Is this really the sexy new Sandy?
FANS gasped as she pranced on to the stage in a lacy black outfit that hugged every curve of her body.
Others scratched their heads. This was supposed to be a Sandy Lam fan club party: were they in the wrong place? But, no, that really was Sandy Lam Yik-leen. The same smart, sophisticated singer who in the past served as a healthy antidote to the karaoke-and-curves school of Canto-pop.
Gone is the baby fat and cute look that characterised her early Japanese-influenced style - replaced by a new, sexy image.
The new look was again on show at a recent press conference, where she appeared bra-less and in a low-cut, bare-back top.
''That's how I expected it to be,'' she said when asked if she thought her dress was a bit too racy. That was enough to get the pundits laying odds on the likelihood of her appearing in a Category-III film.
But they may prove to be long odds.
''I have not changed my image to a sexy one on purpose,'' Lam protested. ''It's just that sexier clothes have been in vogue and I am a person who is very conscious of fashion trends. I like to keep up-to-date.
''I believe music and substance are the most important parts of being an artist, but in Hongkong packaging is equally vital. It's not an aspect you can ignore.'' While everyone agrees Lam looks dazzling, pop fans might be a little harder to please.
''I'm sure my fans will understand that I need to keep up with the trends,'' Lam said.
Despite the new look, she admitted she felt just as comfortable in tattered jeans and a T-shirt.
''I'm a down-to-earth and casual person,'' she insisted.
''So I guess the jeans and T-shirt are more the 'real' me. But sometimes I just like to put on a dress and look good. That's what being a woman is about!'' Lam prefers to discuss her music rather than her look. As one of the few Canto-pop singers whose songs transcend barriers of race and language, she has developed a reputation for merging a Chinese sound and a Western feel.
Typically, she begs to differ: ''Critics, disc jockeys and fans have always thought Sandy Lam songs were very sophisticated and trendy, but I've never thought that.
''I just use lyrics to voice common feelings and it brings out a mutual feeling between my listeners and myself.'' Lam can also be credited with bringing rhythm and blues into mainstream Canto-pop. But of late, emerging singers such as Cass Phang Ling and Faye Wong Ching-man, have been using the same influences and are giving Lam a run for her money.
''Each has their own style,'' she shrugged. ''Their kind of R & B is different to mine so you can't really compare us.'' In her eight years as a singer, Lam has collaborated with some of the best musicians in Asia, including Singapore's Dick Lee, Hongkong's Anthony Lun Wing-leung and Taiwan's Jonathan Li Zhongchen.
Lam describes them and others such as Clarence Hui Yuen, lyricists Lam Chun-keung and Thomas Chow Lai-mou as ''sincere musicians'' who write about the feelings of the younger generation.
''The songs are about very commonplace feelings that are hidden in each of our hearts. Music is not limited by barriers or geography and I think Chinese music and Western music, even tribal music, can blend to can make something melodic.
''It just depends on how you blend them. The musicians and I hope to do this: to make music more universal and beautiful,'' she said.
''I would like to play a part in expanding Hongkong music because we have a lot of outstanding compositions. They do not lose out to other places. If I can attract more people in more places to listen to Canto-pop, it would be perfect.'' ''Down-to-earth'' and ''sincere'' are the words Lam uses to describe herself and her music and, indeed, that is what is on show in her current series of concerts at the Coliseum which ends on Saturday.
From the stark stage to her casual costumes, the near-three-hour show offers music at its finest, with none of the usual concert gimmicks to distract the audience.
''I left a lot of the concept decisions to Clarence Hui,'' Lam said. Dick Lee and choreographer Sunny Lam Ching-fung also played a part in the highly dramatic sequence of Reincarnated Love .
When her concerts end here, Lam will embark on a concert tour of China, a country where her Loving Someone Who Doesn't Come Home, sung in Mandarin, was a big hit.
After that, it is off to Japan, where she hopes to be able to ''bring Hongkong music to another level''.
''I haven't really thought about what kind of success I will be able to achieve there. I just hope that I will be able to make some headway.
''Of course, language will be a big obstacle. I will try to overcome that and do something that both my Japanese fans and I like,'' she said.
But before that, Lam will have to see to the release of her first individual karaoke laser disc release next month.
''We started filming in April and I appear in 10 of the 20 songs featured. But there will be lots of interviews with musicians and disc jockeys such as Anthony [Lun] and Wallace Kwok Kai-wah,'' she said.
Answering criticism that she has sold out to the market, Lam said: ''I have not compromised. I never think about being commercial. All I have ever done is do what I love.''