SXSW Music Spotlight: 9m88

Taiwanese jazzy balladeer hopes to shake up the Mandopop market

Photo by Jazz Baby Co. Ltd.

Taiwanese jazzy balladeer 9m88, née Joanne Tang, or Baba to her fans, plays with genre and sound the same way her musical moniker plays with the phonetic spelling of her name: The Mandarin Chinese pronunciation of 9m88 is a homophone for Joanne Baba. The 32-year-old singer delivers personal lyrics, mostly in her native language, in the buttery-smooth vocals common to Mandopop.

Jazzy inflections and experimental instrumentation make for an innovative, soulful blend. Think Erykah Badu (Tang’s biggest inspiration), but with the effortless tones of Teresa Teng.

“I really love playing with the sounds and tones of different languages,” says Tang.

Originally a fashion major at Shih Chien University, Tang established herself as a rising star in the Mandarin market while studying jazz voice at the New School in NYC. Her studies inspired 2019’s debut EP, Beyond Mediocrity.

“Mandarin music is so mellow and tonal, so I was used to making everything rounded,” she says. “My instructors were like, ‘It’s kinda cheesy when you sing that way.’ Now when I sing in Mandarin, I sometimes try to make the words more choppy and rhythmic.”

2022’s more cohesive crossover attempt 9m88 Radio taps into personal struggles with heartbreak and depression on standouts like “Dark Night / Sunlight” (feat. Chia-Lun Yue) and further English-language forays like “Aim High.” Tang adds: “I wrote those songs partly for myself, but to also share daily struggles so listeners don’t feel alone.”

It’s tough for Mandarin/Cantonese artists to cross over to the English-speaking market, but Tang views her music as an ongoing experiment. Her songwriting process currently includes jotting down interesting dream fragments, and she hopes to work with more international artists, as well as Indigenous Taiwanese-language acts like Abao, in the future.

“My main goal with 9m88 Radio is to push Mandarin speakers out of their comfort zone, because there are so many great artists to work with out there.”


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