Rookie Mandopop singer James Yang happy he can now afford mattress

British-Chinese singer James Yang snagged a record deal within a month of sending out his demos to record labels. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
British-Chinese singer James Yang snagged a record deal within a month of sending out his demos to record labels. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Rookie Mandopop singer James Yang is happy to have come this far in his singing career - because now he can afford a mattress and a second-hand fridge for his one-room apartment in Taipei.

The British-Chinese singer, 29, tells Life! gleefully: "Things have got better. Though I still won't invite people to my house because it's horrible. I used to sleep on the floor with just a blanket. Now I've got a mattress and my next goal is to get a bed frame.

"I bought a second-hand fridge. I was so happy because I could keep milk from going bad within a day. I can have a cup of tea. I know that doesn't sound like a big thing to a non-English person, but to have a cup of tea for an English person, it's just happiness."

Yang released his debut album Stay in February, which comprises two self-penned songs The Poison and Clarity and eight covers of English and Mandarin songs.

He was in town last week for the Singapore Hit Awards 2014 organised by local radio station Yes 93.3. Yang was nominated for the Most Popular Newcomer award, which went to American- Chinese singer Wang Dawen.

It is no surprise that the laidback lad is gaining a fanbase, with his appearances on big-name reality TV singing contests - Taiwan's Million Star (2012) and China's Chinese Idol last year.

The singer-songwriter's draw is a combination of idol appeal-meets-substance with his boyish good looks and raspy singing voice. It is similar to his fellow labelmate and mixed-heritage guitar- strumming singer Anthony Neely, and Yang is well aware of the comparisons.

"We are always getting compared. We're both men, we're both mixed, and we both have raspy voices. If you listen to the timbre of our voices, it's very different," says Yang, who is a self-taught guitarist and did not take formal music lessons.

He snagged a record deal within a month of sending out his demos to record labels in mid-2011. He is signed to Taiwanese record label HIM International Music, which manages top Mandopop girl group S.H.E and Singapore songbird Olivia Ong.

The unassuming Yang, who grew up in Britain, was more than glad to conduct a big part of the interview with the Singapore media in his crisp British English.

The University College London law graduate, who gave up a corporate management position in a finance company in London, started picking up the Chinese language only when he arrived in Taipei two years ago to pursue a singing career.

The only child of a Hong Kong-born Chinese mother and a British father has no qualms admitting that he has been the butt of jokes with his language boo-boos.

He recalls with a laugh: "I cook a lot at home because it's cheaper. I went to the market to buy chicken breast. I didn't know how to say chicken breast in Chinese. I knew how to say chicken in Mandarin which is 'ji', and breast, which is 'neh neh' (Chinese slang for breasts).

"I asked, 'Do you have ji neh neh?'. The lady boss was so amused and laughed her head off. Obviously when you learn something new, you make mistakes. You have to look stupid all the time. I've got used to looking stupid."

Despite having to overcome the language barrier, Yang's decision to chose Taipei - the centre of Mandopop - as his launching pad for a music career was a pragmatic one.

"In the UK, it's not a place where Chinese people are commonly seen in the media, they might be working behind the scenes. In front of the camera, there are very few of them.

"In terms of the market, the UK has about 60 million people, compared to China, a billion people. Even if I write music that is not popular, even if 0.1 per cent of the population like it, that's still a market," says Yang, who will be back in Singapore later this month to perform at the Skechers Sundown Festival.

His calculated gamble has paid off. His popularity on China's Chinese Idol snagged him a coveted spot on a Chinese dating reality series The Romantic.

The series, which started airing on Guizhou Satellite TV channel earlier this month, gets male celebrities to go on dates with ordinary girls.

It was great fun "dating" on-screen in the name of entertainment, but Yang is coy about his off-screen romantic life.

Whether his future romantic relationship will be an open secret or kept hushed, he says, depends on his future partner.

The bachelordeclares: "I don't care what my company says, I'm not in a romantic relationship with my company. You have to discuss it with your partner, it's not a decision one person can make.

"If you are in the public eye and your girlfriend or wife isn't, your actions will affect your partner. It's magnified a hundred times, as compared to if we were just a normal couple."

Stay is available in stores and on iTunes.