Queen of ballads still reigns

Valen Hsu’s new album mixes electro-pop tunes with ballads.
Valen Hsu’s new album mixes electro-pop tunes with ballads. PHOTO: SONY MUSIC

It was apparent fairly quickly who was behind the mask of Iron Fan Ultraman on the Chinese variety show King Of Mask Singer in 2015.

Valen Hsu's effortlessly lambent vocals shone through and reminded everyone how good a singer she is. Her rendition of Winnie Hsin's Epiphany has chalked up over 2.7 million views on YouTube.

On her first album since 2014's Miracle, she reaches out to fans old and new. The production and arrangements here feel of the moment without being slavishly faddish.

The English album title, Freyja, is the goddess associated with love, sex, war and death in Norse mythology. But not to worry, she has not gone all martial on us.

The opening title track is a swoonsome slice of electro-pop with Hsu's ethereal voice floating lightly as she entreats: "Be my lover, lover, it's him who overturns the heavens/Be my lover, lover, it's him who makes me love again."

Just Love, written by Chinese duo Radio Mars, is refreshing with a skittering beat and an aboriginal refrain in a call for directness: "You said just love/Bravely express yourself, why say so much rubbish".

Hsu has always been known for her ballads. Think of the likes of Tear Sea, The Cloud Knows? and Place De Sun Airport from her peak period in the late 1990s. Often, they were tinged with melancholy.

  • POP

  • FREYJA

    Valen Hsu

    Sony Music Entertainment

    4 stars

She delivers a winner here with Springtime Allergies, a collaboration between singer-composer Lala Hsu and lyricist David Ke that harks back to Valen Hsu's earlier works, but with a slight twist in attitude. In contrast to Just Love's forthrightness, this song is very much about denial. "That's just sensitivity, not still in love with you/That's a springtime allergy, not still thinking about you."

There's no denying that Freyja sees the singer back in fine form.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2018, with the headline 'Queen of ballads still reigns'. Print Edition | Subscribe