Home / Culture / [Editor’s Pick] Slice-of-life drama in pop rock jams

[Editor’s Pick] Slice-of-life drama in pop rock jams

Joanna Wang swept many awards as a newcomer with her first album in 2008. Though her debut became a massive hit, she frankly stated that the whole album was designed and created under “business considerations” and not what she really wanted. Starting from her second album Joanna & Wang Ruo-lin, she has expressed her own style of music on her own terms.

Modern Tragedy is Joanna’s latest album with songs all written and composed by the singer-songwriter. It was my first time listening to her and the tracklist attracted me with its funny long titles. As Joanna puts it, every sad story has its value; we just have to embrace it. Let’s enjoy some 90s pop rock in her new album!

Modern Tragedy shares the bittersweet love stories of typical modern people. The English album contains 19 tracks but some are less than one minute long – it only takes 34 minutes to finish the whole album! Though the song length and lyrics are rather short, it doesn’t affect the quality of the tracks.

Similar to a play or musical, the album starts with Modern Tragedy Prologue (Track 1), which has no lyrics but a beautiful harmony. Melancholic and bluesy Good Girls Don’t Cry (Track 2) depicts a girl who tries to stay strong after knowing that her love is not coming back. The next track Sabrina Tape Super Speed (Track 3) is a short but fun one; it sounds like a fast-forward cassette tape and a preview of the album’s title song Sabrina Don’t Get Married Again (Track 18). I first doubted why this track was included in the album. Then I heard the next song I Must’ve Screwed Up Really Bad (Track 4). Ironically, this song expresses how a person can’t do anything right after breakup in a totally rhythmic tune, which makes the whole situation a lot more hilarious. This song is very different from Track 2, so Track 3 probably serves as an interlude between the two songs.

Joanna shows off her scat singings in If You Say Come On To Me (Track 6). The song contains only one sentence of lyrics – “If you say, ‘Come on’ to me” – repeated four times in two minutes. The rest of the time is all about Joanna improvising the melody and rhythm. The song is unexpectedly good as it conveys the ups and downs of a person’s feelings through Joanna’s tone.

The Etiquette of Handing Scissors and Knives (Track 9) is another humorous song that teaches you the courtesy to treat people right. I was at first confused with the first verse which goes “This song is about the etiquette of handling scissors? And knives?” I actually wondered if it’s a nursery song until I heard this line in the chorus – “The point is avoiding potentially stabbing someone like you did, so now I’m singing this song.” Like its humorous title, the song definitely brought a huge surprise to me when I listened to it.

Joanna presents her own experience of having a crush on her teacher Edo in The Motorized Scooter Edo (Track 10). Every tiny little thing about your crush seems so great when you are fond of him or her. I bet everyone would feel the same way as Joanna. I can feel her shyness in the line: “Well, I think I’m in love.” Summer (Track 12) reminds me of 90s-style music the most, and it’s also the song that suits her velvety voice the best. The first verse and chorus become so melodious in her gentle voice.

The title track of Modern Tragedy, Sabrina Don’t Get Married Again (Track 18), is a pop rock song that tells a story involving a character named Sabrina who does not give up on finding true love despite the heartbreaks and the contradictory feelings of her friend. The whole song does not carry a lot of lyrics, and instead repeats the same verse and the word “Sabrina.” This jam is super catchy, such that it keeps replaying in your mind after listening to it.

While going through the whole record, I truly felt like I was in an auditorium enjoying a musical. The vintage-style songs brought back so many memories. Joanna’s unique husky voice makes her songs sound extraordinarily chill. I appreciate and admire how she persists in making the music she likes but not for any business reason. Her love for music is certainly undeniable. The music style of Modern Tragedy might not match with the current trend, but it is for sure something genuine and fresh among recent pop music releases.

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