What A Life: The Re-introduction of NICKTHEREAL
BY ILL MO / Sep-17-2019
Nick Chou, or NICKTHEREAL, seems to have it all from the start: his parents were both from the entertainment industry, so of course, Nick had it easy. His first official appearance in the music scene was his collaboration with Jolin Tsai in 2009. Jolin was already an well-established artist then; thus, not many had the chance to work with such a big name, so of course, Nick had it easy. He was a good-looking pop idol, so of course, Nick had it easy. Nick had made one hit song after another, he had the privilege to study music abroad when he was young, so of course, Nick had it easy. The list of things can go on for days. But was it really all so easy for him? According to Nick himself, his life as an artist is not stress-free; on the contrary, it has been a bumpy path full of obstacles.
Nick's early years prepare him for his stardom later on. Music has always been Nick's passion, and he spent his adolescent years hanging with the hip hop crowd, freestyling in the park, even hosting rap events. Later, he went to LA to study music in Musicians Institute, even though he was close to being signed as a member of K-Pop group Super Junior, he decided to turn down the offer and return to Taiwan. After coming back, he was the talk of the town. Nick reflected his initial stage of his career: "Many majors labels wanted to sign me, and I knew I was ready. I think I was just like any other underground musicians, but the only difference was that I was willing to take that step. I needed the ticket to enter the mainstream music scene so more people would be able to hear my music. " And his first official introduction to the Mando-pop music scene was his collaboration with Jolin Tsai. The song "Real Man" (大丈夫) became a hit, and he came out with his debut album under Warner Music.
"Many people talk about the genre 'pop' in a negative manner, but I'd say it's a myth. I was in an era when labels would not give you a chance unless you were hot already, so I had to play their game; on the contrary, times are different now, everyone gets to be who and what they want to be, it is a blessing," said Nick. It was true that he learned to play the game early, but the music industry is cruel. After his second album S.N.G. , he was out of everyone's eyesight for four years without a record deal. After that, he came back with his third album REAL in 2016. The comeback LP was a massive success, and the lead single "So Handsome We Broke Up" (帥到分手) alone had generated over 100 million views on YouTube, not to mention the other singles were well-received by the mass as well. The album had proven Nick's diverse musical taste and talents in songwriting.
Just when everyone thought he had conquered them all, Nick decided to challenge himself again by signing up to compete in Rap of China, a competition talent show by video streaming service iQiyi (愛奇藝) . Rap of China is one of the most popular television shows among the young audience which generates billions of views in each season, in which many rappers compete and showcase their performances according to the rules of the competition. The surprising part was that Nick was known as a pop idol; however, he decided to challenge himself and return to his hip hop roots. Moreover, he was able to make it to the final four contestants. He overcame the obstacle, and had fully proven his skills as a rapper and a performer.
Nick defines himself as a creator. "I write songs, I sing, I produce, I do A&R... I am a do-it-all person," he said. His new EP What A Life, which is heavily influenced by the new wave of hip hop, has just been released. And not only is it well-received, it has climbed to the top of numerous music charts. However, this is not a coincidence to Nick, it is his vision transformed into reality. "I want to push pop culture in a more professional manner. What I'm doing is not pushing hip hop, but pushing pop culture and creating trends. I want the Chinese-speaking people to be able to compete in music internationally. Yet I'm not just talking about music, I'm talking about the whole package, and this is what I have been working on," said Nick. But what exactly is "the whole package"? One of the key element to the success of What A Life is the visual. Neon green has somewhat become the color of NICKTHEREAL because of his bold usage of it in the music video of his lead single "i GO". The colors obviously play a crucial part of how he leaves impressions to the audience. "My last album was orange," said Nick, "I consider it as a marketing strategy, because it is difficult to be eye-catching in the internet era. Good music is the basic criterion, and I understand the music industry as an industry of trend, so the colors matter. Not many have tried using color in the Mandarin music industry, but we all have seen the Americans do it, the Japanese and Korean as well. And I believe that we need more people to try to explore different ways to do things."
Nick's eagerness to catch up with the music industries of other countries can be traced from his past experience of being a DJ and attending international music festivals, studying music in the US, and sharpening his rhyming skills when he was young. "They are all in my background," he said, "I started as a young rapper, became the producer of hip hop label Secret Base, and got signed to become one of the most mainstream pop artists, then I was independent and came out with my own album. So a lot of the current me is the product of these diverse experiences and the things I had been through. There was a time when no one was helping out, so I had to learn how to A&R myself and make an album; I understand how the major labels want their artists to be, but I also carry the underground spirit with me. Therefore, if people see me pay more attention to details than others, it is because I had spent the past ten years learning about different parts of the game, which is how I am able to incorporate the essential part of music with intricate marketing schemes."
His talents tend to always be overshadowed by his appearance. But what people need to know is that he is much more than just a pop idol. He has already grown into a well-rounded and experienced creator who spent his time perfecting his craft and learning. He never had it easy, ever. NICKTHEREAL had fought his way to the top. And the great triumph What A Life has brought proves not how easy it is for him, but how he is able to envision and execute his artistic vision. It is not a coincidence, but a lot of hard work.
Moreover, he hopes to be a bridge between the underground and mainstream. He knows how these two worlds operate, and he wants to be able to introduce the so-called underground to more people. "My approach is to bring hip hop to those who were not into hip hop. I have been making music all these years, and now I am finally more established and have my little influence, I am going to use it. I have never forgot my hip hop roots."