After a stint in China, G.E.M. is packing in the fans in Singapore

Hong Kong-based G.E.M. a top draw after star turn on Chinese reality contest I Am A Singer

Hong Kong-based G.E.M. pulls off a three-night run at the 5,000-seater Max Pavilion at Singapore Expo from tomorrow to Sunday.
Hong Kong-based G.E.M. pulls off a three-night run at the 5,000-seater Max Pavilion at Singapore Expo from tomorrow to Sunday. PHOTO: UNUSUAL ENTERTAINMENT

The biggest stars in Chinese pop naturally command the biggest audiences over two or more consecutive days when it comes to live concerts.

Cantopop God of Songs Jacky Cheung sold out five shows at the Indoor Stadium in 2011 for his 1/2 Century Tour. Mandopop king Jay Chou racked up three packed nights in 2013. Pop diva A-mei drew a 9,000-strong crowd for two at the same venue in 2012.

Add to that glittering list of top draws Hong Kong-based G.E.M., who pulls off a three-night run at the 5,000-seater Max Pavilion at Singapore Expo from tomorrow to Sunday.

And she has done it at the age of 23 and without the same stature in the wider Mandopop world as those before her.

Speaking in Mandarin over the telephone from Hong Kong, she says: "I've been on Facebook for a few years and there haven't been many fans from Singapore. So the good response is really beyond expectations."

Her Singapore stop started with one night, grew to two and finally three as tickets sold briskly.

Most people outside Hong Kong discovered G.E.M., an acronym for Get Everybody Moving, after her muchheralded turn on the China reality competition show, I Am A Singer, early last year - never mind that she was eventually the runner-up to China veteran Han Lei, despite being the hot favourite to win the contest.

The platform showcased her stirring and emotive singing and boosted her popularity to such a degree that the singer-songwriter herself seems to be coming to terms with it still.

Indeed, she was not expecting much when she joined the second season of the show along with Golden Melody Award winner Gary Chaw and popular China artist Bibi Zhou.

"I thought I would be eliminated very quickly," she says with a laugh.

G.E.M., whose real name is Gloria Tang, was just hoping to make it past the first elimination round. "I didn't think I would make it to the end. Just thinking of what to sing for the first few weeks was already causing my head to explode."

Clearly, she is a savvy and thoughtful performer. Many of her song choices - including mainland rocker Wang Feng's Exist, David Huang's You Made Me Drunk and Mavis Fan's I Want Us To Be Together - won over the studio audience, whose votes decide which singer on the show is eliminated.

Her thoughtfulness extends to her analysis of why Singapore's Kit Chan was the first to be eliminated in the third season, which is now airing in China. While G.E.M. praises the singer for being the "most unique", she thinks that Chan's style was not particularly suited for the format.

"Everyone tends to go for the big strokes, whereas she goes for the soft and gentle approach. That means she stands out from the others, but it puts her at a disadvantage in the competition.

"The way she sings, you need to be very focused to slowly appreciate. But the previous contestant may have just performed a piece which leaves the audience on a high and when she suddenly comes on with a quiet song, it can be hard for their feelings to turn around so quickly," she points out.

G.E.M.'s success on the show might have surprised many, but not music fans in Hong Kong, where she is one of the most popular artists in recent years, with her albums of Cantonese and Mandarin numbers.

She won acclaim from the get-go, with her debut self-titled EP in 2008 sweeping a clutch of awards, including Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards Presentation's gold award for Best Female Newcomer.

My Secret was the best-selling album in 2010 and she was named the top-selling female artist in Hong Kong in 2012 by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Along with the newfound success G.E.M. has reaped from I Am A Singer has come the perhaps inevitable backlash.

There have been accusations of her becoming too big for her boots, with even veteran singer Alan Tam reportedly weighing in on her behaviour. In November last year, there was unhappiness over the interview arrangements to promote her concert at Hong Kong's Coliseum and the brusque threat her management made to call it all off.

But there are no signs of any airs during the chat, during which she also respectfully refers to Tam as "principal", a nickname reflecting his stature as a mentor. She says: "Actually, principal's comments were not criticisms at all, but some media tried to play them up. He has been very encouraging from the moment I joined the industry and would give me a lot of suggestions each time we meet."

Since releasing her debut EP at the age of 17, G.E.M. has no doubt had to grow up quickly.

The media reported on her romance with Taiwanese singer Yoga Lin as well as on the bitter end of the three-year relationship which both parties acknowledged in March last year. She said he had refused to acknowledge their relationship previously but was happy to use her name to promote his concert after her meteoric rise.

In any case, she has learnt to be more circumspect when talking about relationships and, in particular, about Singaporean singer-songwriter JJ Lin, with whom she collaborated on the love ballad Beautiful for his new album Genesis.

She gushes: "I've always known that he's very good at writing and singing songs, but I didn't know he was so good at production as well. It was also the first time I recorded a duet together instead of separately and the chemistry is very different."

Asked if he could be someone she likes and she says cheekily with a laugh: "I've liked him since my secondary school days. Well, he's probably the dream lover of many of his fans so I shouldn't destroy that."

At any rate, her red-hot career probably does not leave her with much time for distractions at the moment.

As a contestant on I Am A Singer, she also sang Beyond's Liking You and Beyonce's If I Were A Boy, certainly demonstrating her range and versatility, but you wonder if it needles her that she might be better known for her covers than her own material as a result.

She says lightly: "No, no. Although people might be more familiar with Liking You and You Made Me Drunk, they also know that I'm the singer of Bubble and I'm already very happy with that." Bubble, which she wrote, is a Mandarin track from her album Xposed (2012).

G.E.M. is looking to add to her body of work. She has bigger musical ambitions than merely being the breakout star from I Am A Singer.

"I'm working on my new album, which should be out soon. At this point, all the songs are written by me, so I have a lot of ideas which I want to share with everyone."

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