Written by Max Lembke-Soh.
Image credit: 2020全中運在屏東 by 昇典影像 www.dantw.com, license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Over the past few years, anyone who has followed Taiwan’s music scene will know that EggPlantEgg 茄子蛋 has fast become a significant player. Rocketing to popularity in 2017, EggPlantEgg received multiple Golden Melody Awards and nominations recognising their distinctly Taiwanese vibes, making full use of Taiyu’s broad intonation range to melodise lyrics across a variety of sounds. The band has no shortage of commentators lauding their style, highlighting their passionate use of Taiyu to express everything from love and yearning to relationships and loss.
Alongside popularity and musical achievements, charting EggPlantEgg’s appeal can offer two critical perspectives for Taiwan Studies hands and language learners more broadly to consider: a promising avenue for Taiyu language revitalisation and proliferation, as well as a keen indication of a creative turn in Taiwanese popular music towards linguistic diversity at the forefront of Taiwan’s popular music scene.
One key hallmark of EggPlantEgg’s music is their ability to create a diverse array of distinct sounds, readily adapting composition, tone, and lyrical intensity. A key example of this can be heard in the track “Ms Doremi” from the band’s debut album, utilising a brooding bassline, intense melodic guitar and shrill keyboard sections to accentuate the track’s lyrical focus on desire and longing.
This competence has been confirmed time and again in subsequent tracks, in some cases capable of triggering an emotional response or association from listeners. Whether conveying feelings of melancholic, fond nostalgia in their 2017 smash hit “Back Here Again 浪子回頭,” pensive reflections on life and love in “Waves Wandering 浪流連” to the turbulence of unrequited love in “All That Wishful Thinking 這款自作多情,” the variety and strong composition of EggPlantEgg’s catalogue and their confident use of bluesy electronic tones to deep, heartfelt acoustics have proven an effective tool to showcase the expressive capacity and potential of Taiyu. Listeners are drawn in through an accessible rhythm to develop an organic curiosity and desire to delve into lyrical meaning.
Utilising their language fluency, EggPlantEgg gives listeners an outlet outside the usual soundscape of variety shows and stereotyped depictions by elegantly writing about relatable topics in Taiyu. This, in turn, gives listeners the means to build upon personal interest in the language and get a taste of using Taiyu for themselves through the careful inclusion of multiple subtitle sets. For Taiwanese and Chinese literate fans, this manifests in the combined inclusion of classical and phonetic Chinese characters and Romanised (alphabetised) Taiwanese script. Though seemingly a stylistic choice, audiences can identify character differences in Taiwanese and provide a broadly understandable guide to phonetic pronunciation. This approach has seen a noticeable uptake among Taiwanese language musicians across genres and degrees of popularity, such as Lilium 百合花 and Hsu Fu-kai 許富凱. Equally important is the band’s efforts to accommodate international fans. The vast majority of EggPlantEgg’s music videos have been updated over time to carry English subtitles, again highlighting a concerted effort to ensure accessibility for listeners unfamiliar with Taiyu. Together, this provides a stepping stone to further study and engagement by allowing audiences to understand the expressive capacity of Taiyu, carrying the added potential to help rehabilitate perceptions of language prestige formed through Taiwan’s multiple colonial eras.
Another key element of EggPlantEgg’s success is the discussion and enthusiasm they have generated by investing in creative effort and solid visual storytelling for their MVs to complement lyrical expression. Collaborating with production companies such as Spacebar studios, EggPlantEgg have created high-quality film-like videos with performances from rising talents like “Days We Stared at the Sun 他們在畢業的前一天爆炸” star Wu Chien-ho 巫建和 and Huang Guan-zhi 黃冠智 – of Netflix’s 2020 “Detention 返校” series – to household names in Taiwan such as Jack Kao 高捷 and the late Wu Peng-feng 吳朋奉. This has played a significant role in enthusing fans, amplifying the expressive force of EggPlantEgg’s lyrics through polished visual content that amplifies each track’s conveyed message and emotion. The most famous example is undoubtedly Wu Peng-feng’s poignant personification of the odd mix of melancholy and fond nostalgia when reflecting on lost friends and times past in “Back Here Again 浪子回頭.”
It is this interest that continues to drive passionate fan engagement with EggPlantEgg’s work. It has led to fans interpreting “Back Here Again 浪子回頭,” “Waves Wandering 浪流連” and “All That Wishful Thinking 這款自作多情” as a trilogy presented in reverse order by drawing a thematic link between each song. These MVs have, in effect, become the points at which key elements of EggPlantEgg’s distinctive auditory, visual, and creative character converge to drive fan engagement. The concise arrangement of each song’s composition complements the cinematic quality of each MV, enhancing audience receptiveness to the band’s expressive power and lyrical delivery. The combination enchants listeners and drives active engagement with the song’s creative message above the level of passive listening. This is most evident in Wu Peng-feng’s “看你緣投” line from “Back Here Again 浪子回頭” (a sarcastic comeback calling someone handsome after they have said “what the hell are you looking at?”) becoming somewhat iconic amongst fans, prompting a swathe of listeners to interpret its meaning out of sheer interest. Whilst Taiyu learning has been dependent upon immersive interaction with older native Taiyu speakers from a young age, EggPlantEgg’s creativity, passion and quality production offer a multifaceted approach to enlivening domestic Taiwanese and international interest in Taiyu through appreciation of a distinct and accessible sound. As such, the band’s music carries the potential to seed motivation and desire for those with varying degrees of Taiyu proficiency to improve their language skills, reinvigorate use and recognition of Taiyu and thereby catalyse individual confidence and pride in the language.
EggPlantEgg’s popularity also speaks to a broader shift in Taiwan’s music landscape from needing to accommodate Mandarin-speaking audiences to succeed in directly influencing audience interest. As shown by the recognition of EggPlantEgg’s 2017 debut album “Cartoon Character 卡通動物” at the Golden Melody Awards, EggPlantEgg demonstrates that understated linguistic confidence and pride, bolstered by a willingness to experiment across genres and styles, has become a solid formula for widespread accessibility. EggPlantEgg confirms that exceptional works not only resonate with audiences but also spur interest and enthusiasm in the performed language, another key example of this dynamic being Aljenljeng Tjaluvie ABAO’s multi–Golden Melody Award-winning 2020 album “Kinakaian (Mother Tongue),” a near entirely Indigenous language album introducing Paiwanese language and culture to listeners. Alongside EggPlantEgg’s success generating broad appreciation whilst maintaining expressive passion and creativity in Taiyu, these musicians present a promising trajectory for further creative diversification across Taiwan’s music scene.
If the swell of Korean language learners in the wake of K-Pop’s global rise can teach observers anything, it is that music is a potent source of enthusiasm for language learning. This is not to say that trying to follow the global magnetism of Korean and Japanese creative content will lead to the uptake of Taiwanese language learning at the same scale. However, it does show that given a decent platform and the chance for appreciation can significantly impact the acquisition and sustained appreciation of languages far beyond the bounds of their language sphere. Given years of mounting anxiety over the sustainability of numerous languages in Taiwan, EggPlantEgg presents an attractive remedy to the threat of language decline, which may offer valuable lessons to international observers seeking to maintain the lifeworld and vitality of other languages.
Max Lembke-Soh 蘇偉雄 is a freelance writer based in London. He holds an MA in History from SOAS, University of London.
This article was published as part of a special issue on Music of Taiwan.