tremble clef

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Faye Wong (王菲), "Wrong Number (打錯了)" (2001)

It's a bit perverse of me to post this. Not because it's a Chinese pop song, but because it's a Chinese pop song that I like mostly for the lyric. But why make my blogging life easy? Sure, I could post a choon where the words don't matter that much, and the tune is "universal." And it wouldn't be hard to find something like that from Faye Wong, (snotty ice) queen of Chinese pop who has unfortunately been away from the scene since 2003, a lifetime in the fickle Chinese pop world. Faye, after all, is the person who in 1988 released an "alternative" album called Impatience which had maybe five lines of lyrics and a whole lot of wailing and gurgling instead. (It's great. Remind me to post one of the Cocteau Twins collaborations sometime.)

It's not that I don't enjoy the sprightly tune of this song. (That tune is by Tanya Chua, a successful-in-her-own-right singer-songwriter from my fair land. The song in fact began life as an English number called "It's Your Last Chance" (not as good), done for the soundtrack of a local movie, so Faye's version is technically a cover.) It even has "universal," transcendent bits. Like the great bassline that starts things off, and some fantastic violins throughout. And there are easy-to-sing-along-in-any-language "ba-ba, ba-da-ba-lap-ba-ba"s after each chorus.

But the lyric makes the song, I think. It's the work of Lin Xi, who's been considered the top lyricist for the past few years. A lot of his writing is very, very literary and erudite (i.e., "no, I have no idea"); this, however, is very colloquial and conversational, and therefore a bit unusual for him. But that's entirely appropriate, because, as its title suggests, the song is about a wrong number. Brilliantly, we get to only hear one side of the phone conversations, though: Faye's, or the narrator's, who apparently keeps getting calls from a man trying to track down a long-lost girlfriend.

As the song progresses, we see that Faye's attitude towards the caller shifts, ever so imperceptibly. She begins by being irked, as one would be: "Told you you have the wrong number/I'm not your whoever, whatever/So what if I have the same name as she does?" The second verse remains irritated, and even a little taunting: "Really, you have the wrong number/Why would I lie?/How long has it been anyway that you can't even recognize her voice, you fat bald loser?" (I may have added the "fat bald loser" part. Translation is about the spirit, people, the spirit and not the letter.)

By the time the chorus rolls around, however, Faye starts to exhibit some curiosity about the caller. "How do you live your life? And what kind of life is it? Can you not stand to be lonely? Who are you, always this strange mistake brushing past my ear?"

The next two verses sees her more and more intrigued and involved. She learns the beloved's name, starts pondering Large Philosophical Questions, and most significantly, begins to put herself both in that woman's place, and also to try to understand the man's psychology. "How many times have you now called this wrong number? Is it fate or a coincidence? Who is this Margaret? She would pleased to know how anxious you are to track her down." "What happened between the two of you? Did you wrong her in some way? What makes you unable to let go of her, such that you continue to call even though she doesn't live here anymore?"

We get the chorus two more times; but the song ends quietly, not on one of them, but on a final new verse, and a surprisingly poignant note. "What would you two talk about?" Faye asks the man, either in reality or just in her mind, imagining for him that wonderful day when he might finally track down his lost opportunity and put his past to rest. "Would the tone be gentle, wistful? You're so tense you could cry. And years from now you'll think of today and wonder whether it was worth it or not." It's not clear whether "today" refers to the day of Faye's and the man's conversation, or the hopeful day when he and his ex reconnect. It doesn't matter by this point; they're practically the same thing. In that, the song ends with a beautiful final act of empathy, identification, and most of all, grace.


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