Singer Fei Xiang ventures into electronica with new album

He is not expecting to make money from his latest album

Pop icon from the 1980s Fei Xiang is making a living by touring China these days. But do not call him a retro act.

The Taiwanese-American singer is keeping up with the times, stretching himself by delving into contemporary-sounding electronica with his latest album Human.

In fact, he says he is not even expecting to make money from this 12-track record, which he calls his "musical expression". Speaking in a mixture of Mandarin and American-accented English, he told the media last week during an event to promote Human: "I fund my creative pursuits with the money I make from my live performances."

Fei, who has a Chinese mother and American father, is a 1.93m-tall blue-eyed heart-throb big in the Chinese-speaking world in the 1980s. His debut album and title song Wandering in 1982 shot him to fame in Taiwan, but he gained wider notice in China when he performed on China Central Television New Year's Gala in 1987.

He moved to New York in 1990 to pursue a career in Broadway where he starred in musicals such as Miss Saigon (1991).

He toured more than 40 American cities as part of The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber production, where he belted out signature tunes by the British composer.

After a seven-year stint in Broadway, he returned to the Mandopop world and released his comeback album Loved You in 2000.

Now 54 years old, the crooner still looks younger than his age, with a trim figure and attractive creases at the corners of his eyes.

With his good looks and former pop icon status, Fei Xiang has received lucrative offers to appear on the ever-popular singing contest reality shows that are all the rage in China and Taiwan.

He says: "Shows want veterans. They're forcing open coffins one by one to pull them out. I don't know how many times they have tried to pry open my coffin, but I'm still holding on tight to the lid. I'm not interested in doing talent shows."

Diplomatically, he explains that he has to be selective about the work he takes on at his age.

"The TV shows are great, but they are the creative work of the TV production crew. It's not a piece of work I can call my own.

"I don't have that many years left. When I was 20, I can take a year to do a film. Then I'll be 21, no big deal. At this point in my career, even to take three months to do a film, I have to think if it's going to be worth it."

He highlights the example of his wizard character in period fantasy movie Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection (2012). He was interested in the role because it "completely shattered" the image people had of him.

Straits Times film critic Boon Chan said in his review that Fei was "almost unrecognisable" as a seer with a bulbous bald head and sunken eyes.

Despite his self-deprecating references to ageing and coffins, Fei is far from calling it quits in show business.

He says: "As long as my vocals are in good condition and do justice to my songs, I will continue to perform."

Revealing his upcoming work schedule, Fei says he begins touring in China today and will perform 22 shows in a month.

In the second half of the year, he will begin movie promotions for a China production that he wrapped up filming before the Chinese New Year.

Despite his hectic work schedule, he has vowed to spend more time with his family. This was a realisation that hit him after the death of his father last year.

"I would postpone visits to my dad. I always thought I would have time, but I ran out of time," says Fei, who is based in New York and London.

He made it a point to fly in his 83-year-old mother, who resides in Shanghai, to Singapore to join him on this trip.

"She loves good food, so she loves coming to Singapore. Even though she doesn't really like to take planes, she was more than happy to come," says Fei, who took her to Gardens by the Bay.

Family time is clearly of utmost important to him, but what about finding the right one to settle down with?

Fei, whose long-time bachelorhood has caused speculation about his sexuality, launches into a speech on "the institution of marriage".

He says: "I think it's not for everyone. In the West, it's already accepted that you don't have to get married if you don't want to. In China, there's a lot of pressure on young people (to settle down) once they hit their late 20s."

He adds in jest that singletons can use him as a prime example to ward off prying relatives with questions about their marital prospects.

"I'm not saying that marriage is not good," he says. "If you can find the right person, it's great. But maybe it's not for everyone. Maybe not everyone's so lucky."

nggwen@sph.com.sg

Human is available at music stores HMV and CD-Rama