Namewee is a Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter and filmmaker whose controversial songs go viral on Youtube.

'It’s controversial because it's important,' Malaysian Chinese pop artist says of his censored music

Namewee is a singer-songwriter and filmmaker who is known for speaking his mind and composing songs that go viral on YouTube. He tells The World's Rebecca Kanthor why promoting his music is important.

The World

Namewee is a Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter and filmmaker whose controversial songs go viral on Youtube.

Courtesy of Asian Tone Cultural and Creative Industry

One of the tracks up for Song of the Year at Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards is a cutesy bubble gum pink music video of a pop song called "Fragile."

The artist behind the song is Wee Meng Chee, better known by his stage name Namewee

The Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter and filmmaker is known for two things: speaking his mind and composing songs that are guaranteed to go viral on YouTube.

He’s even been arrested for his work more than once.

Malaysian singer Namewee poses for a photo as he arrives for the 33rd Golden Melody Awards in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, July 2, 2022.

Malaysian singer Namewee poses for a photo as he arrives for the 33rd Golden Melody Awards in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, July 2, 2022.

Credit:

Billy Dai/AP

On the surface, his latest song is a saccharine duet about a love triangle that features a panda.

But when you listen closely to the lyrics in Mandarin, the satirical message is sharply critical of China’s patriotic keyboard warriors, who post on social media to defend national pride abroad.

The song has racked up more than 60 million views on YouTube since it was released last fall.

The song has also been banned by the Chinese government.

The World’s Rebecca Kanthor in Shanghai spoke with Namewee about his music.

Rebecca Kanthor: How do you describe your music?
Namewee: My music is fun and ridiculous and also quite critical sometimes. If you want me to [say] one word, one sentence to describe my music, it’s “freedom of creativity.”
Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter Namewee poses with a guitar.

Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter Namewee poses with a guitar.

Credit:

Courtesy of Asian Tone Cultural and Creative Industry

What’s your creative process?
I spend a long time [thinking]. But when I start making music, it's very, very, very fast. In the beginning, I'm thinking about the music for the music video first and the lyrics and the melody come second. It’s like doing music scoring. The movie comes first.
You’re known for your collaborations with artists from across Asia, from Mandopop [Mandarin popular music] stars to Japanese actresses. Why is it so important for you to do these pan-Asia projects?
I [have] traveled a lot through Asia as a backpacker. There is a lot of misunderstanding. Because in Asia we speak many languages, we’re watching different media, we have many perspectives. So first, I make music for myself, second I make music for Malaysians, and now I make [music] for all of Asia. I hope I can show the world how we get together through my music.
Namewee performs in front of his fans.

Namewee performs in front of his fans.

Credit:

Courtesy of Asian Tone Cultural and Creative Industry

Why did you start publishing your music on YouTube?
In Malaysia, there's a lot of censorship limitation for me, because they control a lot. They do not allow me to talk about politics, about religion, about race. Yeah, we're not allowed to do many kinds of content in my country.  So, I think YouTube is the best platform for me to share my music.
Why do you continue to do controversial work then?
They call it controversial. For me, it’s controversial because it is important. This is a very important thing to raise, that’s why it has become controversial. As a musician, I have a responsibility to share this kind of music with the people.
Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter and filmmaker Namewee is flanked by his fans.

Malaysian Chinese singer-songwriter and filmmaker Namewee is flanked by his fans.

Credit:

Courtesy of Asian Tone Cultural and Creative Industry

Did you expect the reaction you got to your song, "Fragile?"
This is a little bit too far for me here. I didn't expect the reaction of the Chinese government and I also didn’t expect the audience’s [response] in Taiwan. It made such a huge wave. I didn’t expect it actually.
What’s coming up next for you?
My new album will be coming out at the end of the year. We are still preparing. It is called "High Definition & Uncensored." My song is censored in Malaysia, in my country, and also in TV, in the mainstream media and the radio. So, if you buy this album, you will [hear] the uncensored version.

Related: Chinese govt cracks down on online gaming, TikTok — claiming that tech has outsize influence on society

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.