Tan Kee Yun
The New Paper
1 April 2015
Blonde wig paired with glaring green lipstick.
Ashen-faced, half-dressed children contorting their nimble bodies.
A human iris glowing bright and yellow like an incandescent eagle's eye.
Welcome to Taiwanese pop diva A-mei's Freak Show.
The 42-year-old Mandopop star's latest studio album Amit 2 is her scariest, weirdest and most grotesque piece of work in her nearly two-decade career.
Yet, like an expertly-executed horror flick, it is also mesmerising.
Her aptly-titled new music video Freak Show sees the aboriginal singer - A-mei hails from Taitung county's Puyuma tribe - and director Bill Chia venturing boldly into macabre territory.
Some scenes are definitely not for the faint-hearted or squeamish.
Reportedly inspired by the 2009 Dutch horror movie The Human Centipede which revolved around a demented surgeon performing sadistic experiments on victims he traps in his house, A-mei's disturbing
Freak Show features her and a bunch of Maddie Ziegler lookalikes (Ziegler is the lone child dancer in Australian singer Sia's Chandelier MV) transforming into a "human spider".
In a nutshell, A-mei's head sticks out terrifyingly from a hole in the ground while the kids' limbs emerge from surrounding potholes, twirling and curling all over her, forming a giant creepy-crawly.
Eyeballs of different sizes sprout up on their arms and palms.
Another scene has a pumping chest sliced open, revealing arteries and veins.
In a press release sent via her record label Universal Music, A-mei revealed that when she first saw her hair and make-up in the video playback, she was taken aback by her own appearance.
"It's frightening!" she told the production crew on set. "Will children cry after watching this?"
Her colleagues joked: "Parents won't allow their children to watch it."
With the help of special effects, A-mei's black pupils were made to look like tiny dots, surrounded by the enlarged whites of her eye.
"This time round, we had a lot of fun playing around with my eyes," said A-mei.
"Image-wise, it's very different from my previous outing as Amit."
Amit 2, out on iTunes on April 4, marks the second time A-mei is releasing a full-length album as her alter ego Gulilai Amit (her aboriginal birth name).
Her first was Amit in 2009, which went on to bag her three coveted accolades - Best Mandarin Female Singer, Best Mandarin Album and Song Of The Year - at the 2010 Golden Melody Awards, Mandopop's highest annual honours.
Artistically, Amit 2 looks set to outdo its predecessor.
In a nod to "post-modern performance art", director Chia deliberately chose a minimalist all-white background for Freak Show.
Musicianship has always been A-mei's biggest strength, and Amit 2 sees her experimenting with the heaviest of genres - heavy metal.
Freak Show boasts tinges of symphonic metal a la Nightwish and Epica, whereas another song, War Ceremony, features A-mei mixing in aboriginal tribal chants with ferocious growls and brutal guitar riffs.
A-mei, in a separate press release, explained that War Ceremony is a "mysterious" number "delving into the old Puyuma tribal culture".
"When my creative team was discussing the concept for War Ceremony, I told them to go with their instincts," she said. "What do you think Gulilai Amit's soul is like? Go with that."
Visually, War Ceremony rivals - even betters - Freak Show.
A two-minute mythological-themed teaser ends off with A-mei turning into a majestic eagle, flapping her wings as she flies into the dark skies.
As with most top-notch entertainers, where there is praise, there will also be flak.
Since 2012, A-mei has been battling criticism about her weight gain. With the impending release of Amit 2, the media's attention has turned, once again, to her figure.
A recent write-up on Chinese news portal Sina.com commented on A-mei's choice of a foggy, black-and-white facial close-up shot for her Amit 2 promotions.
"Is A-mei so fat that she has to resort to Adobe Photoshop to create the (foggy) effect?" the Sina.com reporter wrote, angering A-mei's fans, who quickly leapt to her defence online.
"Please use your ears, not your eyes," one retorted. Another hit back: "Does her plumpness mean she is unable to sing? Be more mindful of your words."
This article was first published on April 1, 2015.
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