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Brainy Serrini gains cult-like following with charismatic stage presence and bold lyrics

Throughout her musical career, Serrini has demonstrated a capacity to surprise. A prime example is her “樹木真美 kiki mami” music video. It opens with a gentle melody, which viewers will associate with Cantopop. Dressed in an angelic white dress, the Hong Kong composer sings plaintively on-stage about falling into a pit of negative emotions.

But then, the lyrics take a distinctly Serrini twist. The cerebral songwriter questions whether philanthropy or retail therapy really helps in these situations.

“I raged in pain but I still felt so wrong,” sings Serrini, who has a PhD in cultural studies from Hong Kong University. “So, I paid the therapist, hoping that it helps.”

As the tempo intensifies, Serrini’s lyrics describe PTSD and OCD as “bloodsuckers of the mind”. Later in her bedroom, the central character—Serrini—reaches a pinnacle of anxiety. Then she wails: “Enough of the fear-mongering, aggravating unpleasantries!”

The musical landscape also undergoes a transformation, incorporating indie and electronica elements. A diva emerges, belting out empowering verses in a triumphant crescendo. This parallels the character’s on-screen metamorphosis.

It culminates in the supremely confident Serrini strutting in an alley, armed with a sledgehammer and dressed entirely in black. She approaches a Maserati convertible covered in pink fur. Then she starts smashing it.

“The real you is coming through,” Serrini sings in her moment of liberation.

In an interview with Pancouver, Serrini points out that this sports car was on the cover of her 2021 Gwendolyn album. Before shooting the “樹木真美 kiki mami” music video, she wondered why she had kept the car, given the high cost of storage.

“When I was shooting the music video, I knew, ‘Okay, it’s actually something that I really want to break from my past,” Serrini says.

Watch Serrini’s video for “樹木真美 kiki mami”.

Serrini attracts devoted fan base

The singer acknowledges the Hong Kong tradition of women singing ballads. Furthermore, she has sung more than her share over the years. But that will never prevent Serrini, who was born as born as Serruria Leung, from taking her career in new directions.

“I’m not sure why I chose that genre,” Serrini confesses. “And I feel like I can just wreck my past. I’m always wrecking my past. I don’t know why.”

One thing is clear, however. She’s not willing fit into certain feminine frames in order to be loved. When she expresses this lyrically, it forges a deep connection with her extremely devoted fans.

At the age of 34, Serrini is at the peak of her musical prowess, with music writers routinely referring to her “cult-like following”. It’s due in part to her larger-than-life personality but also to her imaginative and often daring lyrics. The multilingual and charismatic performer speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Japanese, Spanish, and some French.

When she learns vocabulary in another language, she says that she gets to live another life and imagine herself in a totally new space. To her, it’s better than travelling.

“I’m so passionate in language studies,” Serrini says. “It sets me apart from my friends who are making a lot of their own experimental music, because at the same time, I’m very experimental on my literacy.”

Earlier this year, Serrini performed at the Jade Music Fest in Asia, where she came in contact with singers of East Asian ancestry from several countries. Performers from Canada, Australia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong gathered in Taipei’s Huashan 1914 Creative Park for concerts and panel discussions.

Serrini was thrilled to join musician Enno Chang, independent curator Szu-Wei Che, and graphic designer Godkilla in a public conversation addressing language equality, diversity, and arts and culture.

“This is just more than I can hope for, as a nerd of culture,” Serrini says with a laugh. “I don’t just get to sing and be fabulous on-stage. I can talk to people!”

Watch Serrini’s video for《垃圾女星》”Diva Delulu”.

Upcoming concert in Vancouver

Her entire musical set was in Cantonese at the free festival. In Taipei, where most people speak Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien, she noticed a large number of Cantonese-speaking fans who had flown in from Hong Kong.

“Everyone was singing along,” Serrini recalls. “I performed…a dance-y party set, and they were dancing on the lawn of Huashan.”

She’s eagerly anticipating her upcoming performance at Vancouver’s Jade Music Festival, which runs from November 6 to 9. It will be her first concert in Canada.

“I really love immersing in different cultures,” she says.

Serrini likes giving English names to her albums, even though she often sings in Cantonese. Her latest full-length disc, Rage in Peace, is the latest example. In her interaction with Pancouver, she’s exceedingly gracious, offering a heartfelt thanks for listening to her album.

According to Serrini, there are many layers to the title.

“First, I feel I have a lot of unprocessed rage as a woman—as an Asian woman,” she says.

Then she mentions that she chose to focus on her career rather than creating a traditional family. In addition, her career path is far outside of her family’s experience, making it hard for them to understand what she’s doing with her life. Moreover, she’s in the first generation in her family to go to university, let alone earn a PhD.

“I’m financially independent and a more mature person,” Serrini says. “I feel like it’s a safe time and it’s a great time to reflect on my rage.”

Serrini
Serrini puts a great deal of thought into her lyrics. Photo by Tombus20032000.

Serrini draws lessons from rage

Rather than express this through heavy metallic beats, she chose more serene music on the new album, which includes 17 songs. This reflects the quiet anger that’s resided within her over the past two years. She likens it to The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, in which his character, Prospero, conjures up a storm. But her anger is muffled. Hence the title, Rage in Peace.

“A lot of strings are used,” Serrini states. “I feel like I’m exploring the feminine energy within me.”

Another of her concept albums, Songs of Experience, was based on fairy tales. In 2019, it captured Taiwan’s Golden Indie Music Award as the Best Overseas Album. She also won ViuTV’s Female Singer Award from 2021 to 2024, as well as the Female Singer Award in the 2024 Ultimate Song Chart Awards in Hong Kong.

Serrini says that when she was in her mid-20s, her rage was more direct and upfront. Now, 10 years later, she tries to look back at what this anger was telling her.

“Last year, I did a voiceover for a Disney Pixar movie called Elemental,” Serrini states. “I voiced-over for the Firegirl character. There was a very unforgettable line that I dubbed.

“I think it roughly means ‘You are angry now because…your body feels like you are not heard,’ “ she continues. “And then you have something unprocessed and it comes out as anger. But it’s actually something that you really want to say and you feel unheard.”

Watch Serrini’s video for “Moondance”, which was filmed in Japan.

“Moondance” represents healing journey

From there, Serrini brings up another thought-provoking idea rattling around inside her brain. It concerns why musicians feel that they have to sing.

“Why do we want to communicate with the world?” she asks. “Do you have something to say? I always ask myself that question. Do I just create music for monetary goals or for my own ego? It can be, but at the same time, why so much? Maybe there’s something that I left unprocessed.”

Off-the-cuff comments like these make her a popular interview subject. But it’s Serrini’s artistry that continues to impress her fans. A prime example is her video for “Moondance”, which includes a strings arrangement by Goro Wong, who also plays guitar and bass.

In the video, Serrini is all alone, dancing in the unending snow. Consider it a stylish version of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”.

“I’m pretty proud of this creation of mine,” Serrini says. “Video work is a big part of my music creation. I feel like it’s an extension of the music.”

This ethereal song includes Maria Grigoryeva on violin and viola, Lyudmila Kadyrbaeva on cello, Kaho Wong on flute, and backing vocals by Peace Lo. The video was shot in Nigata Prefecture in Japan, and it represents the beginning and end of a healing journey.

Within the song, Serrini plays with the word for “mother” in Japanese, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

“I feel like I’ve always been trying to talk to myself through my music,” Serrini says. “This is how I really want to solve my own personal feminine energy. And how I do this is not just by talking to a motherly figure or in soft, patronizing voices in my head. It could be something as simple as connecting to your body.”

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.