Elton John will bring a back catalogue like no other to Hong Kong
The beloved entertainer is also a powerful spokesman for a variety of causes
If you asked a random group of people what their favourite song by Elton John was, their divergent answers might surprise you.
Everyone has a “greatest hit” from the 68-year-old performer’s influential back catalogue, which he will be performing live in Hong Kong on Tuesday, from the standout Tiny Dancer to Rocket Man. But what that special tune is, and how it weaves into the lives of everyone – everyone from a British octogenarian fond of the monarchy to a New Yorker fascinated with the roots of soul music or a Russian LGBT rights student – is measured not simply by sound and song alone, but also by the influence John has had on society, music and politics throughout his career.
The British octogenarian would probably select Candle in the Wind. John famously rewrote the 1977 song (originally inspired by Marilyn Monroe) after the death of close friend Princess Diana, and it became the biggest-selling single in British history. The New Yorker would likely go for Bennie and the Jets in honour of John’s appearance as the first Caucasian performer on US musical variety programme Soul Train in 1975. And what would the young Russian student choose? Just this September, John received a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss LGBT rights, but he has a strong history in the country anyway – he became the first Western musician to perform in Russia in 1979.
John will be showcasing these various facets of his career – which spans five decades and 30 solo albums – when he performs at the Convention Centre on Tuesday as part of his All the Hits Tour. John has been a regular visitor to Hong Kong over the years, and retains a passion for performing live all over the world.
“It’s all part of the rich mix of enjoying the fortunate life I’ve been given,” he told the South China Morning Post before his 2008 show in Hong Kong. His affection for our city stems from the loyal following of his fans here. “The reaction that I have received is part of the reason to come back.”
John will be joined by his band, which includes stalwart members Nigel Olsson, Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper. It’s no secret that John’s career owes a great debt to an incredible roster of musicians and talent, such as his famed lyricist Bernie Taupin. The pair came together after they both responded to a songwriting advertisement in the NME, and Taupin has since been credited on more than 30 of John’s albums and wrote the lyrics to many of John’s signature tracks, including Rocket Man and Candle in the Wind.
In 2007, when John turned 60 and celebrated at a concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden, he told the crowd that the Elton John they knew today would probably not exist without Taupin. Other notable collaborators include John Lennon, Stevie Wonder and Tim Rice, who collaborated with John on the music for The Lion King and Aida. John’s six Grammy awards, five Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Tony Award and many more accolades are also testament to his enduring relationships with artists and the music world.
John has also long been a social activist aspect. Born to a father who disapproved of a musical career, John found his identity through music and showmanship, inspiring countless others who felt that they didn’t fit in, or were oppressed because of their sexual identities.
John may be openly gay now, but he has spoken at length in the past about his struggle with his sexuality and personal demons such as substance abuse and an eating disorder. Having lost many close friends to the disease, the fight against Aids has also been important to him and he set up the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992.
His marriage (formerly a civil partnership) to David Furnish in 2014 was a turning point in England’s gay rights movement – they were one of the first couples, and perhaps the most famous, to take advantage of the change in the law.
John still regularly makes the headlines for his stances on various issues – primary schools in Venice banning books that feature same-sex couples, for example – which show his dual role as a musician and powerful spokesman. At this stage in his career, he is ridiculously untouchable – even a shout out to dissident artist Ai Weiwei during his 2012 concert in Hong Kong had no lasting impact. (Ai told the Post that he was “quite surprised and was deeply touched” by the gesture.)
That might be the secret to the 68-year-old’s longevity and tireless drive for production and presence: he continues to engage and respond to contemporary issues both on a musical and on a deeply personal level. “It’s all a great experience,” he told the Post in 2008. “Every day is a great experience and new challenges are always there for me.”
John might be the greatest living singer-songwriter today, not just because of his contributions to music, but because of his humble altruism. So: what’s your favourite Elton John song?
Elton John, Nov 24, 8pm, Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, HK$488-HK$2,388, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 2712 4268