Friday Song: Taiwanese pop star Jolin Tsai satirizes pop culture in ‘Play’

Society & Culture

Although the title of Jolin Tsai’s 蔡依林 (cài yīlín) 2014 pop jam is “Play,” the accompanying lyrics and video reveal that, in fact, she’s here to do anything but.

Known for her ability to reinvent herself, Tsai leans on this talent in the music video — in one scene, she’s a hipster in hot competition with another young lady to prove who’s the most alternative; in the next, she’s a fitness instructor surrounded by beefy, barely clad men — all without breaking a sweat. But don’t let the catchy visuals fool you — “Play” is about a lot more than a starlet bragging about her fame. It’s a satire of celebrity, pop culture, and an industry that makes unbelievable amounts of money off music that can sometimes seem empty.

At the video’s start, Tsai is an avatar in a design-your-own-character-style video game. Players can choose between “Lady Canary” Tsai, “Skunk Masters” Tsai, “Miss Shark” Tsai, and “Rich Queen” Tsai, all with their own catchphrases and outfits. Whoever has the control picks “Rich Queen,” and after resizing her facial features and augmenting her breasts, the game begins. This intro sets the tone for a video focused on Tsai’s efforts to change herself according to her audience’s needs and wants. As the lyrics state:

比钱更重要的是人鱼线 管你小众大众我呸
Whether you’re an individual or a part of the audience, I play

Whether you’re a hipster or hardcore, I play

管你是那一类甲虫我呸 我呸 都呸 都Play
Whatever type you are, I play

She portrays herself as someone willing to do anything for fame, and with her tongue firmly in her cheek, she brings attention to how women are treated in her industry; in one scene, faced with competition from a younger, bustier starlet, Tsai opens her dress and flashes the assembled press. But the biggest message of “Play” is reserved for the end, when Rich Queen Tsai falls during a pillow fight with her friends and her body breaks into thousands of coins.

The music video is a lot of fun from start to finish, with arresting visuals and a catchy beat. But Tsai has a lot more to say about the music industry and pop culture than we give her credit for.

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