The Superstar Chinese Songstress Looks West with a New Jazz Direction
Chinese vocalist and actress Karen Mok is caught in a rare, quiet moment at Le Grand Hotel during Paris Fashion Week by photographer Michael Hemy in this series of intimate stills, accompanied by her cover of Portishead’s “Sour Times” from her new album Somewhere I Belong. With more than 15 full-length pop releases and 40 feature films under her belt, not to mention 36 million combined followers on social media sites Sina and Tencent Weibo, Mok is one of China’s biggest sensations. Now the Hong Kong native is looking to break into the Western market with her debut English-language album, a compilation of jazz standards from Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and updated covers from The Beatles to Sting. “Jazz is a genre that has always been about crossing borders and transcending cultural differences, so I think it fits with my being a Chinese artist coming to the West,” explains Mok. “No one has really made the transition in a big way—but someone’s got to start it.” Recorded in Shanghai, some of her tracks nod to Asian musical tradition, for instance using the guzheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument, to put a new spin on well-known melodies. Here she speaks about her genre-bending ambitions and the discount CDs that changed her career.
Has jazz always been a part of your musical life?
Karen Mok: Years ago, I stumbled upon some cheap compilations of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duets and I was just blown away. So this is what you call jazz, I thought, that’s how one should sing—straight from your heart with no inhibitions. It really opened my mind. When I became a pop singer, I realized all those years of listening to jazz had really influenced the way I sing.
Did combining classic jazz and guzheng work out as you intended?
KM: I think it really brought about some magic. The main thing was to try not to copy how people in the West do it. We wanted to retain our own identity for this album—that was really the most important thing.
The album is called Somewhere I Belong. Do you have one place where you feel that most?
KM: I guess it’s probably when I’m doing what I love most, performing and singing. That’s where I belong.
Karen Mok’s Somewhere I Belong will be released in the UK on Decca Records on March 11.
Top Makeup Artists Define the Season’s Trends in a Sultry Short From Tokyo Magazine The Reality Show
Samantha Morton Helms an Emotive Music Video Portrait of the Rock Duo
The Kills celebrate ten years of musical partnership with this poignant and playful video, directed by Oscar nominated actress Samantha Morton. The captivating, melancholic song “The Last Goodbye” offsets the hard-edged sound Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince are known for with haunting vocals and a nostalgic piano loop. "I wanted to make it completely different from anything we'd normally do," explains Hince. "I used an octagon keyboard from the 60s which takes flexi-discs with real bands playing and mixes them together." For the video—an experience Hince and Mosshart usually find unfulfilling and frustrating—the duo enlisted the talents of Morton, who made her directorial feature debut this year with The Unloved. Shot in monochrome on crisp, silvery 35mm, the video reflects the beautiful simplicity of the track, with an old-school photo booth providing an intimate backdrop for Mosshart's intense and heart-warming opening performance followed by a series of touching to-camera poses reflecting the musicians’ longstanding, spirited friendship. "Life goes on," says Mosshart of the touching ballad. "It starts off being the end of the world but then ends up alright." Here Mosshart and Hince share their memories of their first meeting and a decade of collaboration.
Alison on Jamie:
"When I first met him I thought he was the coolest guy in the world; I was completely fascinated by him. I had an immediate desire to do something with him – it was the best decision I've ever made. We've had so much fun over the past 12 years. I'll never forget our first gig—14 February 2002 in front of 70 people. It was the scariest moment of our lives. We couldn't believe we were doing it. We'd spent six months booking the tour, by letters as it was before email. We stayed wherever we could, going on the greatest adventure of our lives. By the end of the tour the rooms were full because of word of mouth. I remember those first years so clearly because you're so involved and so in charge of your destiny. I don't take any of this for granted—it's still as exciting and interesting and there's still more to discover."
Jamie on Alison:
"In 2000, I was in another band and she was staying in the apartment below. She would sit outside my window and listen to me play guitar, a bit like a stalker. When we first met, she was painfully shy. She'd grown up in a skate scene in Florida so she wasn't really aware of any bands. It felt incredible to be able to introduce her to the music I loved. She absorbed it all and loved it all. The first time I saw her perform was like watching Patti Smith for the first time. This awkward little sparrow on stage just had so much confidence and was obviously so comfortable performing. It was fascinating. I thought if I was going to be in another band it was going to be with her. She's my best friend and has been in every aspect of my life."
Produced by Juliette Larthe through PRETTYBIRD.
Cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister.