For the past 20 years, Jolin Tsai has been a phenomenally popular female music star in Asia. And one of her bestselling albums is Ugly Beauty, which addresses beauty standards and the often dark shadow of human emotions.
In fact, it topped the charts in Taiwan in 2019. Moreover, Ugly Beauty became the highest-selling digital album in China by a Hong Kong or Taiwanese artist.
American musician and producer Jeff Bova co-wrote one of the more memorable tracks, “Lady in Red”.
At the recent TD-presented Jade Music Festival in Vancouver, Bova shared how he and others came up with a gargantuan hit for a Chinese-language A-lister.
Bova discovers new opportunities in Asia
It began about five years ago when a music-rights performance organization invited him to join other songwriters in Taiwan. Because Bova’s maternal grandfather was an immigrant from China, he eagerly accepted.
“My dream was to go to China so I went to this songwriting camp,” Bova said. “I wrote there for two weeks. After we finished our pieces, I went to China.”
While he was in Taipei, each songwriting team had to create three songs. Bova said that they were to be distributed to publishers, artists, and record labels in Taiwan.
Bova’s group in Taipei started by writing two Mandopop pieces. Then one of the members of the team, singer-songwriter Karencici, fooled around with some really hardcore urban rap.
“I thought, ‘You know what? This is very cool? Why don’t we do a rap?’ ” Bova recalled.
At that point, the lyricist, Matthew Yen, said that he had been working up an idea. It involved a lady in a red dress. Yen also mentioned that he knew an artist who might perform it.
That artist was Jolin Tsai.
Two months later, after Bova had returned to his home in Los Angeles, he received a phone call informing him that she loved the song. Even better, she had chosen “Lady in Red” for her album.
It ended up being nominated for a Golden Melody Award in Taiwan.
The moderator at the Vancouver event was CBC broadcaster and author Grant Lawrence, known to many as the lead singer of the Smugglers
In the past, Bova has worked with U.S. superstars Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, and Katy Perry. In 1997, Bova won a Grammy Award as a producer on Céline Dion’s Falling Into You album.
Jolin Tsai’s video for “Lady in Red” is not recommended for children.
Bova talks about Chinese grandfather
This experience in Taiwan opened the door to the latest chapter in Bova’s astonishing career. He began working with other songwriters and artists in Asia, even producing some projects in Beijing.
“When COVID hit, that literally brought everything to a halt,” he said.
Bova added that he hoped the Jade Music Festival would help him reconnect with people in the Chinese-language music business.
He also shared stories about his grandfather, a merchant seaman who immigrated from Canton (now Guangzhou) to Philadelphia in the 1920s.
His Cantonese-speaking grandfather opened a restaurant but it went bankrupt during the Great Depression.
“He had to use the furniture, I’m told, in the restaurant for firewood,” Bova revealed. “It had gotten that bad. So this was the sort of the beginning of his entrance into America.”
Someone from his grandfather’s hometown, a man named Jack, encouraged him to move to New York. So Bova’s Chinese grandfather relocated with his family to the Morningside Heights area of Upper Manhattan.
He spent much of the rest of his working life as a chef.
“Now, my father at this juncture, had been going to the Juilliard School in Morningside Heights,” Bova said.
His dad lived just two blocks away from his mother. They began dating and married about a year later.
Bova was born in Washington, D.C., where his father was stationed during the Korean War as a musician in an air force jazz ensemble, the Airmen of Note.