Jacky Cheung: still the "God of Songs"
There is a reason why Jacky Cheung is checked in for an unprecedented four nights of appearances at Cotai Arena this August: his live shows have a
tendency to sell out – fast.
Those four nights are highlights of The Venetian Macao’s 10th anniversary celebrations, and part of Cheung’s world-straddling A Classic Tour, which began last year. Wherever he goes, tickets for his shows continue to sell considerably faster than hot cakes: when his Taipei Arena dates were announced in February, more than 70,000 seats were snapped up in a matter of minutes.
But this is no mere fandom: there is something different about Jacky Cheung. He’s often mentioned as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Cantopop – alongside Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Leon Lai – but he’s always seemed to stand
apart from them. Not aloof, but distinct; immutable. What gives him this quality?
He's not had anything like the big screen success that Andy Lau has, and he can’t dance like Aaron Kwok, but Cheung’s name – in Cantonese Cheung Hok-yau –
seems to elicit a very specific reaction when you speak to Cantopop fans. It’s no exaggeration to say their faces light up – as if they have their own, very personal connection with him. His songs, and the persona that inhabits them, have touched the lives of whole generations.
Perhaps it is his unaffected humility: the star says he still has a lot to learn – not least about singing. “Everything you see about me,” he told UM Webzine, “it all comes from practice. I’m not gifted – I just work very hard.”
He’s even gone so far as to suggest that the much younger star Eason Chan could be considered his “master”, simply because Chan, unlike Cheung, has formal qualifications in music. This work ethic contributes to the notion of Cheung being a celeb made more of substance than style. This has been reinforced not only by his work with charities such as the Hong Kong Blood Cancer Foundation, Helping Hand and Orbis, but moreover by his frankness about his own issues.
Since the 90s, Cheung has left the fast times behind and maintained a more low-profile lifestyle. In 1997 he married May Lo, whom he met on the set of 1986’s Devoted to You. They have two daughters, Zia and Zoe, to whom Cheung is unabashedly devoted. His apparent commitment to being a responsible husband and dad have served to further enamour him to his fanbase.
Yet despite having settled down, Cheung has maintained an ability to challenge himself and surprise his public. In 2004 he starred in and was the artistic director for the musical Snow.Wolf.Lake, an ambitious and highly successful project – now
considered the first “Western-style” Hong Kong musical – which received universal acclaim in Hong Kong and across China.
Continuing on this journey of musical discovery, in 2010 Cheung released his first jazz album Private Corner – of a genre he has dubbed “Canto-jazz”. Despite its relatively experimental status, Private Corner went platinum within a week of its release.
Cheung continues to appear in movies (albeit sporadically) and still
records (his last album, Wake Up Dreaming, was the first Mandopop album
recorded at London’s Abbey Road and was China’s biggest selling album
of 2014), but it is clear that his heart lies in performing for a live audience.
“I love singing,” he told CNN’s Lorraine Hahn. “If I had to choose between singing and acting, I would have to choose singing: it’s more personal.”
So his tour schedules are gruelling, his live sets are long – sometimes exceeding three hours – but he seems driven to it. On the stage, giving his all in front of an adoring crowd, he’s in his element. Mid-set, you'll see him smiling the smile of a man whose many dreams have come true. Those lucky enough to have picked up tickets to his Cotai Arena shows in August will get to find out for themselves what this really means.
5 THINGS TO EXPECT FROM JACKY CHEUNG’S A CLASSIC TOUR
1. The ticket scramble: The "God of Songs" has not toured for five
years, so tickets go very fast. In Hong Kong, shows for this tour were
completely sold out.
2. A visual feast: A lot of resources went into the production of this
show. From the four-sided stage to the spectacular costumes,
fireworks and pyrotechnics, it’ll be a spectacle to behold.
3. A three-hour extravaganza: If you’ve seen a Jacky Cheung concert before,
you will know that once the singer gets started, he is going to give it his all. For
A Classic Tour, Cheung sings and dances almost non-stop.
4. Artistic backing: The spotlight will not just be on Cheung but also on
the talent who back him. More than 20 dancers will grace the stage
with him but there will also be an orchestra of some 30 musicians.
5. Tribute to late idols: Although the concert has been touted as a concert of his own “classics”, Cheung does not forget old friends, dedicating a touching, nostalgic session to late idols such as Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung and Roman Tam.