A-mei or A-Mei (Chinese: 阿妹, p Āmèi), stylized as a MEI since 2014, is the stage name of the aboriginal Taiwanese pop singer and songwriter Zhang Hui-mei (t 張惠妹, s 张惠妹, p Zhāng Huìmèi). Born as Kulilay Amit (transcribed as t 古歷來·阿蜜特, s 古历来·阿蜜特) in the rugged mountains of eastern Taiwan, A-mei is the seventh-oldest in a family of nine children. She made her debut in the world of music in 1996, achieving rapid commercial success. She has been called a diva of the Mandarin pop music scene and the "Pride of Taiwan". She has won numerous music awards and is extremely popular within Mandarin-speaking world.
A-Mei is a member of the Puyuma nation. Like most Taiwanese aborigines, she was exposed to tribal music during her childhood. A-mei's mother used to record herself singing, then play back the tape for her daughters to hear. A-mei had always been fascinated by music; she once said that she stuck to the radio and would rush to watch the late night music program introducing English songs when she was a little girl. She also showed great eagerness to perform in public, even forcing her friends to listen to her sing.
A-Mei first connected to the entertainment business by joining the televised "Five Lights Singing Contest" on TTV in 1992 after encouragement by her father, who was ill at that time, and her already relocated to Taiwan. A-Mei made it all the way through to the finals but eventually lost in the final round. She felt very disappointed and was almost ready to give up interest in music competitions. A-Mei's father then told her, "You definitely can sing, and you perform songs beautifully. Why don't you enter the competition again to show that you have a talent for music?" So encouraged, A-mei then decided to make a second attempt late in1993. Her stable and superb performances were much appreciated by the judges, and this time A-Mei was awarded the championship in 1994. Unfortunately, A-Mei's father died before her victory, leaving her sad and aimless until she began to sing in pubs with a rock band formed by her musician cousin. She was later discovered by the popular singer/producer Chang Yu-Sheng (張雨生) and started her career as a jingle singer for radios, and her voice gathered attention from listeners before her face was revealed and before she signed a record contract. A-Mei support Same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.
In July 1996, A-Mei and Chang Yu-Sheng sang the single "The One I Love the Most Hurts Me the Most"(最愛的人傷我最深) together, drawing much attention to A-Mei. In November, when A-Mei was invited to sing "I'm a Dreamer on Air" (空中的夢想家), the theme song for Taiwan's UFO radio station, she again drew attention from the public. Shortly afterward she was signed to Forward Music and released her debut "Sisters" (姊妹), in December. The album topped the Taiwan IFPI chart for a record of 9 consecutive weeks and achieved great success in the Chinese-speaking world. The album sold 1.08 million copies, making it one of the very few albums to break one million copies in Taiwan. The first three songs on the album, "You want nothing from me after all" (原來你什麼都不要), "Sisters" (姊妹), and "Released" (解脫) which was written by Jonathan Koh 许華強 which enjoyed widespread play on the air.
A-mei's second album "Bad Boy" in June 1997 also topped the Taiwan IFPI chart for 9 consecutive weeks, and it sold 1.38 million copies, making it the second best-selling album in Taiwanese history. Again, songs on the album, especially "Can't Cry" (哭不出來) and "Listen to the Sea" (聽海) are regarded as classics of 1990s Chinese-language pop music. In October 1997, A-mei released the single "Listen to You, Listen to Me" (聽你聽我) on CD, as a memorial to her producer Chang Yu-Sheng, who had died in a traffic accident. In December, she released the innovative album "A-mei Live in Concert 1998 Prelude," featuring the songs that were to be performed on her upcoming tour.
Soon afterward, A-mei began her 1998 Asia concert tour, performing in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, on top of the highly acclaimed initial show in Taipei. Along with her astonishing vocals, her vigorous and infectious stage performances became her trademark, and further established A-mei's status as a diva in Chinese pop music. Due to her rising fame, A-mei was invited by Japanese TV NHK to perform as a representative of Taiwan in the annual ceremony "Asia Live Dream" in February of that year. In October 1998, she released the album "Holding Hands" (牽手), exploring different genres and demonstrating her vocal versatility. Though critics commented that A-mei's voice was not as clear as in previous albums, "Holding Hands" (牽手) remained a hot seller and was one of the best-selling albums of the year. In November 1998, she was named the most popular singer in Asia by Billboard magazine. Meanwhile, the documentary about the "fable" of A-mei, produced by CNN, was telecast worldwide.
In January 1999, A-mei endorsed Sprite in greater China, including Singapore, singing the Chinese song, "Give Me Feelings," (給我感覺) in commercials. In June, she released "Can I Hug You, Lover?" (我可以抱你嗎愛人), the album with a 1980s style single and the Japanese song "Want to See You So Much" (好想見你), aimed at reaching the Japanese market. Like her previous albums, it sold incredibly well and captured numerous Chinese music awards. In the following months, A-mei held her second Asia Tour concert, "Mei Li 99" (妹力99), visiting various cities in Taiwan and other Asian cities, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai. It is notable that there were nearly 80,000 attendees at the Shanghai show. In September, she sang "Love, Never Disappears" (愛, 永遠不會消失), a song composed by Leehom Wang, to commemorate the "921 earthquake" (also known as Chi-Chi earthquake) and donated her concert earnings from the night in Singapore to charity.
Later in the year, A-mei made the cover of Asiaweek in a story titled, "The A-mei syndrome".
Initially, the year began without issue. In January, A-mei performed Sprite's new Chinese commercial song, "I Want to Fly" (我要飛). Due to her healthy image, A-mei was selected as one of twelve celebrities to participate in an anti-smoking campaign. In March, she had two shows in Hong Kong with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, singing a wide variety of songs, including Mandarin, English, Taiwanese and Cantonese classics.
However, A-mei became the subject of considerable political controversy after performing the National Anthem of the Republic of China at the first presidential inauguration of Chen Shui-bian on May 20, 2000. This angered the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC), which subsequently banned her from visiting mainland China. Under pressure from Beijing, Sprite also buckled and cut its contract with A-mei, removing her as its endorser. Radio stations in China ceased broadcasting her music.
Meanwhile, her fans were becoming aware that A-mei's voice had gradually become weaker and duller. Concerned that her voice had been overused due to her nearly unbroken recordings and concerts, fans banded together and wrote to Forward Music, requesting that A-mei be given a break. The company eventually agreed, and right after the promotion period of the "A-mei with Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra" live album, A-mei seized the opportunity, by going to New York and resting for several months. A-mei became active again in December, with her album "Regardless" (不顧一切).
A-mei made the cover of Newsweek in January 2001, with the heading "Back In The Spotlight." This made her the only Taiwanese singer to grace the cover of the magazine to date. "The lithe 28-year-old singer has been absent from the stage for six months, and her loyal fans - not just in Taiwan, but all over Asia - are pining to see her again." That was months after being banned from mainland China in 2000, after her performance at the inauguration of Taiwan's newly elected president, Chen Shui-bian. At that point, since her debut, A-mei had sold more than 8 million copies of her recordings in the past four years and drawn more than 420,000 attendees from all around Asia to her "A-mei Live in Concert 1999 Tour."
In June, A-mei signed a contract with Warner Music, Taiwan. During the ceremony, A-mei expressed her gratitude to her previous record company, Forward Music, for guiding and nurturing her to achieve what she had achieved, and showed her anticipation and excitement for the musical journey ahead with her new record company. A-mei sang the Mandarin theme song for the movie "Pearl Harbor" (排山倒海) and included it in her next album "Truth" (真實), which was released shortly after.
In 2002, A-mei won the "Best Female Vocalist of the Year" award with the album, "Truth" at Taiwan's most prestigious, "Golden Melody Awards." A deserving win after four years of consecutive nominations in the same category since her second album, "Bad Boy." Also a performing guest, she put on a showcase titled, "Best of Asia" that evening. In the same year, she won "Favourite Artist - Taiwan" in the first MTV Asia Awards held in Singapore.
A-mei was named as one of the 20 Asian Heroes featured in the special issue of Time magazine in 2002. This made her the first Taiwanese singer to grace this international publication. In the interview, she discussed her music, on the incorporation of tribal rhythms into some of her pop songs, such as "Sisters," which celebrates matriarchal aboriginal society. She discussed her career and personal struggles caused by controversial, politically driven issues. Also mentioned in the issue was A-mei's attitude towards her successful music career and her ability to keep her feet firmly on the ground, despite her diva status.
In October 2002, A-mei released a new album, "Fever" (發燒), and shortly after kicked off her "A-Class Entertainment World Tour," hitting Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Sydney, Melbourne and the United States.
In June 2003, A-mei released her new album titled "Brave" (勇敢) and in the name of the album held three concerts on the beaches in Taitung, Kaohsiung and Taipei. Being the spokesperson for the Korean PC game, A3, A-mei sang the Mandarin theme songs for A3 titled "Brave" (勇敢) and "Seeing Myself" (看見自己). Both tracks were included in the album.
In November, in remembrance of her musical mentor, the late singer/producer Chang Yu-Sheng (張雨生), A-mei participated in the tribute album "City of Joy," singing the work of her mentor "Tears and Whispers" (哭泣與耳語) and performed in the tribute concert along with other Taiwanese singers.
In February, A-mei received the "Favorite Artist: Taiwan" award at the MTV Asia Awards held in Singapore.
In June, A-mei was forced to cancel a concert in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, China after a protest accusing her of supporting Taiwanese independence. About 100 Chinese ultra-nationalists held up banners and chanted: "Oppose Taiwan independence, unify China."
Back home in Taiwan, A-mei was under fire from individuals who championed Taiwanese pride. China's state-run CCTV had quoted her as saying, apparently about her decision to sing her national anthem at President Chen's inauguration in Taiwan, "I had to suffer the consequences of a decision that was not made by me ... I should have been more discreet in my behavior, which impacts so many people." The Vice President Annette Lu even questioned the patriotism of the pop diva. Outraged Taiwanese netizens called for a tit-for-tat boycott of China's singers. Meanwhile, Premier Yu Shyi-kun offered a clarification of his own previous remarks about the singer. He explained that his remarks were intended to criticize China, and that he had not intended to criticize the singer herself. (我是挺阿妹批中國) He argued that local media had misquoted him.
While politics and showbiz are not exactly bedfellows in Asia, A-mei made it clear that she has no intention of engaging in anything irrelevant to her profession. In response to the uproar, A-mei called on the media to cease its sensational reporting and to end their distortion of her words. She reinforced her position by stating,"What we really need is more peace and love in our country."
Political issues aside, A-mei gave a benefit concert in Taipei for the victims of the tropical storm Mindulle, which caused widespread destruction in the same month. The concert was free, but each audience member was asked to make a donation of US$30.
On July 31, A-mei set foot in Beijing once again and held a successful concert, with an estimated 10,000-strong audience. As reported by the media, A-mei confessed that she had never felt such great pressure at a concert before, when fans begged her not to be disturbed by the raucous protesters.
Undeterred by negativity, A-mei proceeded to work on her new album, "Maybe Tomorrow" (也許明天) which was released on September 21, 2004. A-mei composed two songs, namely, "Love is the Only Thing" (愛是唯一) and "Critical Moment" (關鍵時刻) on the album. Although the album was chosen as one of the "Top 10 Local Album Releases for 2004" by the Taipei Times, the change in music style and direction drifted away from the common acceptance level of mass Mandarin pop music listeners and therefore, the album failed to perform in the charts.
A-mei also received some negativity for "Love is the Only Thing" (愛是唯一), which depicted a gay wedding party, who received blessings from their parents, and a gay kiss. The video ended up being censored before TV broadcasting.
Later that year, A-mei accepted the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's invitation for the role of tourism ambassador. Three versions of television commercials were filmed, targeting audiences from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia respectively. Alongside appearing in the commercials, she sang and produced the pop-rock and aboriginal fusion theme song titled, "Naruwan." In collaboration with the TV hosts from the three places, A-mei co-hosted a short series of travelogues titled, "Tour Taiwan With A-mei" to share the island's wonders with people outside Taiwan. Above all, she toured the three places, making appearances for some face-to-face sharing sessions with her fans and supporters.
As part of the Tsunami relief effort, A-mei participated in fundraising concerts in both Taiwan and Hong Kong. In addition, together with other celebrities, she sang the specially written song titled, "Love" (愛), a Mandarin version of "We Are the World".
In December, she accepted the invitation from MTV Asia and put on an exclusive showcase, "MTV Live With A-mei", held at Victoria Theater, Singapore. Together with a band made up mainly of Singaporean musicians from "Sonic Sanctuary," they delivered a well-received concert.
In 2005, A-mei decided to take a short break from her frantic lifestyle. She headed to Boston, U.S. for a three-month language course at Boston University's CELOP program in January. Not a mere getaway, it was intended as a journey of self-discovery.
Meanwhile, a series produced by the Discovery Channel in collaboration with Taiwan's Government Information Office (GIO) called "Portraits Taiwan" (台灣人物誌) that spotlighted Taiwanese icons in different fields, selected A-mei as the representative of the "Mass Culture and Entertainment" category. These six documentaries were broadcast across Asia to tell the stories of outstanding Taiwanese. In addition, A-mei was nominated for the "16th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards" in both the "Best Female Vocalist of the Year" category and the "Best Music Video" category with the album track, "Love Is the Only Thing" (愛是唯一) with her album, "Maybe Tomorrow."
A-mei took up the task as the World Vision Taiwan (WVT) ambassador and headed to southern Sudan with the charitable organization in June/July. At the press conference to launch the 30 Hour Famine campaign, A-mei shared her encounters and experience during her visit. "There is a water shortage almost everywhere in Sudan, and people don't really have a choice. I met an 11-year-old girl named Mary, who is so clever, and speaks English fluently. She told me that she can't go to school every day because it is too far away, and the school is so primitive. She wants to leave there and go to a place where she can study," she said. In the same month, A-mei visited an aboriginal village in southern Taiwan - the home to people of the Paiwan tribe. Along with Taiwanese singer, Biung Wang, and volunteers, they sent flood relief and moral support in hope to alleviate problems in the area, which was badly damaged by a recent flood.
In November, A-mei was invited to perform at the "Golden Horse Awards 2005." With her band, composed of musicians from "DOMS," she performed a medley of thirteen classic movie theme songs from the past century. It was regarded by many to be an incredible, awe-inspiring showcase.
In February, A-mei released her new chart-topping album, "I Want Happiness" (我要快樂), one many see as her come-back piece. Unlike her previous albums, during the production of this release, A-mei had only one music producer, Eric Chen, and a lyrics supervisor, Yu-Kang Wu (a.k.a. York Wu, 鄔裕康), and herself. One of the tracks, "Extrication" (海闊天空), was made the theme song for "Fishing Luck" (等待飛魚), a Taiwan-produced film.
A-mei continued to take on her duty as the island's tourism ambassador for the third consecutive year since 2004 and sang the theme song for the year's campaign, titled, "Touch Your Heart". The media reported that she had assisted Taiwan in achieving outstanding tourism results by promoting the island's numerous tourist attractions to travelers from the region for the past two years.
In June, A-mei was invited to perform at the 17th Golden Melody Awards(金曲獎). The showcase - Music Orz - was a fusion of world music and pop music, that included Taiwan Aboriginal music, African djembe, Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, Indian sitar and Hip-hop.
In September, A-mei was honoured with the Diva Division ("MTV Legendary Diva") title at the MTV Mandarin Awards.
In preparation for her upcoming musical debut, "愛上卡門", to be staged in December 2006, she headed for New York, U.S. for an intensive theatrical training conducted by experienced Broadway instructors and performers.
Promptly after her return from the States, she was back in the studio for the recording of a new song titled, "Princess Bannen" (巴冷公主), a duet with Biung Wang. The melody was inspired by "Princess Bannen," a myth of the Rukai Tribe composed by Biung Wang. Enchanted by this beautiful melody, A-mei invited her friend and musical partner Yu-Kang Wu to pen the lyrics. The song is recorded in Biung Wang's album "War Dance" (戰舞).
On April 16 of 2007, A-mei signed a 3-year contract with EMI.
A-mei is nominated for the "18th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards", that will be held in June, for "Best Female Vocalist" with her album, "I Want Happiness?".
On August 3, A-mei's latest album "Star" was released to critical acclaim and occupied the No.1 position on the G-Music Best Selling Chart for 4 consecutive weeks, selling more than a million copies. She performed the main song of the album, "Forever Happiness," (永遠的快樂), on July 22 at Mayday's concert. The album included a song written by Mandopop King Jay Chou, titled "If You Also Heard" (如果你也聽說). Also from the same album is a duet with rising star Jam Hsiao (蕭敬騰), entitled "A Moment" (一眼瞬間), which went on to become a smash hit.
To celebrate the success of "Star", A-mei and EMI held a concert in Taiwan in September 2007. The concert is seen as preparation for her STAR World Tour that kicks off in Shanghai on November 3. The tour is rumored to go on till 2009 with the last show in Hong Kong. Other locations include USA, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Beijing, Malaysia and more.
From March 27 till 22 May, A-mei was performing in a Japanese version of Turandot 3. The performance was in Japanese and was playing in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. 4
On the 22nd and 23 September 2008 a concert was performed in Tokyo at the same venue as where Turandot was performed.
On June 26, A-Mei released her self-entitled album "AMIT" with different album cover for different region. There was a controversy over one of the songs, which has negative elements in the music video and lyrics causing it not to be aired on MTV. This transformation to Amit was proved to be a great success, with the album sweeping 6 awards at the 2010 21st Golden Melody Awards. According Taiwan's G-Music chart the album is the tenth best selling album in Taiwan in 2009.
A-Mei composed, produced and performed the 2009 Summer Deaflympics theme song "Dreams You Can Hear", and also serves as a spokesperson for the event.
October 31 A-mei performed as the "Rainbow Ambassador" at the Taipei Gay Pride parade, which had 25,000 participants, setting the record for largest gay pride parade in Asia. This record would be reset in 2010.
Her 2009 album "AMIT" impressed the judges of the 21st Golden Melody Awards, where she clinched 6 awards, including "Best Female Vocalist", an award she long awaited for 8 years. These 6 awards she scooped in a night made history, as no other albums had achieved such high accolades in the ceremony's records.
October 30 A-mei served as Rainbow Ambassador a second time for Taiwan's Gay Pride Parade. Taiwan once again set the record for largest gay pride parade in Asia, with 30,000 participants.
A-Mei released her album, "R U Watching?" on April 23, 2011 worldwide. This would also be her 15th studio album that will also mark her presence in the Taiwanese and Chinese music industry for over 15 years.
After being signed by EMI Taiwan, a MEI rush-released her new album, "Faces of Paranoia (Only the Paranoid Survive)" on July 2, 2014 (originally scheduled for July 4), after the entire album was posted on a Chinese music website on July 1. The album is a departure from other "a MEI" albums, as the music and lyrics contain darker elements. She is also planning to release her next A-mit album in late 2014.