Beneath the warm and cheery veneer, Hebe Tien‘s Day by Day simply isn’t routine.
From the mere promos, it’s clear that Hebe’s team aimed for a more soft, demure, and lighthearted impression. As printed on the album cover:
There definitely will be wonderful occurrences.
But unrevealed to the naked eye is the struggles beneath the glossed-over veneer. As routine as the daily life may seem, it’s never as simple as checking off items on a list — nor is it as mundane.
Within the flowing musicality of Day to Day is the silent juxtaposition of 日常 (rì cháng) and 无常 (wú cháng). While the former — the album title, the outer veneer — is often associated with the peace and stability of normalcy, the latter refers to uncertainty and is often fleeting and impermanent.
Oftentimes, such occurrences of inconsistency have often been washed out, hidden from the public eye as flaws to be covered up. Yet how is the seemingly muted concept of the quiet, ordinary life represented?
Unlike popular girl group S.H.E. (Selina + Hebe + Ella), it’s clear that Hebe’s solo work strays far away from mainstream bubblegum pop — even touching the surface of the indie scene.
Day by Day, especially, feels as if Hebe has returned to a more indie pop sound as presented in her debut solo album To Hebe; similarly, the tracks felt as if they were personalized messages addressed from Hebe to herself. (Except for the fact that she didn’t write any of the songs — the songwriters and producers Hebe collaborates with have done an amazing job creating a consistent voice throughout her solo career.)
Rather than about the complex feelings of love or loneliness, however, Day by Day focuses on supposedly simple yet profound concepts worthy of an inspirational yoga session.
MINI DISCLAIMER: Music — even mainstream pop — can be interpreted in a multitude of fashions, hence it’s existence as a source of inspiration and an art form. And yeah, okay, maybe my personal interpretation might sound like utter BS to others. That’s honestly fine with me, which is why you should pop a comment when you’re done reading! 😊
A sense of calm and well-being, it’s often associated with the stability of the routine life.
The opening track, or the titular track 《日常》(not sure about the official English translation on that one), is inevitably a pair with promotional single “Every day is a miracle”.
Though rather mellow-sounding, the opening track’s soft, cheery arrangement and delivery is a note of determination to face challenges with positivity and learn to let go. It’s a warm, happy-happy track with electronic effects; at less than three minutes, the song seems more of a lighthearted instrumental overture. Still, it’s hard to ignore the cleverly penned lyrics:
This is the uncertainty of life. Or is it the routine of humanity?
As fleeting as life may seem, our daily lives still go on as usual.
Or the innocently sung conclusion:
When every day seems like there’s no tomorrow
Then do [we] understand how abnormal normalcy is
But nevermind the serenity of the bright blue sky or the beautiful butterflies — the soft and mellow 《日常》is juxtaposed with the rock-infused track “Every day is a miracle”. Though not actually written by Sandee Chan, the track gives off major Sandee Chan vibes. (She did indeed arrange and produce the song.)
The Chinese song title, 《人间烟火》(rén jiān yān huǒ), actually refers to in the most basic sense, food that mortals eat. Its literal translation, “fire of the mortal realm”, can be applied to the sights and experiences that make humanity engaging and miraculous.
A commonly used phrase in the song, “食人间烟火”, or to eat food, acknowledges the adventure in experiencing normal, daily activities. (In other words, Hebe is actually human.)
Though it takes some time to fully digest, it’s definitely one of Hebe’s better ventures into indie rock — Hebe’s fresh vocals provide a compelling contrast with the grunge of the arrangement.
Though its sound may vastly contrast from the preceding track, “Every day is a miracle” ultimately represents the concept of peace and serenity found throughout the appreciation of our world. Yet as hinted by the slight grunge of the arrangement (and of course the lyrics), it’s really not that simple.
Simply happy to the point of guilt
Enter MV for said track. As the music video for an A-lister’s promotional single (basically a comeback), it earned quite a lot of ire and criticism for being . . . well, a bad MV. Netizens were quite pissed as this was promoted as “a gift” from Korean MV director Jinsoo Chung, expressing anger that it was just a scam for money.
It really wasn’t that it was just Hebe chilling around reading Diana of the Crossways (yo, hipster!). It’s that the visuals didn’t match with the music track (especially with the horrible lip syncing), nor were they consistent throughout the MV. Given, it does seem that the director was trying to go for something profound (with the notecards, and that other girl), but whatever message was sent was disconnected from the general audience.
Though “Everyday is a miracle” is a promotional single, it’s clear that the song isn’t really fit for a mind-blowing or hardcore MV. Nor is it really fit for light indie such as Hyukoh‘s Gondry (also directed by Jinsoo Chung — yes, I had to).
Still, basic things like a consistent frame size or a more natural-looking color scheme could improve this MV. Oh, whatever.
Skipping Track #3 (Useless) for a bit, “Your Body Speaks” (身体都知道) seems to the epitome of serenity — similar to the first two tracks, it lauds the small miracles of our world. Despite the unknown happenings, the lyrics speak as a message to oneself to accept the reactions as part of nature. Of all things, your body won’t lie.
Emotional highs and lows are but the circulation of blood
If it feels [painful] bitter then eat candy
The soft arrangement and slowed beat contribute to the calming effect of the track. Though it’s debatable whether Hebe’s soft singing represents serenity or weak vocal abilities (or just her singing style), it’s hard to deny the artistic thought put behind the song. Still, the thin falsettos near the end almost give a taste of her idol girl group days.
Juxtaposed in the center of the calming movement of serenity is “Useless”, a fusion of jazz, funk, drum and bass, and slight EDM. Which, given Hebe’s vocals, creates a greater sense of discord that somehow melds together quite nicely.
The rebellious track within the album, “Useless” stands out as a discontent message that questions and downplays the accepted norm that we should always be happy and agreeable. Right smack in the middle of “Everyday is a miracle” and the calming “Your Body Speaks”, “Useless” represents the unconvinced and doubtful.
Hebe’s vocals — sometimes refreshing, other times tiring and even awkward — are spot on in this track. And the lyrics? I might as well just translate the whole thing (because they’re amazing). Ah, here’s a segment:
[Those who] say pain is a gift
[Those who] say tears are inspiration
[Those who] say because the sky has been dark
[Those who] say then the skies can be brighter
Similarly, it’s almost a rebuttal for those who criticize indie artists for purposely acting artsy or pretentious. Internet, take it as you must.
Feelings or emotions experienced throughout our daily lives.
“Beautiful Prophecy”, or 《念念有词》(niàn niàn yǒu cí), literally translates to “mumbling”. Though unconventional, the rather addicting melody is strategically accompanied with echoes of loud yet soothing synthesizers, along with a passionate beat and waves of accumulating electronic effects.
While hard to hear when Hebe’s voice is accompanied by backup vocals versus when it’s not, the effect created from the overlaying echoes is indeed sensational. In the chorus, each note is given emphasis and stretched out, representing the importance and desperation of each individual word. As the notes reach higher and higher, the passion but increases — almost to the point of overflowing.
Overall, a rather sensual and passionate track with intimate overtones.
Flashback to “Amnesiac Goldfish”. 😂
“Soul Mate” — actually a direct translation of 《灵魂伴侣》(líng hún bàn lǚ) — is a gorgeous ballad. Its simplicity — pure vocals against a simple yet sensual piano backup — however beautiful, is just part of the equation.
Using scenic metaphors, the first part of the song simply and quietly relates one’s silent affection for the other — and how one’s soul is stuck within a body. Yet no matter how her soul longs to reunite with its mate, it simply cannot recognize the other.
The second round through the melody — accentuated, as usual, with a bass sound — is the regretful realization that their souls simply cannot recognize each other, no matter which body it may be stuck in. In contrast to the first segment of longing and confession, the song is ultimately one of regret.
“When you are gone” (see MV above) is your typical Mandopop ballad, though really nicely produced. 《余波荡漾》(yú bō dàng yàng) refers to a “lingering or rippling aftereffect” — perhaps the vision when a loved one is gone.
Personally, the song itself, though nice, is just the usual generic stuff. It is one steamy MV, though.
A broad concept, spirituality is what keeps our minds and souls alive.
“What, where” is simply paired with the backdrop of the guitar; the simple yet nostalgia-filled melody perfectly pairs the passionate lyrics of the track. Hebe sings of her otherworldly connection to the world, seen through all the simple parts of daily life — the views, the four seasons, and even the window. Through the simple connection, she is able to let go of her anxiety and distress from the mere routines of life.
“Pace your heart” — though 《慢舞》(màn wǔ) technically translates to “Slow Dance” — is a whimsical folk track about becoming free from the pressures and hurt of the world and separating oneself from the often overly loud and passionate world.
Unlike that other song called “Love Yourself”, Hebe’s 《独善其身》(dú shàn qí shēn) is actually about self-love. Though in a much higher key than usual, Hebe’s vocals maneuver across the pleasant melody with an enviable natural ease.
The soft, light, and simple arrangement of the track is reflected with the soft pastel aesthetic of the music video. Directed by the ever-talented and artistic Bill Chia x BOUNCE, the MV deserves but praise.
(Yeah, okay, I kind of die for this sort of aestheticism. Don’t mind me.)
Out of Hebe Tien’s solo work, Day by Day is by far my favorite album. Though not as mainstream, and though the tracks may not sound as chart-topping, indie seems to be an ideal direction for Hebe.
Though seemingly plain at initial listen, the album as a whole represents a dynamic view into the wonders and escapes of daily life — which can be applied to humanity as a whole. Or it could solely be about Hebe herself. You never know.
In addition, Hebe’s vocals, though imperfect, have shown clear improvement. Day by Day presents a fine balance between minimal artistry and overdoing such to the extreme. But don’t mind me — take a good listen for yourself.
Recommended Tracks: “Useless”, “Beautiful Prophecy”, “Soul Mate”, “Pace Your Heart”, “Love Yourself”
Overall Rating: 9.1/10
(That being said, I still can’t appreciate S.H.E. Agree? Disagree? Is it just idol prejudice on my part?)