Cover Janice Vidal (Photo: courtesy of Catherine Lo)

‘Daughter’ is the Canto-pop singer’s dream project of banding together a team of creative women and milestone that marks her growth from a Leon Lai protégée to a star in her own right

It’s a dream for many Hong Kong singers to perform at the Coliseum, which, over the years, has been graced by the likes of Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui and Hins Cheung, making it the holy grail for those who seek to be A-listers. But Canto-pop star Janice Vidal, who finished her fifth Coliseum concert series in July, has her eyes on another ambition.

For her upcoming album, set for release next month, she wanted to put together an all-female team of musicians. “All the producers and songwriters I’ve worked with are male,” says the singer, who feels that the music industry is male dominated. “It would be a really fun project to gather all female [artists] to see what we can create together.”

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The seed of this idea was planted when the Hong Kong singer’s face was promoted on the giant screen in New York’s Times Square in April last year as part of the Spotify’s Equal Global Music Program. Launched in March last year, the initiative spotlights female musicians in more than 50 countries through partnerships, on-and-off platform promotions and a hub that that features playlists by female songwriters, producers and artists. Vidal, who is of Korean and Filipino heritage, was selected—alongside stars like Canadian punk and rock singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne, South Korean girl group STAYC and Pakistani Bollywood star Mehak Ali—as one of the 400 global ambassadors.

This Equal campaign inspired her to further her efforts in promoting local female musicians and creatives with a new album, which she has named Daughter. From the lyricist, sound engineer and a predominantly female team to the subjects of the eight tracks, the album celebrates female talents and is a platform for Vidal and women around her to express repressed emotions and come to terms with their traumas through the arts.

One of the songs, which was still a work in progress at the time of Tatler’s interview in late September, is about sexual harassment and rape, which Vidal says a lot of friends have gone through. “They don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” she says. “It’s a very traumatising thing, but it happens in this world. So I really want a song to [give voice to the victims], to acknowledge that pain and to bring healing through this song.”

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Another song Ribbon talks about the commitment, loyalty and honesty in a relationship. “I truly believe in finding a partner who is not just for one-night stands, which a lot of songs are talking about lately,” she says. The title of the song conveys how the singer is presenting herself as a present for someone who is willing to “ride it out with me”.

Vidal emphasises that the album isn’t man hating. “I didn’t want to go for anything too flashy like ‘Viva la Woman’,” she says with a laugh. The album, according to the singer, is meant to create a sense of belonging for the female community and explore what matters to them. “And to remember the root of who we are,” the singer says. “Before the world has given us any labels, before we’re anything else, we’re just someone’s daughter.”

Vidal has come far from the teenage singer who used to perform with her singer father at his gigs at Tuen Mun’s Gold Coast Hotel’s now closed club, Breakers Club. “I loved it. It was my passion. I pursued it with all my heart, not knowing where this would take me,” she says. When Vidal turned 18, she recorded backing vocals for Leon Lai, who is celebrated as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” in the local entertainment industry. He decided to sign Vidal.

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Recalling her more than ten years with Amusic, Vidal says she felt that her career was all guided by her management, from the concepts of the songs and lyrics to the way she sang. “I didn’t have any creative input and never got to exercise my tools,” she says. “Leon basically controlled every part of me. But that’s reasonable: I was just a baby; I didn’t know anything about the industry.”

As the Leon Lai protégée gradually gained fame, she also battled public discussions of her body image, fuelled by weight obsessed local media, and the 2016 scandal when her twin sister and fellow Canto-pop singer Jill Vidal was arrested for heroin possession in Japan.

Signing with Warner Music in 2015 was a fresh start. The sudden arrival of a greater degree of freedom to design her song concepts, music arrangements and cover art was intimidating at first, as she was “scared to voice my opinion and felt like it might not matter. But I’ve grown”, she declares. “I have things I want to say.” 

When compared to the songs from her earlier years, which are mostly epitomised by breakups, teen love and surface feelings, Daughter demonstrates a level of maturity in both Vidal’s career evolution and personal growth. “Now my songs have more substance, depth, thought and poetry,” she says. “They are not just ‘woe is me’—they are about projecting light and hope in gloomy situations.”

The pop icon has also grown more confident in herself. Now, she gives this advice to aspiring singers: “You’re always going to face judgement and scrutiny, and you will be attacked—regardless of whether you’re winning or not. It’s always important to tone down those voices, believe in yourself and don’t let other people sway you.”

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This more accepting attitude is also reflected in her recent song Be Still, which she performed at her July concert and will be included on Daughter. The song talks about learning to let go of the burdens in life and taking a breather. The idea came when Vidal noticed that people on the upper deck of a bus were all asleep every afternoon when she finished her gym session. “Hong Kong people are tired, man. These workholics take their work so seriously. But what they fail to do well is to rest,” she says. “I want to amplify that message through this song.”

The 40-year-old singer has decided that, at the prime of her career, she will take the time to invest in herself, beginning with potentially spending a term at Berklee, the famous college of music in Boston, next year. “I have never studied music before,” says Vidal, who dropped out of school when she started singing professionally. “It’s time for me to really cultivate more knowledge of music to hopefully bring about some surprises through my music.”

Despite decades of fame, praise and Coliseum glory, she feels like she has just started tapping into exploring her creative self. While Vidal has forged a reputation as a chart-topping Canto-pop artist, she has also been exploring jazz, R&B and soul and has, lately, been delving into heavy metal. Last month, she collaborated with heavy metal band NiLiu at Tone Music Festival, which featured a wide range of musicians, such as hip-hop, R&B and soul singer-songwriter Tyson Yoshi, Canto-pop singer songwriter Ivana Wong and R&B musician Gordon Flanders. The festival sold out within two days.

“That shows that people are interested in something new. People want something expressive and authentic,” says Vidal. She observes that there are a lot of indie and underground artists on the rise in the city and she is pleased to see more acceptance of different kinds of music that “we’ve never heard of previously.

“There’s no right or wrong to music. We’re in a pivotal time in this industry when there are a lot of possibilities in the air. I’m excited to see what this will all evolve into.”

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