If anyone has earned an Oscar for best acting plus a Grammy for best song, it’s pretty safe to say that they’ve reached legendary status. Well, in local showbiz terms, Miriam Yeung Chin-wah has done just that. She’s swept prizes at Hong Kong’s top music awards, and won best actress at the 2013 Hong Kong Film Awards for her role in Love in the Buff. Yeung had a chat with Young Post to explain how she transitioned from an insecure nurse to a megastar.
What spurred you to join TVB’s New Talent Singing Awards back in 1995?
My earliest musical influence was Samuel Hui Koon-kit, because my parents love him. My dad also loves Elvis Presley. We had a karaoke machine at home and sang together. I wasn’t even 10 years old. I didn’t know at the time that I loved singing, it was just fun. When I got older and started working, I went to karaoke with friends again and it dawned on me that I could probably take it further, so I joined TVB’s New Talent Singing Awards.
Were your parents supportive of you becoming an artist?
My dad wasn’t happy. I was in my last year of nursing school, I had just sat my last exam and was waiting for my results at the time. Being a nurse is a stable career, and my dad didn’t want me to waste three years of study. And my dream had always been to become a doctor. I was terrible at science, so I mainly studied arts, but with biology, so I managed to get into nursing school.
But one thing leads to another, and I guess in different stages of life you have different dreams. The little step of joining the singing contest changed my life completely.
So I told my dad to just let me try, because I could get back into nursing if I ever needed to.
My mother was supportive; she let me learn ballet and piano when I was young, so I guess she expected me to do something in the arts.
What difficulties did you face once in the industry?
When you’re fresh in the industry, you’re completely driven by your passion. But then you realise it is work, and work is different from what you dream of.
I was very idealistic, but I realised I had to adjust my mindset to the realities of the industry. For example, I thought making an album was simple: record songs and snap a photo for the cover art. But no, you need to choose singles to release, you need to face the media – something I struggle with. I was very introverted and insecure. My nursing training had always been black and white, and there were clear step-by-step instructions for every situation. It’s different when you’re an artist; you have to create your own path.
How did you build your confidence?
A lot of the pressure in the music field comes from comparison to other artists, and this is most apparent at award ceremonies.
When I was a newcomer, I cared about that a lot, because you need awards to prove your talent and get gigs. At one event, I was quite popular and I thought the prize should have been mine. When they announced that somebody else had won, I was stunned. I was down about that for a long time. I didn’t want to explain my feelings and when people asked me about it I became very defensive. I knew people would say there are award shows every year, but to me I felt like I had lost.
Luckily, I was able to open up to the people around me, and when you’re willing to share, your problem is half solved. My company told me it was fine, and gave me a new goal – to focus on my new release, which was a couple of months away. That got me into working mode. I began to think what went wrong; maybe I was too ambitious with the song keys and that’s why it wasn’t popular in karaoke bars. Perhaps the lyrics could have been more relatable. Each time you fail you learn a little more about yourself. Now, even when a song doesn’t get recognised, I can still appreciate that it’s a good song.
So to be confident, it’s important not to be afraid of embarrassing yourself or making mistakes. If you can accept that, you’ll go further.
What challenges do you think the new generation of artists are facing?
When I started twenty years ago, a singer would need a label to get their work out there. Now with the internet, there’s lots of channels of distribution for anyone who creates. You can get huge amounts of exposure. But the competition is also a lot greater.
Before, it would have taken two months to get a song ready, but now it’s like two hours. You don’t have as much time to be detailed or to feel things out.
What tips do you have to deal with this?
You can’t just be an online celebrity – you need to get on the ground. Once you get a certain amount of clicks online, use that as your credentials to get some real gigs. Promote yourself. Get interviewed by the press. It’s different from live video streaming on social media, because when you’re put in different interview situations, people can see more sides of your personality. It also trains you with unfamiliar cameras. And when you really get to perform at professional shows, you’ll know how to handle everything.
How have you been expanding your art?
It’s easy to keep relying on old experiences, so one way I stimulate myself is by collaborating with the many young, creative people that have emerged in the industry. We have the skills, but we sometimes lack creativity and ideas. So I love working with younger lyricists, directors and singers. One example is the film She Remembers He Forgets. Director Adam Wong Sau-ping and screenwriter Saville Chan are from a new school of local filmmakers, and they are really open to new ideas. The cast and the crew were all quite new to the industry, like the cameraman was in his early 20s, and he was so well-prepared that he saved us all a lot of time. His camera work was really good and gave a lot of texture to the film. Working with people who have such passion and fire is infectious. It made me want to do better, to make the film as good as it possibly could be, and I think this energy we shared helped the two separate storylines work together. This really shows in the film. The process keeps also me fresh with the market, and that’s really important.