If you’re looking for a Singaporean superstar, you don’t have to look much further than Stefanie Sun. With 15 years of experience under her belt, the Singapore-born singer has carved a name for herself in the Mandopop industry, gathering large throngs of fans in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and of course, Singapore.
She has sold over 30 million copies of her albums since the start of her career, and taken home several Singapore Hit Awards, Global Chinese Music Awards, and MTV Asia awards. She was also awarded the Singapore Youth Award (Arts and Culture) in 2007 for her outstanding achievements in the music scene and contributions to the local and international community.
Not to mention, she’s the voice behind two of Singapore’s favourite National Day songs, which she performed during SG50’s National Day Parade.
Here are the top 6 takeaways from Stefanie Sun for budding superstars.
1. Don’t Overlook Internships
As a graduate of Nanyang Technological University’s Business School, Sun made full use of her time there. Other than hanging out with her friends in Hall 8, joining bands and organising events, she also spent some time doing internships to help set her on the right career path.
In an interview with NTU, Sun shared that she did an internship with Warner Music, one of the biggest record labels around.
“I did my internship at Warner Music Singapore, where I met Princessa (a Spanish pop artiste) and Dr Bombay (the Swedish-Danish Eurodance performer who made Indian dance music). I had quite a bit of fun and quite a lot of stress! But it was a good experience and I am very thankful for the exposure.”
A few years later in 2000, she released her first album, Yan Zi (孙燕姿), under Warner Music. Coincidence? Sun’s never made the connection, but we’re sure her time working with a company like Warner Music must have helped give her the exposure she needed to set her on the path to success.
2. Do whatever it takes to succeed
While Sun went on to build a career in Mandopop, Mandarin wasn’t her first language growing up. In fact, she admits that she grew up speaking primarily English, but chose to pursue a career in Mandopop because the English pop scene wasn’t as established.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Sun said:
“Singing in English is even less of an option. For Mandopop, there were [previous Singaporean successes like] Kit Chan and Tanya Chua. As for English pop, I don’t really know anyone [from Asia who’s succeeded]. I knew from a very young age that an Asian face is not going to make a [successful] English album. The support and structure was not there during my time and is still not there.“
However, she wasn’t fluent in Mandarin, as she shared in her essay contribution to Lee Kuan Yew’s book “My Bilingual Journey”. After an embarrassing moment on a television show with renowned presenter Jacky Wu, she vowed to improve her Mandarin and now has a large fan base in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China.
“If you want it bad enough, you will find all ways and means to get it,” she said. “This is something that I have learnt over the years. You don’t get somewhere by doing nothing. Find the one thing that you love doing and just go for it. If you are not good enough at it, you had better get cracking.”
3. If you can’t beat them, make them laugh
While stars are often depicted in the media as glamorous and stunning beings, they have their off days too. On one such day, Sun was queueing at McDonald’s in a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops — someone took a picture of her, and it quickly went viral on social media. People started criticising her for her less-than-flawless look, commenting that she looked like an auntie.
But instead of fighting the critics, she used the opportunity to show her funny side by editing the picture: she added a crown to her head and cartoon characters that said: “So beautiful OK”. Everyone loved it.
“When I am not under pressure, I’d like to think I’m funny,” she said to Channel NewsAsia. “When I come across something funny, I just post it.”
With that one move, the frequent social media user showed us the number one rule in dealing with haters: if you can’t beat them, make them laugh. Not only does it keep you from offending fans, but your authenticity will shine through. Everyone loves a good joke, especially a slightly self-deprecating one.
4. It doesn’t hurt to be unabashedly patriotic
At a time when being patriotic may seem uncool to most youth, Sun shows her patriotism well. She’s worked on two wildly popular national day songs, and contributed to Lee Kuan Yew’s book. She was also one of the first few people to pay her respects to the late founding Prime Minister at the Parliament house, and held a minute of silence for him at her concert shortly after.
Despite having a crazy popular career in Taiwan and China, she’s still rooted to Singapore, sharing in her tribute to Lee Kuan Yew how grateful she is that her son will have the opportunity to buy a HDB flat when he grows up.
Her unabashed connection with Singapore has had people lauding her as one of Singapore’s most successful musicians. How successful? She was the first Singaporean celebrity to have an orchid named after her at the Singapore Orchid Show — the Dendrobium Stefanie Sun.
And how about that wax figure?
5. Fame comes with a price — sometimes it’s your safety
Being famous sounds great, but it comes with a price. Sometimes it’s privacy, other times it’s judgement. But, as Sun has experienced first hand, fame could also come with a lapse in safety.
In 2000, soon after Sun had begun her career in the music industry, she was held hostage by a man in his 20s at an autograph session in Sogo Department Store, Chungli, Taiwan. He held her at gunpoint while she was on stage, demanding a ransom for her release. Luckily, security personnel on-site were able to take him down quickly and nobody was hurt.
On a separate occasion, while filming a music video in Egypt in 2007, Sun’s crew were extorted by local gangsters pretending to be government officials. They were only able to get out with the help of the Singapore embassy.
Sun seems to have taken these experiences to heart, and keeps her personal relationships and family under wraps. She secretly married her long-time boyfriend, Nadim Van Der Ros, in 2011, and gave birth to their son in 2012. She has yet to reveal her son’s name to the public, likely in a bid to keep him safe and out of the public eye.
So if you’re looking to be a superstar, remember what you may be up for as a result.
6. Learning is a life-long journey
It’s always tough to hear criticisms from others, especially when they’re based on fact. When Sun embarked on her Mandopop career, she was aware that her Mandarin wasn’t as fluent as those in Taiwan and China, where she was promoting her music at the time.
But it was only when she was a guest on Taiwanese variety show Jacky Go Go that she realised the need for her to buck up on her Mandarin conversational skills. When asked a question by host Jacky Wu, she was embarrassed to find that she didn’t understand it. In response, Wu simply remarked: “Why are young artistes these days so ignorant?”
“This passing remark by Taiwanese variety show host Jacky Wu was a stinging slap to my face, a big, red flashing wake-up call. It was an important turning point in my journey towards effective bilingualism.
Now, even though I am still more comfortable reading and writing in English, Mandarin is no longer difficult. Today, I tend to use English and Mandarin separately and comfortably. When I receive the lyrics of a new song, I can quite easily understand the mood expressed by the words. When I speak in Mandarin, I no longer think in English first.”
While her language skills have improved, Sun has shown that there is no shame in learning, no matter how old you are or what skill you’re trying to pick up. In fact, she recently posted this Instagram photo of her revision of the Chinese language. Looks like she’s still learning.