Cantopop in the 90s reigned supreme while Malaysia saw the birth of a vibrant scene.
Siti Nurhaliza’s breakthrough
Datuk Siti Nurhaliza was only 16 when she won Bintang HMI, a television singing competition in 1995. A year later at Anugerah Juara Lagu, Siti took home the prize for Best Song and Best Performance for her song Jerat Percintaan.
After that, Siti continued to score numerous achievements including Best New Artist at Anugerah Industri Muzik and Most Popular Star at Anugerah Bintang Popular. All this and more in the year she released her self-titled debut album in 1996.
Step-up for local English music
Established in 1993, Positive Tone was the driving force behind top local English acts like OAG, Nicestupidplayground, Poetic Ammo and Innuendo.
Under Positive Tone, OAG sold over 75,000 copies of its self-titled debut album released in 1994. Positive Tone was also a major game-changer in the local music scene as later in 1996, Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) introduced a category for Best Local English Album.
The underdogs of the local music scene were finally getting some much-needed recognition and exposure from industry heavyweights.
The Four Heavenly Kings
The most significant phenomenon in the 1990s Chinese entertainment industry was the emergence of Hong Kong’s Four Heavenly Kings, namely Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok, and Leon Lai.
The four superstars reigned supreme in both music AND movies, and their popularity as the biggest male superstars in Asia would continue well into the next millennium.
Death of a Rock God
No other celebrity death in the 1990s rocked Hong Kong and the rest of the Chinese-speaking world as much as that of iconic Beyond frontman Wong Ka Kui, who fell off a Tokyo stage in 1993 and died at age 31 at the prime of the Hong Kong rock band’s popularity.
As the band’s lead singer and primary songwriter, Wong helped turn Beyond into Asian rock legends, and their 1993 signature hit Hoi Fut Tin Hung (Boundless Oceans Vast Skies) remains a Canto-rock anthem even today.
Born in Beijing in the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution, Chinese pop diva Faye Wong dominated the 1990s Cantopop and Mandopop scene and beyond with her alternative style of music. Other hugely popular Hong Kong pop divas who emerged in the 90s include Sammi Cheng and Kelly Chen.
Malaysian-born duo Michael Wong & Victor Wong (no relation) were true trailblazers. Their debut Mandopop album Zhang Xin (Palm) went platinum in 1995, and they subsequently became the first artistes to make a real breakthrough into the Taiwanese music scene, paving the way for other Malaysian artistes such as Fish Leong, Penny Tai, and Aniu (Tan Kheng Seong) to break into the market.
Taiwanese Mandopop stars
The 1990s also saw the resurgence of Taiwanese Mandopop, as singer-songwriters like Wu Bai, Chyi Chin, Power Station, Wakin Chau (formerly Emil Chau), Wang Lee Hom and David Tao benefited from a larger slice of the Mandarin-speaking market.
Before K-pop was the rage, J-pop ruled the airwaves with the likes of versatile Japanese boyband SMAP and J-pop diva Utada Hikaru (left).
Sheila Majid may have made her debut in the 80s, but the 90s were probably the most fruitful period of her career. She not only launched the iconic Lagenda album in 1990 (a tribute to another Malaysian legend, P. Ramlee), but was also the first Malaysian artist to break into Japan and to hold a solo gig at London’s West End in 1996.
Soundtrack to a decade