One of the many miracles of music – good music – is its ability to transcend cultures, space, time and connect people from all walks of life. On her sophomore record, 9m88 (Joanne Tang) does just this. 9m88 (pronounced “Jo-m-baba”) is a Taiwanese artist who translates her love for jazz and R&B into her own iteration of the genre. Mixing Mandarin with English and traditional jazz with alternative R&B production, 9m88 Radio is kaleidoscope of sound, guided by Tang’s soft but confident vocals.
Though Tang has been singing her entire life, she admits that songwriting – especially in English – is fairly new to her. After completing fashion school in Taiwan and moving to New York City to be closer to the industry, Tang realized she still felt called to pursue her love for singing and music. She was accepted to the New School as a jazz vocalist, and this is where her journey as a songwriter and artist began. “That was a really condensed moment of me trying to write some music, do some collaboration with people,” says Tang. “For me, songwriting is still really new. I’m still working on it, especially in English.”
Influenced by icons like Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder and Ella Fitzgerald, Tang possesses a melodic sensibility that breaks through regardless of the language. In “Sleepwalking,” Tang paints a sultry and light-hearted depiction of infatuation with bouncy vocals that feel akin to Ariana Grande’s “R.E.M.” In the chorus, she sings, “I am too hysterical/Got nowhere to go/Am I sleepwalking?” Her unexpected phrasing and blunt lyricism are a refreshing take on the archetypical pop R&B track.
While the record is sprinkled with whimsy and romance in songs like “A Merry Feeling,” Tang welcomes the listener into the darker, more intimate parts of her psyche as well. “With this album, I started to be more reflective,” Tang explains. “Last year, I went through some heartbreaks and personal stuff… I thought maybe I should just document the sad feeling through writing songs and make it a healing session for myself.”
“Star” beautifully describes the pain of heartache while leaving room for hope and humor. In her glassy croon, Tang sings, “I cannot feel myself/And I just cry a lot/Me being pessimistic is cute as fuck” – allowing herself to lament a loss while loving herself at the same time. In the same, the lead track and single, “Watchu Gonna…?” finds solace in packing up and moving on. “In Mandarin, I wrote a lot of verses about tidying dishes, mopping floors… to show my statement of wanting to get rid of this messy stuff,” says Tang. The video shows Tang in an empty room, packing up the last of her ex-lover’s clothes, surrounded by her friends. “By dancing together, it feels like we are accompanying each other to get through something,” Tang says.
As a whole, 9m88 Radio takes the listener through all the stages of heartbreak – anger, euphoria, sadness, regret and release. Tang’s portrait of love lost is a story we can all relate to, regardless of our native tongue.
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