Interviewing Della Ding: Giving people those kinds of surprises.
Translation: Jocelle Koh
There is a kind of singer who doesn’t require attention-grabbing stunts to garner eyeballs, but after enough time has passed, your playlists will definitely have their name in them. Being in the industry for 9 years, releasing 8 albums, 30 drama theme songs, 4 concert tours, 85 awards, and even pushing viewership for programs she has guested on up to 2 million viewers. We don’t wish to just use these figures to show the importance of Della Ding to the industry. But no matter how the music industry changes with the ties; with trends always pushing out the next big thing, ballads are one genre that will always have a place. We don’t need to give examples of all the previous queens of love songs, but as for this generation, this position has been held steadily by Della Ding.
But when people are still enraptured in the typhoon of Della’s music this latest album shows her trying new things, and leaving behind her sad image. The title track of her album “Be my own friend” uses a kind of carefree rhythm, to tell all the males and females in the city that when love comes to an end, there is no need to reminisce about the good times, since there is not a right person waiting for you-at least you have yourself. This is a new realisation that Della has come to after many years of singing bitter love songs. This kind of change however, was not a coincidence. From the many drama theme songs sang when she first debuted, she was unfairly categorised in the “songs are more popular than the singer” section; it was only after many onstage performances that many realised Ding’s unique charisma. Especially going on “The Masked Singer” last year, a Chinese reality singing show allowed her singing career move to a whole new level. But to Della, the most precious thing is still in transforming into the powerhouse black swan, letting go of all the negative demons within her from the past few years.
From when she was 13, her parents allowed her to feel that she was imperfect and defective, from becoming the black swan, this helped Della overcome those years of insecurities. On her journey to this point, Della’s story was not one of Cinderella with a pumpkin carriage and a one-night miracle, but this girl who made her way across the seas to Taiwan to chase her music dreams has never given up in using her natural vocal talent to create happy ever afters for herself.
Q: Your single “Be my own friend” has a quicker tempo, the lyrics also no longer emphasise vulnerable emotions, does this counted as a challenge and new experience for you?
I’ve always wanted to challenge myself, while simultaneously I have also thought about other than love songs, how I would like to present myself to others. Actually people with fire-based star signs are more vivacious; including when I went on “The Masked Singer”, onstage I was more rock, more
High’. This time the song “Be my own friend” presents a more personable version of Della Ding.
A lot of friends have said; “wow, Della can also be so handsome.” I like giving people those kinds of surprises.
Q: Talking about the production concept of this new album “Be my own friend”, where is it different from past works?
This new album was two years in the making, and actually was a new beginning after resting and having some time to ruminate. Previously, every time I was standing on stage and singing, I would have times where I would doubt myself. Of course the reasons were many, like what can Della Ding do other than sing? So before this album was recorded I went to New York for training,, to live; over there it is a place where music is very culturally diverse. I went to become a student, went to music, dance classes. Taking this as a break, after I came back I chanced upon the opportunity to go on “Masked Singer”, after the show was over I began work on my new album.
Previously my works would give everyone a kind of “very sad, very pitiful” image, it is perhaps a more soft side of me, but this time I want to show a harder side to myself . When we are going through break ups, there will definitely be tears, heartbreak, and then what? Of course we must still continue moving forward! his album actually is a album I am giving to myself, “Be my own friend”, being my own friend. So I wished that this album could have different genres such as electronica, rock, rap to show many different faces of Della Ding.
Q: You previously talked about every person crying when they break up, when was the last time you cried?
Haha, its been a while. Actually when I first debuted there was a relationship, at that time we hadn’t completely broken up. The guy was in China, so after I came to Taiwan it turned into a long distance thing; and after I signed to a record company, different lifestyles directed us further and further from each other in terms of ideas or talking points. So we felt that it was time to say goodbye, he should find someone more suitable for him.
Q: How long did that romance last for? After that how did you get over the break up?
That romance lasted five years, actually it was quite a long one, afterwards I also used a very long time to get over this low point, the method was probably wailing (laughs). Actually one on hand I still needed to continue working, but people with fire star singns are always giving others the impression that they are fine, and then going back to their house and crying their hearts out. But this also allowed me to understand that singers who sing love songs must be very emotional.
When you are facing emotions and feelings, put these minute things into the ballads; this is what will give it life. So this is why people think Dellla Ding’s love songs have her own flavour. Wen I am embodying love songs there is a little melancholy, yet a little strength. Teacher Tiger Huang previously told me my voice was like a pair of jeans; pretty rough around the edges, but with a texture to it. My voice definitely is more rough and grainy, so I really like this way of describing it.
There was a rumour that when you first signed with Rock Records, you only sang for 7.5 seconds in the recording studio before getting a contract, is this true?
Actually during that time I was singing at Pubs in Hangzhou, after a rock records employee heard me sing there, they went back and told their boss that this girl sings pretty well. After that the boss went to the Pub to hear me sing himself; that time I sang Whiney Houston’s “I’ll Always Love You”. But it wasn't a special arrangement, I just happened to sing this song. After the boss heard this song he told his colleague that this girl wasn't bad, and suggested to sign me! At that time my feelings were all over the place and very emotional over this situation’ on one hang I felt that my singing dreams were going to come true, on the other hand there were many Rock Record artists I liked at the time, such as Huang Jian, Xiao Qi, singers I adore very much.
Q: After signing the contract it seems you didn't release an album immediately, what kinds of obstacles did you meet with?
Because I came from the mainland to Taiwan to further my career, so when I came the situation was very uncertain, allowing me to feel mmore easily scared than others. I even remember the first time I went into the recording studio I recorded until I went crazy, I told the producer Huang Jian Lun I don't want to sing anymore. Before I officially released “Leaving Home”, at Rock Records I recorded half an album, and it was after I finished recording that which I said I don’ want to sing anymore. Because previously singing at the pub I was always covering and copying other people’s songs. But when you walk into the recording studio and realise that you have to sing a song that no one has ever sung, you need to think about how you’re going to perform. Also the first time hearing my own voice so clearly through the earphones allowed me to face a new and uncertain situation.
Coming to Taiwan also, when I first came I felt that I was very much like a backpacker, with no family, friends, other than work I was by myself. So at that time actually the internal stress I felt was very high, but there was no one I could tell my problems to, whatever I did I was scared; scared I would do something wrong, or that I wouldn't be accepted.
Q: More recently your image has been pushed as allowing the person and the song being meshed together. But when you first started singing popular drama theme songs, did you have a feeling that this “song more popular than the person”phenoma would appear?
I did. Actually until before my third album “night cat”, those three years I was always living under very insecure circumstances. Although the “Can’t guess” from the second album was a popular hit at KTV, but until I sang “Next stop, happiness” this drama’s song which was heard by everyone, this is what opened my popularity and reach. But because I didn’t act in this drama, so everyone was not sure who Della Ding was, but I went to a couple of award ceremonies to sing, and everyone sang along with me. Perhaps it is because of this, I really went and sang a long of drama theme songs. Everyone hears my voice but has never seen my person. This two years I have had a lot more publicity, allowing everyone to know what Della ding is like.
Q: When songs passing you by, are they considered a gam plan or coincidence?
I think it is an coincidence of fate, when I debuted I didn't think that my songs would be used to accompany dramas . Actually “Next stop, happiness” was not sung specially for this drama, it just so happens that the producer Yu Shan came to the office to hold a meeting, and after hearing my song “I love him”, felt that this song suited this drama which is how the collaboration came together, and slowly became this “Theme song talent”.
Q: At the moment how do you see your position in the music industry? Do you deny this position of “Love song queen”?
Actually I’ve never really thought about how to position myself. I have always felt that calling anyone “love song queen” is all well and good, “theme song talent” is also fine; to me I am just the singer Della Ding.
Actually in my previous album I also put in a few fast and light songs; it was only afterwards I realised that when everyone went to KTV they would always sing my love songs. Perhaps love songs are healing, and can bring everyone some accompaniment. So I am not against singing love songs, but I hope to have many different represents as well. When having album production meetings, I will say: “Can I have a couple of singing and dancing ones?” Haha, because I really do like singing and dancing. So these labels others give me are not so important. If after people finish listening to my songs, they have a new perspective on their lives and emotions; or gives people strength during periods of obstacles, this is enough for me. I will look at the comments others have left for me on social media, saying what they have experienced and what feelings my songs gave them, or how they became my fan. How I feel in that moment is really…more meaningful than any award I could ever get.
Q: in 2015 you participated in “The Masked Singer” and made a splash with your entrance, what were your criteria for choosing the songs at the time? And why did you choose to come out as the Black Swan?
“The Masked Singer” song selection process was basically us going to KTV and singing, hahaha. That day we went to KTV and sang about 40 to 50 songs, and then used our phones to record down the ones we thought were not bad, sending them to the producer. After that we also gave them to the director team to listen, and everyone gave their input; for example this day you were more suited to these songs, or how to deal with the arrangement, everyone would discuss this; so the songs were slowly decided this way. As for the Black Swan it was also a conclusion that everyone came to after much discussion. Until now I still think that the Black Swan is very much Della Ding. Most people approve of the White Swan as extremely beautiful. But when you see a couple of black swans atop the lake, they have a feeling of distance, loneliness, a proud beauty. I am a person with very little security, this time the character of the black swan gave me a lot of courage. When I stood atop the stage, I told myself I am the black swan.
Previously my wardrobe had a lot of black clothes, black gives me security. My insecurity comes from my family; when I was 13 my parents divorced, and made the family situation unstable. Afterwards when I took my luggage to several pubs to sing alone and needed to face the external world alone, to a girl you really had no choice but to armour yourself, and force yourself to grow up. Actually I don't like to grow up, but you need to be forced to grow up. So I liked to wear black, to allow me to look a bit older than people my age. Afterwards when I shared this story with others, they all said so lets go with black then, black swan is very suitable.
Q: The feeling black swans give people is more full of ambition than white swans, so at that time what image of yourself did you wish to let everyone see?
I think that when I get onto the stage, my performance is a kind of ambition. Today when I step onto the stage, I want to eat you all up, that is a kind of ambition. Not saying that I have to get first place today or anything like that; but as long as I step onto the stage, today the audience is mine, and you will all have to get high with me, this kind of attitude.
Q: Being a Chinese singer who is very famous in Taiwan, your identity is actually very unique. How do you see this?
At the moment there have been more and more exchanges between both parties in terms of music industry? Previously Taiwan of course was seen as the city to be in for music, even if the industry is not looking well these days and the hard copy sales are decreasing; I’m not able to discuss how other companies work, but to our company, when we are creating every album we are 100% in shape. Nowadays in China there are many talented musicians who are trying to create different types of music, I myself am very excited to work with mainland singers and producers. Just like a couple of singing shows such as “Masked Singer”, “I am Singer” is a very good stage to bring together different regions, different types of singers, musicians. Everyone being able to collaborate and discuss, I think this is very good.
Q: Chinese singing shows are on the rise nowadays, the most recent “I am Singer” has also had a spotlight shone onto it, which several competitors did you have a deep impression of?
The singers who left the deepest impression on me were Coco Lee and Lala Hsu. I think Lala sang JJ’s song with her own tastes; being able to change other people’s songs and singing them in her own style is really admirable. Previously everyone thought that those kinds of stages were only for a certain kind of singer, for singers like me who would sing bigger songs. But like Lala, who has a light and gentle sound which incorporate a little melisma will have different designs. I feel that this time she was really very strong, no matter when she was presenting her own style, performing with JJ was also very unique to watch.
Coco Lee gave me the deepest impression, causing me to get goosebumps when she once again sang “Moonlight lover”, and the arrangement for this song was also done by Han Hong. I think back to an image of Coco standing on the Oscars stage singing this song, and afterwards once again standing onstage and singing the song embodied totally differently, watching her perform really gave me goosebumps.
Q: What do you think is the impact of the increased number of singing competitions on the music industry?
I think this will encourage singers to do even more live and improvisational performances. Previously singers would just have to release albums and they were done, but nowadays singers have to be able to sing live, banking on their live vocal abilities. Also performing, this is a very big test for singers. So this should be a very big challenge for new singers, I wish everyone luck.
Q: You previously talked about how the record industry isn’t doing well, hardcopy sales decreasing; to a singer, the most direct problem is how this industry can give real returns, to insure lives and continue breeding passion?
I heard that previously the singers would rely on album sales royalties and would have pretty good income, but nowadays albums are very hard to sell; but at the same time the market for live performances has slowly been nurtured, fans already have this habit of paying to listen to concerts. So to modern-day singers, the biggest challenge is live performances, because to me, this is a more handy talent. Because I came from a pub singing background, so I am used to singing live. When I first started out, I went from one very small space with only several hundred people to tens of thousands in concert, this kind of experience when accumulated has allowed me to know how to control and use techniques, I wish to present this skill to fans through live performance.
Q: So optimistically speaking, although the album industry isn’t doing well, it is instead the age for singers like you to come forth?
I think one needs to accumulate experience, and also must watch other people’s performances. Previously singing in the pub, it was easy to sing one or three days and be fired, so one needs to work their brain to think of ways to be able to sing a little longer in the pub; being able to go for half a month is already considered very good. So one must always be changing their image, songs they sing or adding an element of freshness to attract attention. So at that time I watched a lot of singer’s concerts, their performance methods, and created my own dance routines. Until now I am still learning constantly, in the hopes that I can create the most fulfilling content during my concerts. Of course when trying to perform on so many fronts, one must still sing well, foundation is the most important.
Interview/words: Leo Photos: Huang Yong Jing Special Thanks to: Bin Music Taipei