Sa Dingding: First Chinese Artist to Infiltrate the West

Sa Dingding (萨顶顶), a 26 year-old electronic-pop-folk artist, will be the first Chinese musical artist to ‘conquer’ the western music market.

Here are 5 reasons why:

1. European success

Sa Dingding

Sa Dingding has experienced unprecedented European success for a Chinese music artist. In 2008 Sa Dingding won the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for her debut album, Alive. In January 2010, her second album Harmony hit #1 on the iTunes World Music Charts in the UK and Switzerland. She’s also no stranger to success in asia, having already notched-up over 2 million album sales in south-east asia and regularly sells out stadium-sized gigs.

2. Brand

Not only is she incredibly attractive, Sa Dingding is already working with some big names. In 2008 she composed a song with Eric Mouquet of Deep Forest. And her latest album, Harmony, which was produced by British producer Marius De Vries (Björk and PJ Harvey), contains three remixes by Paul Oakenfold. She also holds appeal amongst China’s ethnic minorities, hailing from Inner Mongolia (part of mainland China), with Han Chinese ancestry, she also taught herself Tibetan and Sanskrit. While her latest video (above) has caused some to question the depth of her Buddist faith, these sorts of questions will only fuel broader appeal amongst young Chinese and western audiences. She’s not yet deserving of the comparisons with Madonna being pedaled by some over-eager critics (see BBC interview link below). But she does show hallmarks of an artist with that kind of potential –see below.

3. Musical knowledge

Sa Dingdings understanding of the music industry, knowledge of music theory and practical repertoire are the elements likely to inch her away from comparisons with artists like Britney Spears and increasingly towards her label-mate, Björk. In a recent interview with BBC Radio 6, Sa Dingding commented on the subtleties of—and differences between—quality recordings and compelling live performances. She studied philosophy and music in Beijing, plays a range of instruments, including the zheng, horse-head fiddle and bamboo flute. What’s more, she performs in English, Mandarin and her own made-up language.

4. Familiar sound

The PR-ganda from the label is that her sound is entirely unique and that there’s nothing like it on the market. I don’t agree. There is obvious similarities between Sa Dingding’s sound and Björk. But not being entirely unique/new is actually a blessing for commercial success. There needs to be some sound to compare it to—something for audiences to associate it with—or it will be too challenging for audiences outside Asia –and for many it still will be.

5. Signed to the world’s largest label

It’s now widely accepted within the music industry, that the traditional label model has no future. But major labels still hold power where the majority discover their music –radio, mainstream media. It could be argued that Sa Dingding’s audience are an eclectic, indie, blog-dwelling bunch who don’t care for radio, own TVs or buy newspapers. But no artist (or very few) makes a living from this group…yet.

Universal/Wrasse Records director, Ian Ashbridge pins Sa Dingding’s success in western music markets entirely on the media. “Can [western] media get over the fact that she’s singing in Chinese?”, he asks.

What do you think?

  • Jefske

    She is very interesting artist but i think it just goes to show that the younger generation in China is evolving with new cultural and technological references. More importantly, it shows that the traditional music industry model is becoming increasingly more outdated with the usual PR / Promotion tactics to promote new talent.

    They should be more focused on selecting interesting talent that people will actually want to spend money to buy the record and see live than creating faux pop/rock stars that is all PR / Aesthetically driven.

  • Andy

    Absolutely Jefske. More than ever before it’s important to for artists to exist beyond their music.