Identity is what makes an artist stand out from the rest. In the competitive world of show business, where hundreds aim to become famous and make a mark, it’s easy to get lost in the “trend”; and artists who don’t know who they really are tend to put up masks. But this is especially hard for artists living in foreign lands. With their two feet stepping on two different worlds, their identities become blurry.
桃子A1J (referred to as A1J) is a Vietnamese rapper based in Taiwan. She’s been moving between countries since middle school, and each time, the transition becomes harder. But as cheerful and optimistic as her family and friends know her, A1J used her peculiar experiences to create songs that speak of the beautiful life she chooses to lead.
Becoming a rapper in Taiwan
A1J’s journey all started by mere chance. The first time she joined the rapping club was because of a free club meal in high school. The first time she performed on stage was at Christmas, when she rapped about the feeling of “not having a lover” in cold winter. And the first time she rapped in Vietnamese was when her university held a rapping competition in native languages.
A1J shared that when she joined the competition and wrote that rap song, she was reminded of the feeling every time she introduced herself as Vietnamese. From there, her connection to her Vietnamese heritage became stronger, and eventually became a part of her music.
The young artist focuses on emotions to create songs, rather than making music that only a certain group can relate to. This is what connects A1J’s music with audiences across the region; they sympathize with the emotions in her songs.
A1J’s first songs were as simple as the way she composed them. As she grew as an artist, her style became bolder, her tunes became more elaborate.
Each tune is like a key to open another imagination in her. There are upbeat tunes that make her feel like she’s on a disco stage, or gentle melodies in pop music that make her feel like falling in love. This versatility has allowed her to rap in many genres, not just hip hop; and paved her path towards becoming an established Vietnamese rapper in Taiwan.
Keeping it real
“The most important thing when writing lyrics is to be able to say those sentences yourself in real life,” A1J shared. However, things were very different when she started her musical journey.
A1J used to experiment with words, using those not commonly known, thinking it would make her songs unique. But the artist later on realized that this style would prevent her from getting her message across, from getting her emotions expressed. And so she started to focus on what’s relatable, on what’s real.
She immerses herself in a character’s story to write lyrics. That way, she can feel the change in the character’s inner self. The rap lyrics, accordingly, can later reach other souls experiencing the same situation. Love songs, in her opinion, are the most challenging in terms of writing lyrics. Without experiencing love, or contemplation of emotions, the lyrics written down will be very fake. And “faking” is not among the values A1J pursues.
Instead of focusing on raging sadness, A1J chooses to sing about small and simple joys. She herself is also an optimistic person, finding joy in the simplest of things. The fluttering of the heart, sometimes, also comes from little things like that.
For example, A1J wrote about the joy of binge-watching Korean movies in the song Netflix and Chill, and the happiness of living in the heat of Saigon summer in the song Hot Hot Summer.
Forging her own path
A1J admitted that she’s a fast-food-music consumer. With the emergence of digital music platforms like Spotify, YouTube and ZingMP3, people – both artists and listeners – tend to create and listen to hundreds of songs without having to properly understand each. This trend has also increased the pressure for artists to keep releasing songs, or they’ll get lost in the algorithm and be eventually forgotten.
To A1J, however, music is to speak her heart out. She doesn’t let herself be carried away by social pressure nor by fame. What’s important is she makes songs that have real meanings — everything that comes after that is all just flimsy glamor.
This is also the reason the Vietnamese rapper chooses to go down a different path — when most rappers in Taiwan go for a sexy, sultry image, she wears a hoodie or a light dress. She also comes up with ideas and styles for her own MVs. That way, it will match the images in her head when writing the songs.
Instead of following what’s already been set for artists and the music industry in general, A1J spends time experimenting with new genres. This is how she grows and evolves, she said. Whether it's rapping in Vietnamese or trying out trap music, there’s plenty of musical elements she’s willing to learn. And in the future, there may be more of these songs on A1J’s YouTube channel.
In the meantime, A1J still thinks that she’s still just playing and enjoying. Perhaps thanks to that mindset, she has retained the innocence and brightness of her timbre.
And speaking of enjoying, here is the playlist A1J recommends you to listen to when visiting Taiwan:
Adapted by Thao Van