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Best Chinese Albums of 2016

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Here are our picks for the best Chinese albums of 2016!

Three years into her music career, AGA finally releases her first full-length album, a commemorative release dedicated to her late sister. The best-selling Ginadoll collects the Hong Kong singer-songwriter's most soothing ballads such as "Greeting," as well as sweet love songs like Superman and "1cm." Calm and piano-driven without excessive use of effects and layering, her songs are tranquil to the ear. AGA also demonstrates how to do remakes right with "One" and its follow-up, "One Plus One" featuring labelmate Gin Lee; though they share the same melody, the former is a sad monologue of a lone girl while the latter is an encouraging conversation between two single girls.

Promoting jazz in Cantonese is a great challenge for Hong Kong singers due to the difficulty of adapting the language to the genre and its limited market. Teaming up with hit-making producer Fergus Chow, at17's Eman Lam overcomes the difficulties by incorporating pop elements into her jazzy works. Continuing the jazz pop vibe of her previous albums, People Like Us depicts different moments in life through seven songs, including the title track Cheers! about the happiness of drinking with friends, the self-reflective "I Become Me," the sensual "Incarnation" and the regretful "Sigh."

Jacky Xue may have spectacularly revived his career in the past year by being a jokester on Chinese variety programs, but he's completely serious when it comes to music. The singer-songwriter returned after a long break with his most interesting album, a moody and mature work that stays within the arena of chart-friendly pop but also goes beyond the straightforward ballads of his early albums. From the dramatic rock-infused "Beginner" to the emotional piano-driven "Gentleman" to the soulful "Actor" to the gently lulling "Child," the album's ballads reflect a diversity of styles in its sorrowful melodies, acute lyrics and atmospheric arrangements, and Xue is at his best as both a singer and a songwriter.

A musical pioneer who breaks pop conventions with his idiosyncratic soul and R&B styles, Khalil Fong follows the revolutionary 15 and Dangerous World with an even more innovative double album in Journey to the West. The Gold album looks back to the golden days of 70s popular music with classic tracks such as the retro disco-based All Night and the Motown-style Once. The Black album, on the other hand, leads Mandopop to a new era with trend-setting songs including the singer-songwriter's autobiographical Wu Kong and Flow, which impeccably fuses Chinese and Western styles.

Mayday does what they do best in a self-reflexive album filled with the hot-blooded pop rock and soul-stirring ballads that are worth waiting five years for. History of Tomorrow is both the band's autobiography – with songs like the dark, explosive "Almost Famous" and the nostalgic "Dokodemo Door" referencing their own experiences and struggles as musicians – and the autobiography of the listener who will find their own stories, sentiments and memories in universally wistful pieces like "What If We Had Never Met" and "Tough." Ashin's lyrics are at his poetic best, particularly in the dramatic, evocative "Life of Planet" and in "Final Chapter," a thought-provoking meditation on death and transience.

Deeply influenced by Jay Chou's music style, Taiwan singer-songwriter Nine Chen has been hailed as the new Jay Chou but also criticized as a copycat. However, the young musician establishes a unique style through the R&B-based album #NINE. Unlike his previous ballad-driven releases, this album features more spirited songs with hip-hop elements, including the funky EDM number "I Really Don't Want to Fight with You" and "Vagabond." Through his incredible music arrangements, Nine effectively expresses the songs' various emotions, such as the sorrow of breaking up with a loved one ("You He I"), the tense relationship between lovers ("I Really Don't Want to Fight with You") and the anger of an abandoned animal ("Vagabond").

Waa Wei hits the road for a musical journey about awakening and self-realization. The Taiwan singer-songwriter's fifth album conveys the theme of escaping towards something different by starting with its most dynamic and assertive tracks - the free-spirited pop rock trio of "Ten Thousand Ways of Not Going Back," "Run! Frantic Flowers!" and I Will Be Fine - then drifting into the lulling, contemplative, high-pitched style she's known for. The album's outstandingly intricate arrangements and use of synth and sound effects help create an encompassing mood of dreamy liberation and desperation. Each song contains a world of sounds in the backdrop.

Two years ago, William Wei went in a darker rock direction with Journey Into the Night. This year, the Taiwan singer-songwriter evolves his style again with a lighter electronic sound. Starting from the psychedelic synth-laced Intro, the album experiments with electronic in tracks that vary greatly in style, yet flow easily from one to the next thanks to Wei's comforting voice and the consistent tone and tempo. Some songs highlight his breadth of ambition as a songwriter and musician: "Desire" fuses traditional Chinese folk music and lyricism with a mesmerizing arrangement and electronic beats, while "One Shoe" creates a musical-like opus that melds tango and Russian folk. Wei's best vocal performances, however, are in the modern R&B "Guessing Game" and stripped-down ballads like "What You Think of Me" and "If We Meet Again."

Hailed as Hong Kong's Cheer Chen for her songwriting talents, indie singer Yuki Lovey stands out from the crowd of newcomers with her refreshing soft rock style. Different from her youthful debut My First Exhibition, To All Lonely People is a serious album that shows her mature attitude towards life. The singer-songwriter allows listeners to search for their own selves in the dreamy Find Your Angles, and tells them that being lonely is not a crime in the title number "To All Lonely People." Despite the songs' gloominess, Yuki Lovey's positive lyrics bring hope to those who feel depressed in their journey of growth.

Trained as a rapper, Z. Tao didn't have many opportunities to show off his singing talents during his K-pop days. Through his first solo album The Road, the former EXO member shows an unexpectedly stunning transformation from an idol rapper into a professional musician. Dedicated to promoting Chinese music on the international stage, he creates his own style by fusing Korean rap style, R&B, hip-hop and EDM. Featuring self-written songs like the title track Black White (AB) which impressively exhibits his angelic vocals and aggressive rap, The Road is an important release that helps Z. Tao establish himself not just as a rapper but also as a singer-songwriter.

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Published December 28, 2016

  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
  • *Reference Currency: No Reference Currency
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