Culture Club

Faye Wong and the love songs that are the story of her life

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 11:55am

Other people's relationships aren't any of our business. But in the case of Faye Wong's relationships, apparently they are everybody's business.

The Chinese pop queen's shocking divorce from mainland actor Li Yapang after eight years of marriage has stunned the Chinese speaking community around the world. Stories and rumours speculating on the reasons behind the divorce – Li's purported extra-marital affairs, Li's alleged financial troubles, and even Wong's “plan” to become a Buddhist nun – have claimed news headlines.

Despite Wong having denied all the rumours, the divorce settlement, her post-divorce career move and the fate of Wong’s daughters – Dou Jingtong, her 16-year-old elder daughter with first husband Dou Wei, and Li Yan, seven-year-old younger daughter with Li Yapang, born with a cleft palate – will continue to grace the covers of many gossip magazines to come.

Juicy stories sell. But in the case of Wong's divorce, it isn't all just about prying into her privacy. Everyone from A-list stars like Andy Lau Tak-wah to tens of thousands of fans from all walks of life is saddened by the unexpected separation. They are genuinely sorry for one of the, if not the, greatest and most loved singers of our times, because the star's troubled love life is somewhat a self-fulfilling prophecy of her music that many of us grew up with.

Wong was discovered by Chan Siu-bo, former chief of record label Cinepoly, in the late 1980s. The Beijing-born Wong, who was only 18, embarked on her music journey as a packaged Canto-pop idol under stage name Shirley Wong Ching-man, singing poppy romantic tunes. But it wasn't until her return from a two-year hiatus in New York City did she – and her music - start to become interesting.

Video: Chan Siu-bo: What makes Faye Wong a superstar

Aloof she might be, but Wong is probably one of the handful honest musicians in the Chinese speaking world who speaks through her music. I’m not referring her 1992 hit Fragile Woman (容易受傷的女人), the overtly popular song that sealed her status as the Canto-pop queen of the 1990s. When she decided to go with Faye Wong, a homonym of her Chinese name Wong Fei, she began penning her own music.

Her 1993 hit No Regrets (執迷不悔), a ballad for which she wrote the lyrics in her mother tongue Mandarin, first gave away her attitude towards relationships. She wrote: “I don’t care if this is wrong or right...No matter how exhausted I am, I will only continue to be stubborn with no regrets.” Obviously I don’t know to which relationship Wong was referring but it was widely believe that this was written around the time she began dating Beijing rocker Dou, who later became her first husband.

In the subsequent years, Dou was a strong influence on Wong’s music as their relationship continued to blossom. Together with Dou’s friend, famed Chinese musician and producer Zhang Yadong, they created the golden era of Wong’s music career.

Wong’s music displayed a unique blend of Beijing rock and Western alternative sound by Cocteau Twins, Tori Amos and The Cranberries, accompanied by lyrics through which she confessed her excitement and anxiety in her relationship. The most apparent examples are Oath (誓言), co-written by Dou and Wong from album Random Thoughts, and Exit (出路), written by Wong and arranged by Dou, from album Please Myself, released in the same year.

Video: Faye Wong sings her hit "Exit"

In Oath, Dou contributed the Chinese rock sound through his composition and Chinese flute. While Wong raised her concerns through her words: “The sky is getting darker, and my heart is getting more tired. I can see your face, listening to the oath that you couldn’t bear to say...The future that lies ahead of us, perhaps, isn’t very clear.” Wong was even more explicit about her heart in alternative rock piece Exit, in which she raps: “I only believe in love. I aspire to form a happy family but the fortune teller said our marriage will not be a smooth sail. He said you will have an affair when you are in your 40s.”

Regardless, Wong was still in love with Dou. In 1995 she was spotted living with Dou in a rundown siheyuan (courtyard house) in Beijing and she was photographed carrying buckets of waste to a nearby public toilet (there was toilet in the siheyuan they lived). The pictures shocked many, who pondered why Wong, who was already a pop queen at the time, was willing to sacrifice her stardom for the sake of love. Di-Dar, considered by many as an alternative Canto-pop album, was released in the same year, featured Wong’s own compositions, arrangements by Dou and music written by Zhang.

Wong’s artistic achievement reached an all time high with the release of 1996 album Restless (浮躁). Hailed by many as the best creative offering from the pop queen, the album was co-written again by Wong, Dou and Zhang, with two songs contributed by Cocteau Twins. In the same year, Wong was pregnant with her daughter by Dou, and the couple were married. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last.

On the album Sing and Play (唱遊), released in 1998, a year after their daughter were born, Wong hinted at her worries through one of the album’s classics Red Bean, in which Hong Kong lyricist Lin Xi penned: “Sometimes, sometimes, I believe that there is an end to everything. All reunions and farewells are destined. There is no such thing as eternity.”

The couple ended the marriage with an ugly break-up as Dou announced publicly that he had another woman and the marriage to Wong was a “conspiracy”.

It wasn’t until 2005 that Wong entered her second marriage with Li. She subsequently went on a long-time hiatus for her music career until 2010 when she embarked on a comeback tour. However, as we now know, her marriage with Li did not have a happy ending either. And strangely enough, songs that Wong, now 44, wrote in the past continue to reflect her present relationship status, and the fortune teller’s 1994 predictions are still rumoured to have come true (Li, 42, was photographed travelling to Cambridge recently with another lady, though the former couple denied the affairs). It is not known to where destiny will lead our pop queen next, but I certainly hope she will stop living the best pieces of music written in the past.