It’s summer. School’s out. Everyone already has their lemonade, so let’s listen to Joanna Wang‘s HAM.
(I tried to be all hip and cool with the reference…? No?)
Let’s state the obvious: Joanna Wang is one unconventional artist. Everything about her, from her image to the music she writes, is just plain weird and wacky (who comes out with albums called Bob Music, anyway?).
The less obvious? That when moon148 finds herself in a peculiar mood, she may be binge-watching all the Joanna Wang MVs. Oh, and that the stuff is too addictive. Ranging from the exquisite (Moon River) to the downright bizarre (Truckin’ Everyday), there is always something that you will be endeared to loop on repeat.
Her most recent release, HAM — an acronym for “Happy Accessible Music” — is an intriguing view into an indie artist’s perspective on mainstream pop music. By her own definition, “HAM” is, in essence, what pop is. (Somewhat true — yet here I am thinking of all those sad Mandopop ballads.)
It’s actually very accessible, as promised — so long as you can read this blog — because the songs are all in English! So let’s take a listen:
This extended play, consisting of just three tracks, is short yet sweet. A collaboration with various Korean and Japanese producers, “HAM” exclaims groovy 70s/80s electropop.
Hello Anyung (哈喽安娘)
Throughout the entire track, “Hello Anyung” is bombarded with light synthesizers and beat loops, paired with the occasional telephone ring and whatnot. It actually works quite nicely with Joanna Wang’s unique voice, bringing it out almost — nevermind that I’m a lot more used to the more acoustic stuff.
A special nod to the track for its length, 3:29 — right under 3:30, the supposed “ideal” length of an electro-pop track.
Of all the tracks, “Hello Anyung” is the most pleasant to the ears; your standard repetitive pop track including a rap bridge, but as endearing as her other material. In general, an incredibly happy-happy and catchy electro-pop track about the wonderful feelings that accompany a secret admirer.
Teenage Girl Patrol (青少女巡逻队)
More obnoxiously loud 80s pop effects before the harshly sung — almost whiny — verses come in that transition to the starkly contrasting smooth and upbeat “beach girls” chorus. The song sounds as if it’s meant for some bubblegum pop teenage idol girl group, likely with a bright and cheery MV at the beach.
Similar to most Mandopop songs (or I guess most pop songs in general . . .?), the song repeats twice before the bridge, followed by a constant repeat of the chorus (qualifying as the outro . . .?). Joanna’s delivery comes out in a somewhat “squeaky” fashion, especially with the “cheery-to-the-point-of-annoying” chorus.
As someone who never listens to boy bands or girl groups (what am I doing, listening to Asian pop . . .), this is basically my somewhat biased interpretation of what some cutesy girl group like Japan’s AKB48 might sound like. Cute and catchy, but rather annoying and not my cup of tea.
Good Times (好时光)
With “Good Times”, we finally get a more wacky side to “HAM”. The simple clanking of drumsticks transitions to a mix of jazz and funk — “Mhm . . . yeah!” Joanna exclaims as trumpets make their way into the arrangement.
“Good good good good good times~” she sings, each word in the same note. “Good good good good good times” is repeated.
The delivery –somewhat whimsical, somewhat mocking — breathes life into the otherwise ridiculous-sounding anthem. Especially considering that a large portion of the three-minute track is spent chanting “Good good good good good times~” and exclaiming “Yeah~” and “Uh-huh”, it’s rather interesting that this is actually my favorite track off the EP.
It really does make you “feel so frickin’ good”, though.
“HAM” was a really fun and different listen — a really nice break from all the regular Mandopop and whatnot. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Chinese music because hearing the songs in English actually felt quite peculiar. Was the lyrics a bit off? Nah, Joanna Wang grew up in the U.S. I’m just not used to listening to English songs. 😆
Her projection of pop sounds a lot more like “pop” than what the “pop” I hear. It’s a fun, loud, crazy, though maybe slightly annoying taste into the era of pop synthesizers and beat loops. Electropop = probably not my thing, but it definitely was a very nicely written/produced extended play.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Joanna Wang‘s album “HAM” is available for purchase/download and streaming on various online music platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, and KKBOX.