Once bitten, twice shy for singer G.E.M. when it comes to talking politics

Singer G.E.M. is used to media attention, but the young idol got more than she bargained for after one interview

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 10:25am

As a bestselling recording artist used to performing in front of thousands, Gloria Tang Zhi-kei is no stranger to the pressures of being in the media spotlight. But amid rigorous training for her upcoming world tour, the singer has been unexpectedly feeling the heat from something unrelated to showbiz.

Earlier this month, the young diva, better known as G.E.M., offered a few words of encouragement to beleaguered chief executive Leung Chun-ying during an interview with a think tank, saying, "Please carry on."

The local media and netizens quickly jumped on her comment, with some fans expressing "disappointment" at her "lack of logic" and "blind support" for the government. Parodies proliferated, mocking her perceived pro-Communist stance, with some likening her to the peasant women who became Communist fighters in the Mao-era propaganda movie The Red Detachment of Women.

The singer has been "upset" by the incident and was feeling "under pressure" ahead of her Guangzhou concert next Monday, according to her manager Tan Chang, who spoke to the South China Morning Post.

"G.E.M. is unhappy as she felt she was misunderstood and taken out of context," said Chang, the chief executive of Hummingbird Music, the label and music production company Tang is signed to. "We cannot afford to let her risk talking more, as her vocal cords are very delicate."

Equally sensitive is the issue of politics. The interview that landed the 22-year-old in hot water was for a project by the Ideas Centre, a self-proclaimed "independent, apolitical non-profit organisation", that featured 11 youngsters born in the 1990s offering their thoughts.

Since the controversy, Chang has turned down interviews on Tang's behalf - initially including this one with the Post.

"We do not want her fame to be leveraged by anyone to create political influence and exploit her fans. Actions should speak louder than words."

Tang began writing and composing music at the age of five and entered show business at 15. At 20, she was the youngest artist ever to have held a solo concert at the Coliseum.

Her stage name, G.E.M., stands for "Get Everybody Moving" - a message she says is to nudge people to take action for the causes she supports.

Formerly a student at the Academy for Performing Arts, Tang dropped out in 2009 to dedicate herself full time to the entertainment industry. She has since built a strong fan base in Asia and beyond. Seven years into the business, she is staging her second world tour, starting at the Coliseum in March followed by more than 20 stops.

The singer has also drawn criticism in the past for remarks she made challenging the fairness of music awards.

Opinions were split on her weighing in on the subject, with some praising her courage in speaking up on a sensitive issue in the local music industry, and others calling her words "condescending". But it has been her recent political comments that have drawn the most attention.

"Society is full of grievances - it is not only young people who are discontent with the status quo," Tang said in the interview. "I am more understanding … When you have obtained certain benefits from this society, you should not be grumpy towards everything."

She asked whether it was "necessary" to call on the chief executive to step down, saying he may be unable to tell the public about the constraints he is facing over things he has ruled out.

"I want to tell Leung to carry on because he must be under great pressure," Tang said. "We should not … judge whether he has done a good job. This is a very difficult position."

In critics' eyes, the remarks were sufficient to categorise the young idol as a pro-government figure - an image that sits uncomfortably with the perceived pan-democratic leanings of her young fans. Some placed her in the same vein as Robert Chow Yung, the man in charge of Silent Majority, the campaign to counter the Occupy Central democracy movement.

The lambasting of Tang contrasted starkly with the social media frenzy caused earlier by Miss Hong Kong champion Grace Chan Hoi-lam, also 22, who was applauded for her support for universal suffrage.

Some of Tang's fans said they were disappointed at her "political ignorance". But Tang's manager called the saga an unfortunate series of questions and answers. "The question was divided into three parts and she jumped the order when answering … but the questions were not listed in the final interview," Chang said.

The original question asked the singer to comment on government policies in light of young people's grievances, for her messages for the chief executive, and for her suggestions on how Leung and the government can help young people.

Chang said she "was not afraid" to talk politics, but that it could be dangerous to support anything political because the city, struggling for universal suffrage, was not yet democratic.

"Only when we have a democratic city will the media mature and people be informed enough to discuss their views," said Chang, who grew up in democracies including Australia and the United States.

"It is easy to hang on a small remark and amplify it," she said.


Gloria 'G.E.M.' Tang

Age 22

True Light Girls' College; The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

2006 Champion in joint-school singing contest Spice It Up , signed contract with Hummingbird Music
2008 Completed HKCEE with 21 marks (out of 30). Became a professional a singer. Enrolled at the HKAPA. The youngest recipient of Commercial Radio's gold award for the Best Female Newcomer
2009 Dropped out of HKAPA. Published her first album 18…
2011 Became the youngest artist to hold a concert at the Coliseum. Staged first world concert tour.
2013 Second world tour