wife’s music career.
The rise of Sun: In Kuala Lumpur for the launching of her debut Mandopop album Sun With Love in August 2002. – Filepic
Ho, 42, made her Mandopop debut with the album Sun With Love in 2002. In keeping with her then wholesome image, the album cover is a close-up of her barely made-up face, complete with freckles. Singapore’s Radio 100.3 vice-president Anna Lim says of the religious connection: “That was her selling point – something for people to remember and talk about.”
Even then, the album was not overtly religious.
Xiaohan, 38, who wrote the lyrics for Andersen on that record, recalls: “The direction given to the songwriters was that it was to be an album about love of all kinds, and that you could perceive it as love of God or love for your other half. But we knew she was a pastor’s wife.”
The lyricist says the songwriters were told that the songs ought not to hard-sell Christianity, but should sound like “regular commercial songs”. Ho’s popularity rocketed with the subsequent release of Sun*day in 2002 and Lonely Travel the year after.
Both albums sold more than 30,000 copies each in Singapore, estimates Warner Music marketing director James Kang. A top-selling artiste would sell at least this number of copies.
Sun*day won the Best Selling Album Of The Year accolade at the Singapore Hit Awards in 2003, pipping popular acts such as Taiwan’s boy band 5566 and homegrown singer Stefanie Sun.
The group 5566 caused a stir by threatening to boycott the awards that year, alleging “unfair practice”. Their First Album, released in 2002, had sold close to 50,000 copies and the group had expected to pick up the trophy for best-selling album.
Music industry insiders say Ho’s popularity was in part driven by extensive marketing. Lim says: “When she released her first album, she bought programmes to appear on the station to promote herself. It’s quite rare for singers to buy programmes; usually the record companies do it.”
Ho’s fourth and fifth Mandarin albums, distributed by Warner, fared less well in Singapore. Kang estimates that Gain (2006) and Embrace (2007) sold between 5,000 and 10,000 copies each in the city-state.
Kang says that for the earlier albums, Ho was concentrating her efforts locally “to achieve the highest sales and greatest exposure she could get”.
But from her second album Sun*day on, she shifted her attention to Taiwan. Taiwanese radio deejay Tso Kuang-ping, 30, recalls Ho doing really well in Taiwan about seven years ago. Her songs were being sung in karaoke sessions and her albums topped the sales charts. Lonely Travel, released in 2003, as well as Gain and Embrace all went to No.1 in Taiwan on the authoritative G-Music Mandarin album chart.
Tso says: “In Taiwan, people did not see her as having a strong Christian image. They saw her as a pop singer with songs that felt fashionable.”
In 2003, Ho ventured into the American music market with the singleWhere Did Love Go?. It hit No.1 on Billboard’s dance breakout chart. Subsequent singles such as One With You and Without Love, both in 2004, and Gone in 2006, made it to No.1 on the Billboard Dance Chart. Tso says: “I thought the US dance singles were very forward-looking and had a lot of ideas in them.”
Ho’s decision to head West raised eyebrows in the local industry. Kang says: “The US was quite an eye-opening choice for people in the industry because no Asian artistes had been able to break into the market.”
Controversial: Ho collaborated with Wyclef Jean and musicians Tony Matterhorn and Elephant Man on her 2007 video for the song China Wine. In it the Singaporean singer adopted a geisha persona and was dressed sexily.
He estimates that it would take “a few million” dollars just to do a decent job of marketing an artiste, and that it could have cost “close to a million” to make the China Winevideo.
That China Wine music video – a collaboration with Wyclef Jean from hip-hop group the Fugees, which came along in 2007 – had her adopting a persona she called Geisha and prancing about in a midriff-baring top and hot pants.
Teacher Jasmine Ho, 31, a church member since 2002, says: “When you’re in a different country, you have to follow the trend and appeal to the market. For an Asian to make it to music award ceremonies, she did Singapore proud.” She was referring to Ho walking the red carpet at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards in 2004.
There were also other music videos. At the start of the reggae-flavouredMr Bill (2009), Sun Ho berates a cheating lover in Mandarin, while Fancy Free (2009) has her in dramatic get-ups which invite comparisons to Lady Gaga.
But it was the China Wine video that set tongues wagging. Homegrown music company Ocean Butterflies director Colin Goh says: “To use pop music to promote Christianity, I think, is fine. But there are many types of images you can adopt and that was so inappropriate to Christianity.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network
Career milestones
2002: Releases debut Mandarin album Sun With Love and albumSun*day.
2003: Releases Lonely Travel, a Mandarin album.
Where Did Love Go?, her debut English single, is No.1 on the US Billboard’s dance breakout chart.
Named Best-Selling Female Artiste Of The Year and wins Best-Selling Album Of The Year award for Sun*day at Singapore Hit Awards.
2004: English singles Without Love and One With You hit No.1 on the US Billboard Dance Chart.
Named Best-Selling Female Artiste Of The Year at Singapore Hit Awards.
2005: Ends Of The Earth is No.1 on UK Music Week Commercial Pop Chart.
2006: Gain is No.5 best-selling album of the year in Taiwan.
English single Gone hits No.1 on the US Billboard Dance Chart.
2007: Embrace is No.3 best-selling album of the year in Taiwan.
Causes stir with China Wine video.
2009: Releases Fancy Free, a single supposedly from forthcoming English album Cause A Ruckus. The album has yet to materialise.

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