Welcome to the world of Thai pop stars. Thai pop music might be a little wacky and who knows if it’s original, but there’s something about it that’s undeniably infectious. Maybe it’s the bottle of Johnny Walker Black that’s always on the table at Thai clubs or the incredible enthusiasm of the Thai audiences. Or maybe it’s the beautiful singers. Or all of the above. But whatever it is, Thai pop music ; whether heart-breaking love songs, heavy rock or the twisting, turning music from Siam ; is the heart and soul of modern Thai culture. Here, WestEast talks to some of the biggest stars to come out of the Land of Smiles.
When you have a face and a smile like Tong, everything is within your reach. She is lusted after by teenage boys and is considered to be a thinking-men’s crumpet. Not a bad reputation for a 25 year-old girl who is a relatively new commer on the “POP” scene. However underneath that innocent face and butter ; wouldn’t-melt- in-her-mouth smile lie an ambitious and head strong girl whose accomplishments would rival those twice her age. She is currently studying to be a Laboratory technician at one of the most prestigious universities in bangkok.
Born in 1977, Tong entered the “Grammy Star Search” competition at the tender age of 19 and unleashed her brand of bubble gum pop to the public with her debut album, “111”, in 1997. Since then Tong had released more than 4 albums within the short span of 4 years as well as acted in one of the most talked-about film of 2001, “Kwan/Rium”. Her only regret is that she wishes she can slow down her pace and spend more time looking after her mother who has an incurable blood-related disease. This just goes to show that sometimes you really can’t have it all.
You started your career by entering a ‘Star Search’ competition. Why did you do it?
I am interested in music and I like to sing anyway. So when Grammy (one of the biggest recording firms in Thailand) orgnanised the ‘Star Search’ competition, I saw it as my chance to realise my dream. I really did put everything into it. When I won the contest and was signed to Grammy, I was over the moon.
You have had 3 albums out in the span of 4 years. Thatﾕs quite an achievements. What is your long term plan?
Well I really don’t have a long-term plan. Right now I am enjoying what I do which is singing and acting so I want to carry on doing them. I have also taken time out from my study at the university though I plan to return to it and accept less work next year.
Do you worry about competition from other female artists?
I never see other artists as competitors. I only admire them and look up to them. When you are females, people tend to want you compete against each other, which is such non-sense.
Most of your fans are men. Are you comfortable with being seen as a ‘Sex Symbol’?
I didn’t know that I was perceived to be a Sex Symbol!!! I am more like a tomboy really but I do like it if people think Iﾕm sexy.
Were you prepared for the sudden lost of privacy that comes with fame?
I don’t think I have lost any of my privacy. May be I have less time to go out and go shopping but I lead a pretty normal life really.
Do you think ‘POP’ music in Asia has improved or is it a matter of quantity not quality?
I think all artists are always on the look out for something fresh and interesting to amuse themselves and the public. There is so much competition at the moment within the Asian market so you always have to improve the quality of your work so the public won’t get bored with you.
Who is your favourite ‘POP’ star? And why do you like him/her?
Britney Spears because she is very successful and she is still very young. I want to be like her and be known the world over.
You have acted in films, soap operas and you are a pretty successful singer. If you have to choose between action and singing, which one would be your profession?
I don’t really want to choose as I am passionate both about singing and acting!!!
Peter Corp Dyrendal Don’t let his boy-next-door image and the heart breaking smile fool you, Peter Corp Dyrendal is not just another lifeless teen idol. For a start he profess to have something different to offer… he writes his own songs! In an industry where self-penned tunes can equal death to your ‘pop’ career, Peter is prepared to take that risk and break the mold. He also possesses a voice that can melt a girl’s heart with a single note. With his first album, ‘Hin Pa Ga Darp’, he showed us that he is more than a mere pop puppet with a pretty face.
Born, on the 1st of January 1976, in Denmark to a German/Danish father and a Thai mother. Peter first came to Thailand when he was only one month old and had traveled back and forth ever since before deciding to settle in Bangkok full-time when a modelling career beckoned. He launched his pop career on the unsuspected Thai public in 1997 and he has been unstoppable ever since. His ambition is to have a laboratory where he can create machines that can help reduce the world pollution. Teenage girls everywhere might not agree with him on that one as Peter is too damn pretty to be stuck in a lab all by himself. Unless, of course, there are vacancies for pretty young lab assistants!
You are a successful singer and actor. You also speak 4 languages and play guitar. iIs there anything else you would like to achieve?
I want to improve on what I am already good at, which are those things you have just mentioned. Especially my singing and my music as they will enable me to stay successful for a long time.
Do you think that the fact that you can write your own songs has given you an ‘edge’ over your competitors?
A little bit but not always. I think I’ve got a very good team behind me. They can sometimes create something quite extraordinary with my music.
You spent more than half of your life in Denmark. Do you feel more worldly than your Thai contemporaries?
Of Course! People who have travelled tend to be more cultured than those who haven’t. You can learn so much from the world but I still haven’t seen most of it so I still have a lot to learn.
Thai ‘POP’ industry is littered with corpses of failed pop stars. How do you plan to avoid that path?
In my opinion, you can only fail yourself once you have stopped improving and loving what you do. My plan is to continuously improve my music and myself so I will never cross that dreadful path!
Would you like to do more writing and maybe get into producing?
That’s exactly what I am planning to do in the future but I need more time to learn. When I am a little bit more experienced in those fields then I can venture out and do them well.
Do you think success has changed you in anyway?
For sure. Fame can change you and all the elements around you. For example you are constantly being watched by the public so you are always careful in what you do. But I still retain my personal quality, I’m the same old playful Peter who is still very optimistic about the future.
You have a large female fanbase but they are notoriously fickled. Do you worry at all that their attentions might get divided elsewhere?
Well, you can’t force them to love or hate you! Plus there are so many new artists coming up right behind you all the time… I am doing my best with my music so hopefully that should keep them interested!
What’s your favourite virtue in a woman?
Honesty and loyalty.
Mos If Mos had been born in Great Britain, he would have been given a knighthood! For all the merit awards the guy has won. Mos has more than 6 awards for speaking out against drugs and for being a model citizen. He is also one of a handful of Thai popstars whose music can touch the heart of 15 year olds and their grandmothers. In other words, he appeals to all demographics. In Thailand guys want to be him and girls want to be with him. Mos started his career, predictably, as a teenage model in 1989 before launching his bid for pop stardom in 1991 with the release of his first studio album ‘MR. MOS Uae Hau’. Not merely satisfied with making teenage girls everywhere swooned to his music, Mos made his acting debut in a sit-com, ‘Sam Num, Sam Mom’ (Three guys, Three angles), which propelled him into super stardom.
Now at 29, he has avoided the cool-but-deadly well traveled path of sex, drugs and rock & roll, preferring instead to crusade against Aids, teen pregnancy and drugs. Mos, in effect, has turned himself into the Son-of-the-Thai-nation and in return the nation loves him for it.
You are seen by the Thai public as being an all-round good guy (Mos has won several merit awards for speaking out against drugs and for being a model citizen). Do you worry at all about your clean-cut image? Donﾕt you want to let loose and trash a few hotel rooms like a proper ‘Rock Star’?
No, I don’t worry about it at all! I am doing my best to be a role model for a younger generation. At the end of the day I am just being myself and I am very happy that the public is accepting me for what I am. I can’t force myself to be like a rock star.
You have notched up hit albums after hit albums. Do you feel the pressure to stay at the top of your profession all the time?
Not really because I don’t think I’m the best in this profession so I’m constantly trying to improve myself .
What are your thoughts on the Asian ‘POP’ scene at the moment?
There is more international appeal now within the Asian ‘POP’ market. For example China Dolls (Thai female group) are recording their album in Taiwan and Johnny Junior flew over to perform with Thai artists. Hopefully one day Asian pop music will be universally embraced.
Thai ‘POP’ scene is saturated with new artists and bands. What do you think give you an ‘edge’ over your competitors?
I think the fact that I am just being myself and don’t pretend to be something that I’m not. Plus my music is very dance orientated, which is fun to listen to.
What are your aspirations for the future?
All the love and support from my fans!
You appeal to most demographics from 15 year olds to 85 year olds. Why do you think that is?
Maybe because I have been in this business for over 10 years! My fans obviously grew with me and my music. Also my music is about enjoying life and having fun. It doesn’t hurt anybody therefore it appeals to all ages and sexes.
You have done both films and music. What’s your first love?
I love them both! When you have opportunities to do what you love, why do you have to turn them down?
Who is your ultimate ‘POP’ idol?
Robbie William. The guy is so multi-talented! He writes his own songs and have his own sense of style.
Selling more than 1,000,000 copies of your first album is pretty amazing. It’s even more astonishing if you are a female artist but that’s exactly what Christina Aguilar did with her debut, ‘Ninja’, back in 1990. Her sales were unprecedented, given her the distinction of being the first recording artist in the Kingdom of Thailand to ever sell more than one million copies of an album in any music category.
Born in 1966 and raised in Bangkok by a well-known Filippino musician father and his French wife. Christina’s cosmopolitan background and education, coupled with her confident, soulful vocal and occasionally daring choices of wardrobe have propelled her ‘pop dance’ music to unlimited heights of popularity in the 90’s. She has outlasted most of her contemporaries by producing music that appeals to the masses and at the same time remains mysterious and elusive. To this day she has never done any acting, preferring instead to concentrate on her music. Wise choice, but then again, Christina is probably one wise little lady.
You seemed to be one of a few Thai pop stars who have international cross-over appeal. (Christina won MTV Asian Viewer’s choice VDO award for her song, ‘Jing Mai Klau’ in 1992.) Why do you think that is?
First of all I would like to thank everyone from my team for helping me winning the MTV award. It certainly helped me to establish myself as an artist internationally.
Looking back at your career you have had so much critical and commercial success and have outlasted most of your contemporaries. Can you explain your longevity in the Thai ‘POP’ industry?
Well, it’s not just me!!! There are several artists who have lasted longer than I have, like Bird -Tongchai. To sustain your popularity, you have to put your heart and soul into what you do so as not to cheat your fans. I have certainly followed that simple rule and that’s why I still have a ‘POP’ career today.
How do you feel about being labelled a ‘Sex Symbol’?
Sex Symbol!!!??? I quite like that! It makes me sound so young!
Your music is very dance orientated. Do you think that has made it easier for you to break into the international market? After all dance music is universal.
I do agree with you because dance music makes people want to get up and boogie. They can also sing along and enjoy themselves. It makes people really happy which explains its universal appeal.
You sold more than 1,000,000 copies of your first album (‘Ninja’ 1990), which was unheard of in those days especially by a female artist. You are also the most successful female artist in Thailand. Does that put pressure on you every time you have a new album out?
I used to feel that pressure but it’s all in the past now. You can’t expect your new album to be as successful as your first. Normally when we plan a new album, my team and I lay down the concept. We always want to give something new to the public. I don’t want to repeat myself and give my fans my first album over and over again just because it sold 1,000,000 copies!
You have earned yourself a ‘Diva’ reputation. Do you consider yourself one and who, in your opinion, is the ultimate ‘Diva’?
May be I’m a Dance Diva! Anyone who sings with heart and soul can be a ‘Diva’.
Most Thai pop stars have branched out into acting but you have never acted in any soap opera or film. Why?
I have been asked …but my first love is music and acting is not really what I enjoy. I prefer to act when I perform and that’s enough for me.
What are your thoughts on the current ‘POP’ scene in Thailand?
It’s growing all the time. We are constantly improving our music so it can compete with the international market. There are several Thai pop stars who are famous abroad. I hope one day it will be my turn.
Interview & Text: Kade Uawithya
Photography: Ali Mahdavi
Styling: Paulus Hair: Wirasak Praphasiri & Prute Mumi @ Chalachol Hair Studio Makeup: Narong Boonyuen @ Estee Lauder Thailand Location: Gunnigar Virojanavat Special thanks to Nophasit Thientham