Concerts give pop fans trip down memory lane

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Virtual performances allow audiences to tune into the sounds of their youth.

At 8 pm on Friday, pop legend Lo Ta-you sat in front of his piano and played a piece based on his hit song, Red Dust, which was featured in the popular Chinese movie of the same title in 1990.

This opened Lo's first virtual concert.

"It's been over two years since I performed live and I've been thinking about ways to meet you, talk to you and sing for you since then," said the 68-year-old Lo, whose tours have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Today, we are performing on this beautiful lawn in Hualien (Taiwan) under the starry sky. You can hear the sound of crickets chirping. It is so romantic."

Along with his band members, Lo sang 20 of his songs for nearly two hours, including Childhood, Dream, Love Song 1980 and Love Song 1990.

He named the concert after his song Childhood, which was released in 1982.

"Because of the pandemic, our lives have changed. I have slowed down and I realized that I could still remember many old songs that I listened to and sang as a child," Lo said during the virtual concert. "Childhood was not written for children. It was for adults. When I grew up and shouldered responsibilities for my family and the society, I realized that the most beautiful thing was my childhood, when I was well-protected by my parents."

The virtual concert, which was streamed on Chinese social media platform, WeChat, attracted more than 40 million viewers. Nostalgic fans left real-time comments while watching the concert, expressing their excitement and their love for Lo, a cultural icon of their youth.

"It reminds me of my days in university when I listened to Lo's songs with my friends while having a beer together. We shared our lives, dreams and all the things that brought joy and sadness to our lives," commented a fan. "I am very touched tonight."

Another fan said: "The best part of this concert is that I got in touch with my old friends. We haven't seen each other for years and because of this concert, we decided to watch it together online. All of a sudden, it was a reunion."

Born in Taipei, Lo learned to play the piano at the age of 5. He planned to become a doctor and studied in medical school. However, he launched a music career in 1972 while still a university student.

His debut album, titled Zhi Hu Zhe Ye, which was released in 1982, was an instant success. Featuring his original pop hits, such as Childhood, Love Song 1980 and The Story of Time, the album was considered pioneering. Songs from the album are still adapted and performed by singers today.

The veteran singer-songwriter has captured the hearts of Chinese music lovers for decades, gathering a large fan base especially among people born in the 1970s and '80s.

He ended the virtual concert with his song, Tomorrow Will Be Better, hoping to provide a sense of comfort and hope to people amid the pandemic. The song was originally released in 1985, and involved about 60 Taiwan pop stars. It was written by Lo with a goal to highlight the International Year of Peace in 1986.

On the same night, Singaporean singer-songwriter Stefanie Sun also launched her online program via Douyin, a popular short-video platform.

Unlike her live concerts in indoor venues, usually well-choreographed with stage set and a list of songs, Sun asked the viewers to choose their favorite songs of hers and she performed them with a live band. She also talked to the viewers casually, which made the night relaxed and spontaneous.

"I love painting, which heals me. I hope that all of you could find your ways to heal, especially during this particular time," she said.

Unlike Lo, who performed outdoors, Sun had her online show in a rehearsal room. She performed her hits, such as Believe, Kite and Encounter.

The 44-year-old singer rose to fame after releasing her debut self-titled album in 2000. Compared to Lo, Sun's fans are people born in the 1980s and '90s.

"Like many people, I have lots of emotions during the pandemic. It feels like floating in the ocean, unsettled. However, I hope that we can face this together," said Sun during the online event.

It was not the first time that Sun gave an online show. She has been engaging with her fans through online concerts since the pandemic started.

On Friday, fans celebrated the night by watching the two concerts at the same time.

With major music festivals, tours and concerts canceled due to the pandemic, artists and their teams are seeking new ways to move forward and engage with their fans. Thus, the fledgling scene of livestreaming concerts is finding itself in the spotlight.

Popular Irish boy band Westlife held their first virtual concert through WeChat on Dec 17, which attracted 27.9 million viewers.

On April 15, when Chinese rock legend Cui Jian and his band performed online for the first time, more than 40 million people tuned in, which set a record for online concerts on Chinese social media platforms.

"It's definitely a new frontier, which allowed me to interact with fans through a way I've never experienced before," said the 60-year-old Cui, known for his original hit, Nothing to My Name, which he performed at the Beijing Workers' Stadium in 1986 and is considered as marking the start of rock music on the Chinese mainland.

According to an online music industry report released in March by iResearch, a leading provider of online audience measurement and consumer insights in China, the number of online concert viewers in March 2020 rose to 150 million, an increase of 30 percent compared to October 2019. In December 2020, the number of online concert viewers rose to 190 million.

"When the pandemic hit in 2020, the sudden necessity of livestreamed performances created a rush of attention from music lovers, who were spending much more time at home," says Si Si, an associate professor at China Conservatory of Music's art management department. "Livestreamed concerts are leading the music scene this year in particular with the fast development of technology supporting online concerts and providing viewers with immersive experiences."

Besides new live performances produced for online viewers exclusively, there is also rescreening of past concerts of pop stars, which is receiving warm feedback from fans.

On April 1, Hong Kong pop legend Leslie Cheung's last concert of his Passion tour in 2000 was remastered by using artificial intelligence and streamed online by Tencent Music Entertainment Group, which attracted about 17 million viewers.

On May 20 and 21, two concerts by pop icon Jay Chou-from Chou's 2012 Ferris Wheel tour and 2019 Strongest on the Surface tour-were rescreened through online platforms under TME, attracting over 70 million viewers in total.

"We hope we have some positive role to play in bridging the artists and their fans, and more importantly, also giving people an outlet to connect when they're feeling increasingly isolated during the pandemic," says Chen Mo, vice-president of the marketing and publicity department of TME. The company has launched TME Live, a project of producing online concerts, two years ago and so far, it has brought about 120 online concerts.

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