9m88, pronounced Joanne-Ba-Ba, is a combination of her English name Joanne and Mandarin moniker 88. After graduating from college with a degree in fashion design and interning at Jason Wu's studio, She left behind the career track of design and joined the jazz music program in New School, New York.
Five years ago, 9m88, the now in-trend artist, started her story from social media and YouTube. With a retro and almost meme-like image of quirkiness and a mid-tone voice, she soon boomed to popularity in the indie scene. Soon being featured with numerous big name pop and R&B artists, she released a cover of Takeuchi Maria's most known city pop tunes "Plastic Love" and her debut album Beyond Mediocrity. Aside from her music career, she also appeared in a love comedy and was lead actor in the TV drama Mr. Hito, making the recognizable name 9m88 even more distinguished.
9m88's first breakout feature was with hip hop artist Leo Wang on his track "Weekends With You" released at the end of 2016. This was followed by her debut single "Nine Head Hinano" in 2017. Hoping to keep up the pace with other young talents, she kept pushing herself. Constantly having the pressure of trying to catch up with other artists, anxiety was one of the main themes in the opening track "Whatchu Gonna…?" of her new album 9m88 Radio.
Talking about her sudden rise to stardom, the motive for 9m88 to make music has remained simple: "The first few steps went quite well. People seem to enjoy me singing. There are no guarantees in this industry, but I'll give it a shot".
Stories behind the Worldwide Radio Station
Mostly working in an independent and self-managed manner, 9m88 soon got the chance to dive into the realm of mainstream Mandopop. Though 9m88 saw the possibilities of replicating herself within the mainstream, she chose to evolve and took artistic risks on her sophomore album 9m88 Radio.
On the production side of Radio, 9m88 started out doing her own A&R by scouting and finding suitable producers and talent to work with. Prior to this album, she had been used to working alone and exerting a high level of control over all facets of the production stage. Collaborating and working alongside other producers to achieve the concept she set forth also meant that she needed to adapt and let other musicians interpret her image and ideas.
The concept of the album came first: 9m88 wanted the album to include producers from around the world to make listeners feel like they were switching between different radio channels. An album where one could jump from track to track and have a taste of different DJs in different genres, hence the name Radio. Sharp and precise the name is, there is only one question left: do the young people today even know what radio is?
"Or should I call it 9m88 podcast or TikTok instead?"
"Tell Me", released as a single in early 2021, was the first track completed on the album. The inspiration came from tragic news: A contestant of the reality show Terrace House, Kimura Hana, committed suicide due to cyberbullying. 9m88 wrote down some heart-warming lyrics to remind herself and the audience to stay strong. The track was also the second time working with Mitsu The Beats, with the Japanese beatmaker's material first being used in "Nine Head Hinano".
With a Saxophone whispered intro, it is far from a magnificent entry but a rather reserved and secretive beginning. The French mumbling outro of the track is sung by Louisa Rosi, a classmate whom she befriended and did some covers with back in New York. This time, 9m88 asked her to sprinkle a dash feminine power to this featured track on the Radio.
The transregional coworks of this album is beyond fascinating, which at the same time navigated 9m88 into an unknown realm of overseas collaborations. Among these artists that are featured on Radio, Korean artist SUMIN's versatility has made her a rising star in both Korean indie and mainstream scenes. Working with international artists such as BTS and Red Velvet while also serving out characteristic personal pieces, she cowrote "Sleepwalking" with 9m88, creating a dreamy 8-bit themed psych vibe. 9m88 found the intro amusing and later decided to repeat it during the verse.
The funky "Love Is So Cruel" is produced by Arthur Moon, a moniker of award-winning composer/singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud. "Love Is So Cruel" is one of those early demos that 9m88 had her hands on for years but never got to the finish line with. With Lora-Faye piling a fuzzy texture on top of the original elements of the track, it is a testament to 9m88's delightful wordplay and ever evolving singing style.
Album as a
her inner discoveries
In her previous work, 9m88 used to think about styles or genres only. Considering the song R&B or Soul, she will try her best to perform in a sonorous tone which she imagines how typical urban music should be.
As a Taiwanese singer, singing like this was of another culture and something she had to study and learn. Moreover, to balance the phonal and pronunciation differences between Mandarin and English, hard work had been done on her part in the past few years. Currently, 9m88 has learned to appreciate the tenderness of her voice and sings in a much more natural way which does not diminish her voice's power.
There are two interludes, both named titled with an emoji: a happy face :-D and a sad face ;'-( . 9m88 smirked and told us that maybe the love story in "Friend Zone" didn't work out, hence the sad face. Later, piano walks in with a sad tune, "Dark Night / Sunlight" is a track of dismal. The voice reminds people of Moulin Rouge or any other film with a sad lady humming next to a window. Mixing the bridge with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, 9m88 wanted to reflect a period of depression last year. Like a never-ending tunnel, but there will be light, eventually.
The finale track "Star" is also a journey of inner discovery. While stuck within phrases, 9m88 turned to Joni Mitchell, her ideal image of artist and singer-songwriter. 9m88 considered herself as someone who was great in expressing her own emotions alongside describing surroundings and encounters. Following Joni's footsteps, 9m88 tried to examine herself and the first thought that came to mind was "I am tired". After an honest exposal of the first line, she went with the flow and captured the rest of the images that came to her during the creative process.
Processes of communication that were conducted online instead of face to face inside a studio were often trivial and tiring. As the pandemic went on, so did the level of uncertainty of each different track grow. Still, 9m88 cherishes the chance to work with all of the featured artists and producers. At first, she set out to only work with female producers in order to emphasize girl power. Later on, however, she decided to leave this goal behind, though all featured artists still in some way share a common ground.
A Japanese musician that has developed a career in the United States- starRo. A talented musician of multicultural backgrounds based in Melbourne- Rainbow Chan. A producer that made waves in both indie and mainstream-. SUMIN. These talented individuals are borderless, innovative boundary crossers and in-betweeners. Together their music delivers messages of connection, which is a manifesto against the extremism and the alienation of recent years.
When working on 9m88 Radio, she tried to slow down the pace, lose the anxiety little by little, focusing on the ongoing task and goals. However, she still managed to put out several singles, including a cover of Madonna's "Material Girl" with Joanna Wang and a jazz EP This Temporary Ensemble. Her slowed pace might still be to others, a very intense one.
Let her radio waves carry you to wherever you want to be
This Autumn, she will be joining Sunset Rollercoaster on the Infinity Sunset tour in Europe and North America. 9m88 states that she looks forward to the upcoming shows with a slight hint of nervousness. After all, this is her first time back in New York in three years. After a two-year hiatus from overseas performances, the most important goal of her in this phase is to promote her music outside the island. As she already knew, being a Golden Melody Award nominee and her status within the Mandopop genre is trivial at best to foreign audiences. "All we should do is seize the chance while we can and fear not to introduce ourselves to the audiences again and again".
Another factor that adds to her nervous feelings is singing and speaking in English. Though it seems effortless from an on-looker's perspective, being expressive in a non-native tongue is still quite nerve-racking for her. Though she has taken every effort, she can only tell herself to relax.
For 9m88, Taiwanese music industries seem quite friendly in terms of gender. "There isn't any discrimination happening in my comfort zone or to the professionals that I work with" she added "but there is definitely space for improvements".
"About Whatchu Gonna…?, although I revealed my pain, it is not only about trauma. After getting myself together, the important part is to move on, one must move on."
So, midnight listeners that are still hanging in at the end of 9m88 radio show, these are some final words from your DJ tonight:
"Even though you might still feel anxious or uneasy on a daily basis by comments from others. You can still have a little faith in yourself and let the radio waves carry you to wherever you want to be. There will always be those who can relate to you."