15: Chet Lam
In a way, it’s not entirely fair to lump Chet Lam into the Cantopop category – he has, for instance, produced an album in English (Camping, 2006) and, because of his outside-the-box songwriting and avoidance of major labels, he could convincingly lay claim to the indie category. But it was his simple and touching debut, Pillow Songs (2003), that first made him a hit with Cantonese listeners, with songs such as The Best Is Yet To Come catapulting him to the top of the charts. His next album, Travelogue (2003), confirmed his Cantopop popularity, bringing him awards for best new artist and a top ten ranking for album of the year in the Chinese Music Media Awards.
At the same time, Lam has managed to carve out a niche for himself with quirky songwriting that eschews Cantopop conventions. As he says with a degree of pride, he’s the guy producers turn to when they want a “weird” song for the likes of Eason Chan, Sammi Cheng, or Stefanie Sun. He plays the industry game without sacrificing his originality or independence – and he’s survived the claws of the local media despite being openly gay in a morally conservative society.
Lam is chuffed about making Time Out’s top 20. “I’m really honoured, and I’m quite happy that pop is included and is recognised as an art,” he says. “Compared to classical and jazz musicians, pop musicians are always underrated.”
Pop is important, Lam reckons, because it represents society. Asked who he represents with his music, he says with a laugh: “Some outlaw – I hope”.
Recommended listening: Travelogue (2003)
Chet Lams play alongside The Pancakes from Thursday 9 to Sunday 12 at the Arts Centre.