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Mon, Nov 19, 2012
The Straits Times
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S.H.E as tight as ever

Blossomy is not just Taiwanese girl band S.H.E's 11th studio album, marking Selina Jen, Hebe Tien and Ella Chen's 11th year in show business.

Even though their longevity is unusual in the fickle world of Mandopop, the album could have been another run-of-the-mill release. Except that it is not.

It is a testament to courage and, possibly, proof that true friendship can, well, blossom in the ruthlessly cut-throat world of commercial music.

In October 2010, while filming the television drama I Have A Date With Spring, Jen was badly hurt in an accident involving explosives which left her with burns - some as severe as third-degree - on her back, limbs and waist - around 50 per cent of her body.

It has been a long and painful journey back to health for the 31-year-old, let alone back to the business of making music.

Speaking to 150 representatives of Asian media at W Taipei hotel on Wednesday, she could not hold back the tears at one point.

It feels "really great" to be working with Tien and Chen again, she says emotionally.

"I feel very happy. The chemistry among the three of us has not changed. Be it recording a song or filming a music video, being with them gives me this sense of security that my sisters are by my side and giving me a lot of love.

"We want to send that love and strength out in the world and give everyone that positive energy."

She was clearly happy to be back in the limelight as a trio, beaming and joking easily for the most part.

Yet, just one year ago, in October, it was a tremendous feat for her to even walk down the aisle for her wedding with lawyer Richard Chang, given that her legs were so badly burnt that she needed skin grafts.

On Wednesday, she wore flesh-toned protective sheaths for her arms and legs, but walking and standing no longer seemed to be a problem.

She admits that she harboured some doubts as to whether she was up to the task of making Blossomy, the production of which took nine months and included a trip to Milan for a photo shoot.

In the end, she coped pretty well.

"I thank the company and my sisters for being with me and being so understanding," she said, referring to Tien, 29, and Chen, 31.

"I feel great emotionally and when you're in a good mood, you realise that a lot of things are not as scary and frightening."

Indeed, her bandmates flanked her protectively throughout the press event and cracked quick jokes every now and then, to lighten the mood and also perhaps to take Jen's mind off the painful past.

Their closeness is also evident from the affectionate way they address one another: Long before she got married, Jen had already been called laopo (wife) as a playful term of endearment. It is even the title of a track on their album, Play (2007). Tien and Chen are called by their birth names, Fu-chen and Chia-hwa, respectively.

Jen recounts an anecdote that took place the day before the media conference: Chen took a good- natured dig at her, telling her to go for a jog since they had noticed that Jen's face would look slimmer after she exercised and sweated it out.

"Wife, remember it's the press conference for an album launch tomorrow, and not for the launch of a big round pastry," Chen had said.

In the end, Jen jogged for about eight minutes, an improvement from the five minutes she used to run before needing to rest.

Even the more reticent Tien teases Jen after they perform their new single Our Hearts Are Still Warm for reporters. She asks: "Were you about to cry again?" Jen shoots back with an immediate "No".

S.H.E were actually assembled by Taiwanese record label HIM International rather than being an organically formed group. But their care and affection for one another is so genuine that it is hard to think of them as a manufactured pop entity.

In fact, Chen says that they are as close as family.

What if that were something Chen and Jen's husbands are jealous of? Jen's quick comeback: "Not possible, that would be too childish. I wouldn't marry this kind of husband."

Chen tied the knot with Malaysian businessman Alvin Lai in May this year, seven months after Jen's nuptials.

These are momentous life changes for a group which started out with the women essentially representing different ideal types. Jen stood for tenderness, Tien for confidence and Chen for courage.

But the trio are not worried that they will lose their fans along the way. As Tien puts it: "This is the very real side to us and we have grown along with our fans. There are changes in life and we have been open in facing them."

Chen adds: "Look at Singaporean singer Stefanie Sun. She's already a mother and everyone still hankers for her comeback. You don't make true works of art by forcing yourself to be something you're not even if your identity has changed or your circumstances have changed."

And changed indeed they have.

Tien jokes that Jen has released her burden of being a "yu nv" (literally jade girl, or virginal girl-next-door).

There is a playfulness to Jen that reveals itself more readily now. She says: "Regardless of how I am, my husband would still love me and accept me so I should embrace that side of me fully. Anyway, I've never hidden that facet from him and he likes that part of me because he says it adds joy to his serious life as a lawyer."

The same goes for Chen, who says that she is becoming more open as well.

With Jen and Chen happily married, attention inevitably turns to Tien's love life as well. As it happens, the three are dressed in matching white outfits and matching shades of red and brown hair as if they were a bridesmaid posse.

Tien says: "I don't feel pressure from them, I just let things take their natural course. I wouldn't be resistant at all if they were to help with recommendations."

Maybe she has also been too busy with her burgeoning solo career with two well-received albums, To Hebe (2010) and My Love (2011), to have time for romance.

But she finds time for S.H.E.

The feeling is "totally different" as a trio, she says. "It's laughter and feeling relaxed and comfortable with them and I only need to do one-third of all the work."

While the other two have also released solo EPs - Chen with Ella To Be (2012) and Jen with Dream A New Dream (2011) - they agree with Tien that they love being part of S.H.E.

Jen "really loves the feeling of S.H.E" while Chen would get a sore throat when they get together because "I love chatting with them too much. And talking takes more effort than singing, so my voice gets hoarse".

Since making their debut in 2001 with Girl's Dorm, S.H.E have had a long list of hits including Shero, Don't Wanna Grow Up, Migratory Bird and Genesis. They have reportedly sold more than 15 million records and their long list of accolades includes a prestigious Golden Melody Award for Best Group in 2003.

After all these years, S.H.E have remained at the top of the Mandopop game. What is their secret to their longevity in an industry where other groups have come and gone quickly through the revolving door of pop?

Chen notes: "When you hear our three voices together, it's like it was destined for us to come together. It's a really magical feeling and we cherish this deeply."

And while their solo projects may continue apace, there is no question of those breaking them up.

Chen's quip as to where they will be in another 11 years: "We'll be hot mothers with great figures and still holding spectacular concerts."

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S.H.E's new album Blossomy is out in shops.

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