Who's the Man Behind the Cantopop Machine?
Cantopop lyricist and humorist Roy Tsui, also known as Lin Rixi, has written songs for Joey Yung, Miriam Yeung, Edison Chen, Fiona Sit and more. He’s also the founder of one-sheet magazine Blackpaper and weekly satirical magazine 100Most. He tells Isabelle Hon about being kicked out of school, getting his songwriting break and the future of TV.
I grew up in a public housing estate in Tai Wo Hau with my parents, grandparents and auntie.
My father barely talks. The only advice he gave me is when I was promoted to a Band One secondary school was: “This is going to be tough.”
I ignored his advice and went. I had to repeat the first year.
My academic results were never good, so I was kicked out and had to change to another school.
After a year I was kicked out again.
I was never a bad student, I was just not good academically. I was bad at all the subjects except English.
Later I took a 3-year graphic design course.
One day I suddenly thought: What’s the meaning of this course? What will I do after graduation? I realized how much I sucked.
I didn’t go back after that day.
I spent a year at home afterwards. I read a lot of books and watched lots of movies.
I watched more than 300 movies that year. Yes, it was like one movie a day.
During that period I also started to study and write lyrics.
I’m addicted to writing Cantonese lyrics. It’s much more difficult than Putonghua and English.
Because of the tones, there is always a standard frame in Cantopop.
Producing content means there’s a frame that you have to follow: Otherwise, it’s art.
In art, you can do everything just to express your own feelings. But when you create something interesting within a frame, it’s much more satisfying.
I’d always wanted to be a lyricist. I tried joining competitions or applying to production companies, but with no luck.
I joined Commercial Radio in 2003 as a sound editor. Then I got transferred to a new job. My desk was in front of the big boss [legendary radio personality and mentor] Winnie Yu’s office.
My new job was coordinating the forums, which was a new thing at the time. It came out especially well. There was lots of interaction on the forum.
One day, senior management told me the forum had to close. I was really upset, since I’d spent so much effort on it.
As they were paying the DJs so much, they thought the DJs shouldn’t be criticized.
The next day I stopped Winnie Yu and told her that the forum shouldn’t be closed. I was a nobody at that time but I just wanted to express how I felt.
She asked me to step into her office.
She didn’t talk to me, and made some phone calls. Three minutes later, all the upper management at Commercial Radio walked into the room, and sat around me to have a meeting. The forum was saved.
After I talked to Winnie, I thought it would be a great chance to show her my lyrics.
I took my 20 best lyrics, asked a friend to sing a demo, printed out the lyrics and put them on her desk.
A few weeks later, she asked me to write 10 more. After that, all the upper ranks came to the office to have a meeting, again.
She didn’t directly help me, but [legendary lyricist] Lin Xi was also in the meeting. My career path changed from clerk to production.
Between the ages of 23 and 31, I changed my job once every few months.
When I became upper management in [creative training initiative] Skyhigh Creative Partners, I started to think of doing a side project with [Commercial Radio DJs] Ah Bu and Chan Keung.
Who said a magazine must be a book? We started to sell Blackpaper, a magazine that was a sheet of paper, for $1 in 7-Eleven.
Just as people jam with songs in a band, we jam with words on paper.
We didn’t earn much money at first, but found more people to collaborate with.
As Blackpaper was quite dark and criticized society, we wanted to have another magazine which was just for fun, to make people laugh. So we started 100Most.
100Most is localized, precise and funny, which has gained lots of support from teenagers.
Nowadays teenagers don’t watch TV anymore. And there’s also a large number who feel ashamed of watching TV.
When they tell someone that they watched something on TV, they tend to say “when I was in a cha chaan teng, I saw…”, “my mum turned on the TV so I saw…”
Why do they need to give that context? It shows that the TV industry has brought a negative image to teenagers and they subconsciously feel shame when watching.
I thought we should do something fun with this. So this year we started our TV website, TV Most.
We wanted to redefine the local media scene. A single sheet of paper could be a magazine, so why must TV be on TV?
I don’t know too much about music. I only played the recorder and triangle in school.
If you are passionate about something, then you will do it anyway—it’s a natural process.
In truth, I am a quiet person. I don’t talk much.