10 Famous Chinese Singers You Need to Listen to Now
Tired of memorizing characters or slogging through Chinese books? I hear you.
Maybe you need to close your eyes and relax with some Chinese music.
I’m not talking about the greatest hits performed on the erhu—you need music with words if you’re going to get any language learning benefits.
In this blog post, you’ll find 10 famous singers from China and Taiwan to get you started listening to Chinese music and understanding Chinese pop culture.
- 1. Teresa Teng: 邓丽君 (dèng lì jūn)
- 2. Jody Chiang: 江蕙 (jiāng huì)
- 3. Jay Chou: 周杰倫 (zhōu jié lún)
- 4. A-Mei: 張惠妹 (zhāng huì mèi)
- 5. Jolin Tsai: 蔡依林 (cài yī lín)
- 6. Peng Liyuan: 彭丽媛 (péng lì yuán)
- 7. Cui Jian: 崔健 (cuī jiàn)
- 8. Faye Wong: 王菲 (wáng fēi)
- 9. Jacky Cheung: 张学友 (zhāng xué yŏu)
- 10. Li Yuchun (Chris Lee): 李宇春 (lĭ yŭ chūn)
- Why You Should Know Famous Chinese Singers and Their Music
- And One More Thing...
1. Teresa Teng: 邓丽君 (dèng lì jūn)
Possibly the most famous Taiwanese singer out there, 邓丽君 started singing professionally as a teenager in the 1960s, and her career has stayed strong long after she died at age 42 in 1995.
She’s known for romantic ballads and folk songs. Although most of her songs were covers, her interpretation of many songs is still the most recognized version.
2. Jody Chiang: 江蕙 (jiāng huì)
Sometimes compared to Teresa Teng, 江蕙 is also known for ballads and folk songs.
She became famous in the 1980s and continues—at age 54—to be one of Taiwan’s most popular singers.
Although many of her songs are performed in the Taiwanese dialect, she tends to sing quite clearly and slowly, making her music a great introduction to it.
3. Jay Chou: 周杰倫 (zhōu jié lún)
周杰倫 broke into the Taiwanese music scene in 2000 and is part of the younger generation of pop stars.
Like other Mandarin pop singers, he has a stable base of popular romantic ballads. But he also has many songs that address societal issues like urban sprawl, drug addiction and domestic violence.
He writes most of his own music but works with songwriters to craft the lyrics.
His style is more rap or spoken word than melodic, which makes his work great for listening practice—but be careful, he sings fast!
4. A-Mei: 張惠妹 (zhāng huì mèi)
張惠妹’s first taste of the spotlight was in 1994 when she won a popular national singing contest in Taiwan.
Somewhat unique among Taiwanese singers, 張惠妹 is from an aboriginal Taiwanese group—so she isn’t Han Chinese like most Taiwanese people and Mainlanders.
5. Jolin Tsai: 蔡依林 (cài yī lín)
蔡依林—also from Taiwan—entered an MTV singing contest in 1999 to beef up her college application. And then she won.
Her first album, released that same year, became one of the top sellers in Taiwan, launching her career and leading her to be called a “teenage boy killer.”
蔡依林’s songs are definitely Mandopop—they have catchy rhythms, and she performs Britney Spears-style dance routines.
6. Peng Liyuan: 彭丽媛 (péng lì yuán)
She’s not China’s most famous singer—but if you don’t know who 彭丽媛 is, you’re living under a rock.
彭丽媛 is known for her ballads and folk songs—and for being married to the most powerful man in China, 习近平 (xí jìn píng).
The couple has been married since 1987 and, for most of their marriage, 彭丽媛 was undoubtedly the more famous of the two.
He labored away in relatively remote political posts while she gained fame for her regular appearances on CCTV’s New Year’s gala and toured extensively both in China and throughout Europe and the Americas.
Her songs have a distinct patriotic flavor and—to no one’s surprise—she’s generally very pro-government.
7. Cui Jian: 崔健 (cuī jiàn)
While Peng Liyuan was singing for the soldiers during and after the Tiananmen Square protests, 崔健 (also called “The Father of Chinese Rock”) was very much on the protesters’ side.
One of his first hits, 一无所有 (Nothing to My Name) became a theme song for the students in the square. 崔健 has continued to be popular in China decades later, despite being banned from playing in major venues throughout the 1990s.
8. Faye Wong: 王菲 (wáng fēi)
Beijing native 王菲 launched her career in the early 90s in Hong Kong—a time and place where Mainlanders suffered from a host of negative stereotypes.
She was encouraged to hide her origins by adopting another name and singing in Cantonese. She actually holds the Guinness World Record for being the best-selling female Cantopop singer.
But 王菲 moved back to singing in Mandarin as soon as she had sufficient artistic clout, around the mid-1990s.
Her songs are considered to be a mix of traditional, crowd-pleasing pop songs and alternative-style music.
9. Jacky Cheung: 张学友 (zhāng xué yŏu)
Born and raised in Hong Kong, 张学友 sings in Cantonese, Mandarin and English and is famous throughout Asia for songs in all three languages.
His album “吻别” (“Goodbye Kiss”) became one of the highest-selling albums in Asian history when it came out in 1993.
The album helped solidify 张学友’s place in the Mandopop market (as opposed to the Cantopop market), and he became hugely popular in Taiwan, where “吻别” is still the second-highest-selling album ever.
10. Li Yuchun (Chris Lee): 李宇春 (lĭ yŭ chūn)
Androgynous sounding and looking 李宇春 doesn’t fit the usual mold for female Mainland Chinese pop stars.
But since winning a Super Girl competition (similar to “American Idol”) in 2005, 李宇春 has undoubtedly become one of China’s most popular singers.
李宇春 also has a certain amount of international fame, representing many Western brands in China.
Why You Should Know Famous Chinese Singers and Their Music
- Their songs are great for learning Chinese. Listening to music can be passive (just put the music on in the background) and active (study the lyrics, listen to songs repeatedly and sing along). Plus, it’s a great way to practice Chinese when you don’t have enough energy for more traditional study.
- The lyrics are full of Chinese lessons. You can learn vocabulary from song lyrics, and singing along to music is excellent pronunciation practice. You can also do this easily by watching Chinese music videos on FluentU since the interactive subtitles let you click on words and grammar structures you don’t know.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
- Knowing famous singers is important for cultural literacy. Not knowing the most famous Chinese singers when studying Mandarin is like not knowing who Lady Gaga or The Beatles are. Part of getting culturally literate is knowing not just who the person is but also being familiar with their most famous work.
- Famous singers are a gateway. It’s a lot easier to find song lyrics, YouTube videos and other materials online for well-known songs than it is for more obscure titles. You can also listen to Mandopop radio, but that’s best when looking for background music.
Now that you’ve got plenty of music to listen to, it’s time to stop reading and start rocking out!
Listen to at least one or two songs from each of the singers I’ve mentioned above—but if you’re not into a certain sound or style, don’t feel like you need to linger too long.
Once you’ve found your favorite styles and artists, you can use them as a springboard for finding more Chinese music—and great listening practice materials—that you enjoy.
And One More Thing...
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FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.
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