Words by Kuang-Ping Tso (music industry professional)
If you want to get to know someone, knowing his taste could be a good start. If you want to get to know a place, knowing its art and creative scenes could also be a great start. The annual music awards are like the highlights of a culture, allowing their audience to know more about it through music. In the realm of Mandarin pop music, besides gaining more fans to be able to perform on a bigger stage, it’s almost every musician’s dream, no matter those who work in the spotlight or behind the scenes, to be able to win a Golden Melody Award (金曲獎). Having been held for many years, the Golden Melody Awards have preserved tons of footages of unforgettable moments and allowed lots of artists to accumulate several awards on their hands. But besides the Golden Melody Awards, what other awards in Taiwan have also played their role in recognizing Mandarin musicians from different genres? Let me elaborate more from several different perspectives.
The Governmental Awards
The Golden Melody Awards: The Highest Honor in the Mandarin Pop Music World
The Golden Melody Awards are so important that every year record labels and artists would try to know the date of the ceremony as early as possible, and then modify their release schedule and strategies. Some make-up artists and stylists were even reserved by musicians a year before the ceremony. This is how serious the industry takes the award. First held in 1990, the award is extremely iconic in the Mandarin music scene. Almost every album released within the eligibility period would enter their recordings for consideration. Same as the Grammy Awards, the Golden Melody Awards have recognized not only those who work in the spot light but also those who work behind the scenes in the pop music industry. The result of the awards is like the most important annual report card of the Mandarin music industry. However, the one thing that makes the Golden Melody Awards very different from the Grammy Awards is the award category. The Grammy Awards classify prizes with genres and technical performances, while the Golden Melody Awards classified awards into three categories: vocal, instrumental, and technical. The vocal category include awards for music production, songwriting, and vocal performances which can be further classified to four languages: Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka and indigenous languages.
The award has been around for more than 20 years, and has created numerous phenomenal moments of the music industry. Jody Chiang (江蕙), the Hokkien female singer who announced her retirement from the stage in 2015, has received five Golden Melody Awards in the vocal categories throughout her career and the record is still yet to be broken. Taiwanese concert diva a-Mei won six awards in the same year with her album A-MIT (A-MIT阿密特 張惠妹意識專輯), and rock band Mayday (五月天) also received six awards with their album Second Round (第二人生) in the same year, becoming record holders together.
The Golden Melody Awards often invite international guests to attend. The festival that comes along with the awards every year also has forums and seminars that allow those who work behind the scenes to exchange ideas with each other. The Award ceremonies had invited Japanese, Korean, and even world-renowned artists to collaborate before. Randy Jackson, the judge of American Idol for several seasons, had also been invited to Golden Melody Awards to be an award presenter.
Golden Indie Music Awards: The Award Tailored for Independent Musicians
The evaluation of Golden Melody Awards considers “industry potential” as the main index. However, the essence of creativity has been widely discussed lately. So, following the discussion, a new award ceremony called Golden Indie Music Awards (金音獎) was created in 2010. Comparing to the Golden Melody Awards that classifies categories mainly with languages, the Golden Indie Music Awards classified categories mainly with genres. The awards can be seen as Taiwan’s “Mercury Prize”, for it honors independent production, the freedom of creation and aesthetics. The awards is rather young, and its categories are mostly created with the view to encourage singer-songwriters or singers with production talents. (For example: categories like Best Singer-Songwriter, Best Instrumentalist, etc......) The lyrics of these relatively independent and structure-free music often contain lyrical elements like current events, life and even history. The content is quite raw but very sincere and real. The Golden Indie Music Awards is expected among the independent music scene, surprising people with novelty every year.
To this date, the biggest winner of the Golden Indie Music Awards is definitely Lin Sheng Xiang (林生祥). With his four albums Growing Up Wild (野生), The Land Is My Study (大地書房), I-Village (我庄), and Village Besieged (圍庄), Lin has received 10 awards throughout the years. He tours around the world very often, and has been recognized by numerous international indie music organizations and music festival promoters. Besides Lin Sheng Xiang, rapper Soft Lipa (蛋堡) has received the awards for six times in the Hip Hop category, creating a record that is hard to break as well.
Taiwan Music Composition and Songwriting Contest: The Award That Incubates and Passes Down Music Through Various Languages
Besides the Golden Melody Awards and the Golden Indie Music Awards, the Ministry of Culture (文化部) created another award ceremony called Taiwan Music Composition and Songwriting Contest (臺灣原創流行音樂大獎) in 2004. With the view to honor original songs that can highlight traditional culture, the contest is designed with three language categories – Hokkien, Hakka, and Indigenous Languages. This contest has discovered numerous singer-songwriters throughout the years. Because the prize of the competition is a relatively large amount of fund, many winners have used the fund to make their upcoming albums. Since the contest honors the essence of languages and creativity, the music these winners released often have good achievements in its language category at the Golden Melody Awards.
Zion Lee, the talented singer-songwriter and frontman of Chang & Lee (張三李四), had received an award in the Hokkien category before. Having a good command in video production, he had also earned himself numerous awards internationally. The lead vocalist of Urban Cat (二本貓), Lai Yu Chiao (賴予喬), had once won the first prize of the contest in the Hakka Category before she received two Golden Melody Awards in the categories of Best Hakka Album and Best Hakka Singer in 2017. World-renowned singers like Suming (舒米恩) and Matzka had both received honors in Indigenous Language category as well. This contest is definitely the most direct and widest platform to cultivate talented and aspiring singers-songwriters.
The Non-Governmental Awards
The Association of Music Workers in Taiwan - Top Ten Albums and Singles of the Year
The Association of Music Workers in Taiwan (中華音樂人交流協會) is a free entry association consisted of Taiwanese music workers from different realms of the industry. Since 1997, the association started to rate albums released in the same year. Unlike the Golden Melody Awards, this awards doesn’t require registration. The judges will actively do research on the information of the albums released that year. Each year, the association will recommend 10 albums and 10 singles, and the recommended lists will be announced through the media. Since the lists are unveiled not long before the Golden Melody Awards, and the judges of the awards are often the judges of the Golden Melody Awards or the Golden Indie Music Awards, the awards is often seen as a prediction for the Golden Melody Awards. Therefore, the media always will pay great attention to this awards before Golden Melody Awards.
Hito Music Awards
Held by Taiwanese renowned radio station Hit Fm, the winner selection process of Hito Music Awards (Hito 流行音樂獎) is a bit different than most governmental awards, which select winners based on judges' votes. The winners of the awards are selected based on the airplay rates on Hit Fm, the streams on digital music platforms, and the record sales (including both physical and digital sales). Every song will have chart points every week, and the system will accumulate each song’s chart points throughout the year. The song that has the highest score will be the winner of that category. Besides Mandarin songs, Hito Music Awards also have designed categories for songs sung by western, Japanese and other Asian artists. The winners of different categories are also selected based on the final accumulated scores of each week’s chart points. The results of the awards are based strongly on the objective market analytics. Thus, the awards is still seen as a very important evaluators and index for record labels. The awards always draws a lot of attention from the public and the media too.
KKBOX Music Awards
KKBOX is currently the biggest digital music streaming service in Taiwan. It also plays a very significant role in digital distribution for Mandarin music. The awards determines the winners by calculating the overall streams on the platform. Each year, KKBOX will present prizes to the selected top 10 singers on KKBOX Music Awards (KKBOX 風雲榜). The awards also has categories like the Best Indie Artist and Best Soundtrack, aiming to recognize all kinds of talents in the pop music industry. Besides the performances of the winning artists, the award constantly invites international artists through labels, giving them the opportunities to come promote and perform their music in front of a new crowd. Sometimes, the invited foreign artists even get to collaborate with Taiwanese artists at the awards ceremony. This annual awards is definitely a significant event for young music lovers.
International Highlights of Golden Melody Awards
Golden Melody Festival
For long, Golden Melody Awards has been held simply in the form of a ceremony. In 2010, the government created “Golden Melody Week”, arranging a series of events and activities that took place one week before the date of the ceremony, and it has become a tradition ever since. The featuring events of the week included performances at various venues, providing singers of all genres platforms to share their own works during the moment when everyone pays a lot attention to Golden Melody Awards and music.
As many world-renowned international music festivals and record exhibitions have provided opportunities for attendees to exchange ideas and make business matching, starting from 2014, to provide the same services, the government combine the Golden Melody Awards and Golden Melody Week together as Golden Melody Awards and Festival. The entire event not only has the award ceremony, but also features international forums, conferences, business matching, business pitching, ticketing concerts and campus activities. The event has also invited numerous excellent label heads, promoters, world-renowned behind-the-scenes experts from around the world to attend. The entire event has been held for several years now, and you can tell the industrial progress it's contributed to according to the increasing number of successful cases. The matching platform also provides many Taiwanese artists opportunities to perform around the world.
The Eligibility of Mandarin Songs from Around the World
At the beginning, the application of the Golden Melody Awards only opened to singers and musicians in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 1997, the awards added a new category called the “International Mandarin Song (世界華人作品獎)”, and all the extraordinary mandarin songs were welcome to apply for consideration. In 1998, the awards eliminated the restriction on nationality. The registration terms of the awards was modified as well. Now, any mandarin song that is first released in Taiwan are all eligible to apply. The change in terms allows more talented mandarin artists to utilize their works to win their moments at the Golden Melody Awards.
The Eligibility of Digital Releases
In the past, applicants were required to send physical copies of their recordings to be eligible for the registration. However, the terms were changed greatly in order to adjust to the current trend. As more and more artists will digitally release their singles before the album is fully completed, the awards decided to allow digital releases to be considered for “Song of the Year” category since 2016. In 2017, the awards decided to let digital releases be eligible for all of the categories, eliminating the restriction on formats and focusing more on the essence of music. This change in terms results to a significant increase in the numbers of applications and nominations.
The International Recognition
The impartiality of the Golden Melody Awards is recognized internationally. Billboard magazine had once published an article praising the Golden Melody Awards as the most impartial and prestigious awards in Mandarin music world. The awards is also being seen as the Mandarin Grammy Awards, for the judges consider not only sales and content but also the prospect and potential of the music. Many artists have been nominated for several times, but still haven’t had a chance to receive an award. However, some artists were able to win the awards several times for their first nominations and some even got to win the Best Male or Female Singer award, which are the highest honors of the night. Some said that the Golden Melody Awards is the hardest awards to achieve, indicating how impartial the awards is. The judges are selected from different fields of expertise, and most of them are active professional musicians. The voting procedure is completely confidential, the names of the judges will only be revealed during the ceremony.
A Gateway to Stages Around the World
A great variety of music festivals and shows are held around the world every year. Through the nomination lists of the Golden Melody Awards and the Golden Indie Music Awards, the Ministry of Culture will select some suitable artists and send them to perform at music festivals such as SXSW Conference & Festivals in Texas, Glastonbury in England, Music Matters in Singapore, Big Mountain Festival in Thailand, Fuji Rock Festival and Summer Sonic in Japan, etc. You would be able to see the Golden Melody Awards and Golden Indie Music Awards winners or nominees perform on the stages mentioned above. These Taiwanese bands and singer-songwriters not only get to be publicized through winning or being nominated for awards but also get to have more exposure through performing in front of new crowds outside of Taiwan.
The Influence of Golden Melody Awards & Its Far-Reaching Effect
The Positive Effect on A Singer’s Career Development
The awards is known for its impartiality and artistry-wise standards. Thus, the nominees or winners of the award will often receive great public attention in Mandarin market, escalating their status in the industry within a short period of time.
For instance, Stefanie Sun (孫燕姿, also known as Sun Yanzi), a Singapore singer who started off her career in Taiwan in 2000, had won the award in the categories of the Best New Artist and the Best Female Vocalist. These awards in the end established her career status as a best selling pop female singer in Asia, and Stefanie is still considered an influential singer even until now. Other artists who benefit from the awards include Fish Leong (梁靜茹), Penny Tai (戴佩妮) and Gary Chaw (曹格) from Malaysia. All of the career the artists mentioned above had all been escalated to a higher level after receiving the awards, thus, the influential award not only recognizes artists’ excellence, but also pushes their career forward.
Another example is a male singer called Ronghao Li (李榮浩). When the nominees of the 25th award was announced, the name “Ronghao Li” was still quite unfamiliar to the public; however, he was already nominated in five major categories. His songs “Model (模特)”, “Li Bai (李白)” had both topped the charts of digital streaming platforms. In the end, he won the Best New Artist, and these nominations had definitely brought him not only a good reputation but also more career opportunities. Eve Ai (艾怡良), a female artist who made her breakthrough during singing competition, was nominated in seven categories with her album Talk About Eve (說 艾怡良) in 2017, allowing the public to re-discover this underrated singer-songwriter. She won the Best Female Artist of that year, giving her the credit she deserved and wiped out the roughness she had during the singing competition show. She got more exposure and performing opportunities after winning the award, and she is now considered one of the most promising artists in the eyes of the public and industry professionals.
Songwriting Ability Matters More Throughout the Years
Many years ago, at the 11th Golden Melody Awards, the nominees for the Best Male vocalist include David Tao (陶喆), Harlem Yu (庾澄慶), Leehom Wang (王力宏), Jacky Cheung (張學友) and Purdur (陳建年). The final winner of the category went to Purdur from Taitung, who won the hearts of the judges with his simple and sincere creation. After winning the award, Purdur received interview inquiries and performing opportunities one after another. The result even let the public started to have more interests in the combination of indigenous music and pop music, and helped pave the path for many brilliant original indigenous music released later.
In addition, in the early days, the Best New Artist category tend to select artist with good vocal ability such as Julia Peng (彭佳慧), Shino Lin (林曉塔), Samingad (紀曉君); however, in recent years, the category tend to select artist with songwriting ability such as Crowd Lu (盧廣仲), Lala Hsu (徐佳瑩), Weibird (韋禮安), the band Boxing and Eli Hsieh (謝震廷). Songwriting ability has gradually become a must-have ability for singers nowadays as well. Thus, many artists who were not positioned as singer-songwriters have started to increase their involvement in the writing process for their new albums, making this trend grow upward even more.
More singers Write Songs in Dialects
Hokkien songs have more significant legacies created by male singer-songwriters for the last decade. The emphasis of the music used to be on the singers’ vocal ability, but now they focus more on combining cultural elements into their creations.
One of these type of artists worth mentioning is Jacky Chen (陳建瑋). Being recognized by the Golden Melody Awards, he is certainly a pop music dark horse that rises lately. Having years of experience behind the scene, Jacky Chen won the Golden Melody Awards in the categories of the Best Male Hokkien Singer and the Best Hokkien Album with his debut album Sam Tsap Thong (三十出頭). The nominees of the same year included Leave the Past Behind (遠走高飛) by Hokkien diva Jody Chiang (江蕙); thus, Jacky Chen’s victory had made people started to notice him. Two years later, his following album Columbia (古倫美亞) had also been nominated in many categories. He even received wide praise from the medley performance he did with Wing Lo (羅文裕) at the 28th award ceremony, becoming a benchmark for many up and rising songwriters.
Ever since Jody Chiang stopped applying for the award in the category of the Best Hokkien Female Singer, the industry has been seeking for the successor. However, the nominees haven’t had much change for the last decade, and the genre and content of the music didn’t have much breakthrough either. Starting out from singing competition Super Idol, the Shanghai origin singer Sasha Li (李婭莎) was good at performing Hokkien songs and ended up helping her win the second place. After the competition, she went on making her own Hokkien studio album. In 2013, she won the Best Hokkien Female Artist award with her sophomore album Love (愛), which brought encouragement to both Hokkien and pop music industry.
Unforgettable Classic Performances
a-Mei’s Tribute to Her Mentor Tom Chang
Besides the winning results, the brilliant performances are also what the audience focus every year at the ceremony. Though some performances were delivered a few years ago, they still remain impressive to the audience. Mandarin pop diva a-Mei is often the performer the awards eagers to invite. Her positive international image and catchy songs have encouraged a lot of audience to learn Mandarin. She conveys her own viewpoints through her songs internationally. Her latest performance at the Golden Melody Awards ceremony in 2017 was a tribute medley to her late mentor Tom Chang, whom she worked very closely with at the beginning of her career but was accidentally killed in a car crash. The performance not only marked its significance in the Mandarin-speaking world, but also allowed the audience who are new to Mandarin pop songs to learn more about the legendary musician.
Jolin Tsai’s Perfect Singing and Dancing
Jolin Tsai, who has been spotted with fashionable looks and styles at numerous fashion shows and parties internationally in recent years, is actually an extremely popular dancing singer in Mandarin pop music world. Before stunning foreign audience with her performance at MTV awards, Jolin Tsai had already delivered magnificent performances at the Golden Melody Awards. At the 25th Golden Melody Awards ceremony, Jolin delivered a medley containing the hits she had since her debut. The impressive visuals together with the stunning dancing presented by hundreds of dancers had perfectly elaborated the metamorphosis she had undergone. Jolin is no doubt one of the most iconic pop idols.
JJ Lin’s Extraordinary Live Performing Ability
Once won a Pensado award with his Mandarin song, JJ Lin had also delivered remarkable performances at the Golden Melody Awards. At the 21st ceremony, the original performer the awards invited couldn’t show up at the last minute, so JJ Lin came to the awards' rescue. He then performed the songs from the albums that were nominated for Best Mandarin Album with self-accompaniment on the piano. The performance turned out so well and was seen as the highlight of the ceremony. At the 25th ceremony, JJ Lin was again invited to collaborate with Jason Mraz, and the performance received high praise from the audience again. Besides JJ Lin’s talents in songwriting, his flawless live performing ability is also unforgettable to the audience.
Mayday’s Collaboration with Other Bands
Once publicized by CNN, the Taiwanese rock band Mayday is hailed as “the Asian Beatles”. The band had also made a classic and touching performance at the ceremony. There were actually a few exceptional bands that were releasing and performing at the time when Mayday started out. In 2013, Mayday was invited to deliver the finale performance at the ceremony. During the performance, Mayday and their exceptional fellow bands Luantan Ascent (亂彈阿翔), Quarterback (四分衛), the Chairman (董事長), all of which were releasing and performing at the time when Mayday started out, to perform in relay and then collaborated altogether at the end of the performance. The performance not only evoked the fire inside the heart of the audience, but also became a medium for the bands to express their support toward a famous live house that was forced to shut down due to some regulation change. Mayday really drew public’s attention, especially to these existing issues that were being neglected for long. The performance also featured the originals of these bands, leaving an unforgettable memory for all of the audience.
Matzka’s Collaboration With Japanese singer Shota Shimizu
Ever since the first-ever Golden Indie Music Awards, there have been numerous clips of the collaborations of Taiwanese artists and international singers. One of the most memorable moments happened at the end of the 2016 ceremony, when Japanese singer Shota Shimizu collaborated with Matzka during the finale performance. The two started out by performing their own songs, and later collaborated on “Rainy Blue”, a song by Japanese singer Hideaki Tokunaga (德永英明). The song they sang together is widely known for its Mandarin adaptation called “Blue Rain”. It is relatable and also a perfect choice for singers to show their singing ability, making the collaboration one of the most harmonized and exceptional moments of the awards.