If he had listened to his father, Eric Chou would have never become a singer. Like many Asian parents, Chou’s father wanted him to go on to university after finishing his high school education in the U.S. But the then 18-year-old had other plans. “I knew that I did not want to go to university because I wanted to pursue music,” says the Taiwanese singing sensation. “He was supportive of what I wanted to do but he did not want me to not go to college. So I told him that I wanted to take a gap year to try out different things, especially making music.”
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Luckily, his father relented and agreed to let him take a break to—in his father’s own words—“try out the music thing”. Chou expounds further: “I think that in his mind, I would not be successful in my pursuit, I would fail, then go back to school.” That “music thing” turned into a career trajectory that saw Chou winning multiple accolades, releasing hit songs year after year, gaining a following of international fans, and performing at sold-out arenas within the span of nine years.
It was not without hard work, he says. On set with BAZAAR Singapore the day after his two-day, sold-out Singapore concert on the “Odyssey Journey” world tour, Chou shares that during that agreed gap year, he completed 32 songs—most of which were ballads that he had started composing since his early teens. One song in particular, “The Distance of Love”, which later became his first single from his 2014 debut album My Way to Love, holds a special memory.
Recounting the inspiration behind the song, Chou shares that it was written right after his first heartbreak at the tender age of 12, when he was at boarding school in Boston. “I liked this girl a lot, and we were friends. I remember getting all dressed up and finally gathering up the courage to confess my feelings to her. But it was not meant to be; she said it was better if we remained as friends.”
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Dejected, the young Chou went home and channelled his emotions into penning the song that would later be his ticket to superstardom. It was chosen as the ending theme song of the 2014 Taiwanese hit romance drama, The Way We Were, and went on to climb the charts. It was voted the best TV Theme Song at the Hito Music Awards in 2015, a Mandopop awards show.
As the 27-year-old singer discusses his songwriting, he comes across as a sensitive soul with an introspective personality underneath his boyish good looks. Explaining his penchant for writing lyrics about love, longing and heartache, Chou says, “I think love is something universal that everyone can relate to but no one can really explain, you know? So to deliver and express that emotion in a song for people to find comfort and strength in, I think that’s very good.”
Little wonder then that the Taiwanese media has dubbed him the ‘king of lovelorn people’. Chou’s ability to take painful emotions and turn them into poetic love ballads, has helped him produce hit songs that resonate with many. When asked how he feels about the moniker, Chou pauses, breaks into a slight laugh, and says, “I think being the king of anything is great. But [it’s more about music being] a dream come true for me as I’ve wanted this since I was very young.”
Born in Taipei, the middle child in a family of three boys was introduced to music at the age of nine, when his mother bought him his first piano. “Actually, she sort of forced me to learn the piano,” he says. “You know, like all Asian mums, she wanted me to learn to play a musical instrument, and, at first, I really did not like it.”
But ironically, it was at boarding school that he turned to the piano for solace. “It got really lonely in school. So I started playing the piano a lot. I fell in love with it naturally because at that point of time, I was no longer being forced to play it, unlike when I was still living at home.
“Plus, I was that skinny Asian boy, you know? I wanted to find something that I would be good at, that would give me confidence. Everyone else in school was interested in sports, like basketball, so I decided that music would be my thing,” he says.
Years later, there’s no arguing that music has definitely become his thing, and the 6ft tall singer is no longer the awkward young outsider. Having spent almost a decade in the music business, Chou has slowly but surely emerged from his shell. In an Instagram post in August, he confidently put his toned physique on display in a topless mirror selfie. For the last six months, he has been working on his fitness as he is to perform on stage bare-bodied for a portion of the show. Chou shares that his daily gym routine includes push-ups and sit-ups—100 sets of each. This gruelling workout drill is an essential part of his pre-concert routine.
“I mean, I have to take my shirt off on stage,” he says, blushing ever so slightly. “But it really helps with my energy levels because it gets the blood pumping.”
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Despite putting it all out there on stage and on social media, Chou stresses that he is a homebody. True to his introverted personality, he prefers wearing muted colours such as white, black, dark blue or grey. “It takes time for me to really open up and be more of an extrovert, you know? Bright colours to me, are like loud screams,” he says.
When it comes to clothes, he describes his style choices as very classic and minimalistic. “I actually really like classic tailoring, like suits and ties, probably because of the years I spent wearing uniforms at boarding school. I love the gentleman look and sometimes I wish more people would dress like people did in the 1960s,” he says.
These days, though, he leans more towards luxe casualwear, much like the outfit he is wearing today: a black t-shirt, dark grey Pleats Please pants by Issey Miyake (one of four pairs in his wardrobe, in neutral and dark colours), and black, fold-down Gucci Horsebit leather loafers.
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While he may eschew attention-seeking colours when it comes to his personal aesthetic, he does not shy away from them while on set. In the shoot, he works the camera effortlessly, togged out in outfits that include a bright pink Valentino suit from the Pink PP collection.
Aways open to new experiences, Chou is currently looking forward to expanding his resume to include more acting. Last year, he made his silver screen debut in Taiwanese feature film My Best Friend’s Breakfast. “I still love music and will continue to push more out. But acting has been a lot of fun as well. So, I am really looking forward to more opportunities to do that in the future,” he says.
Photographed by Shawn Paul Tan
Styled by Gracia Phang
Grooming: Elvi Yang
Hair: Neo Lai using Flux
Producer: Navin Pillay
Photographer’s assistants: Melvin Leong; Sean Lim
Stylist’s assistant: Brandon Chia