C-Pop Star Jolin Tsai on LGBTQ+ Representation in Her Music: 'I Am Just Following My Heart'
Pop divas throughout history have often been prominent LGBTQ+ allies, and now it’s time to add Jolin Tsai to the list.
A reigning goddess of C-Pop, or Chinese popular music, Tsai has represented same-sex couples and diverse LGBTQ+ lifestyles through her bright pop releases, providing an outlet for diverse representation in the generally conservative Chinese-language music industry. Through provocative songs and music videos that promote self-love and understanding one another’s differences, Tsai’s become one of the most visible icons for LGBTQ+ people in Asia. (She's not alone: other C-pop stars, such as A Mei, have also used their music as an platform to promote LGBTQ+ rights.)
LGBTQ+ related images and people are often present in Tsai’s works -- gender roles were questioned in the video for “Dr. Jolin” while “Fantasy” depicted a flamboyant, rainbow-hued Garden of Eden overflowing with love -- and songs like “We’re All Different, Yet The Same" ("A woman and a woman mutually love one another/ It’s remarkable and yet common") have evoked controversy for depicting the realities of the hardships same-sex couples face without equal legal rights.
Over the years, Tsai’s been recognized for her work as a celebrity ally, so for Pride Month Billboard spoke to her via email about her career’s emphasis on love and acceptance for all.
How does it feel being considered one of Taiwan's, and Asia's, most popular gay icons?
I’m very glad that I can express things I care about through music. I don’t intend to become an idol for any specific group of people. All I want to do is to encourage some people by saying things I think to be right, so that they know they are not alone. Hopefully that can give them some positive energy and help them influence other people in society to become more empathetic. Of course, I feel very honored to have been able to make some impact in this aspect.
You've been very vocal about accepting same-sex love throughout your career, and have released multiple music videos and songs that show LGBTQ+ couples and iconography. What brought that about?
I have many LGBTQ friends and fans, and many of these music videos and songs were made to share their real-life stories and real emotions. I see myself as a platform, through which these stories can be told as songs, so that people can learn to treat relationships or live[s that are] differently from their own with a calm attitude. Everyone has his/her ups and downs, tears and laughter regardless of gender and sexual orientation. For example, the story of "We're All Different, Yet the Same" is a real-life story I heard from the director, Leste Chen. I was very moved and sad when I heard it. I really hope my friends will never have to deal with the same difficult situation again, so I turned it into a song and a music video, hoping this will make people face this sad reality. I also hope one day such heartbreaking stories can be stopped from happening again.
How do you come up with your ideas for your LGBTQ+-reflective songs and music videos?
I have many brilliant gay friends. I admire their cheerful and positive attitude, how they are untied from body consciousness, how they face the differences between themselves and others, and how they continue to express themselves loud and free. I envy them a lot. It also makes me want to liberate people from repressed emotions with upbeat songs.
What do you think of the state of feelings in Taiwan, and throughout Asia, towards LGBTQ+ issues?
I am optimistic about it. I think with the help of extensive media coverage by globalized news media and social media, there will be more and more people paying attention to and respecting equal rights of minority groups, such as marriage equality, gender equality, and equal rights for LGBTQ+. I hope the world continues to move in the direction towards justice.
You haven't just promoted LGBTQ+ lifestyles through your music, but also become a major advocate despite the Chinese-language music industry's overall conservative norms. Taiwan just became the first place in Asia to allow same-sex marriage in May, years after you first promoted the legalization. How did it make you feel?
The moment the decision was announced I was very happy and proud. It’s hard to believe but we’ve made it. But, to be honest, the contribution I made was really small. There are many organizations and groups of people who have been working hard for marriage equality for decades. I am very moved that their efforts finally paid off. I hope this power and strength can be spread out to make more people see the world with love.
Aside from your music, how else are you an ally for LGBTQ+ peoples?
I am simply their friend in life. They are all very important friends of mine. When they have something to say, I just listen and support them with everything in their lives. They are also a part of my life. I need them too.
"We're All Different, Yet the Same" faced immense criticism, and was banned in Singapore, for your kiss with Ruby Lin. Did that controversy have any affect on how you moved forward?
I respect that different cultures have different ways of thinking, but it won’t make me limit myself when it comes to creative freedom. I’ll keep expressing my opinions proudly.
There are a great deal of people in the world who are speaking up for LGBTQ+ people. I am just following my heart and do what I really want to do. They’re all very important people in my life so I am very happy that I can do something for them. I’m not doing it because of being a celebrity. That being said, I am very grateful that there are so many people who are willing to help create a world free of injustice and discrimination.
You've been a public ally for many years. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Taiwan, what comes next?
Although marriage equality is now achieved, discrimination still exists in many people’s minds. I hope we can work hard together to spread the right idea of equal rights through education. It’s like women and black people have been among the discriminated groups, and this kind of inequality is caused by misunderstanding and prejudice. We can spread out the right values and make people learn to respect other people that are different from themselves. It will also encourage people who share a different sex[ual] orientation and gender identity from the majority to not be shy, to express their own bodies, and have the courage to be their true selves.
And, as for you what's next?
My next step is to concentrate on my new album’s production. I want to talk more about females. Because I have been exploring some social and mental phenomena related to females in recent years now I have a lot to say to girls. And I also want to say something on behalf of women. Therefore that’s the direction my new album is [heading] to.