SINGAPORE – Meet Cao Xiaoge, an energetic, laid-back newcomer to the music scene, eternally 18 years old, with a penchant for gold chains and fist bumps.
He is the alter ego of Malaysian singer Gary Chaw, 39, who is known as Cao Ge in the Mandopop world.
The Golden Melody Award-winning star was in town on June 21, and spoke to the Singapore media about his latest album, Super Junior, which was released last month, three years after A Friend (2016).
The new record, featuring 11 Mandarin tracks, took three months to create and is available on platforms such as Apple’s iTunes store and music-streaming services Spotify and KKBox.
During the session, Chaw – dressed from head to toe in denim and sporting a retro-looking pair of spectacles and a red bandanna tied around his right wrist – spoke about both Cao Ge and Cao Xiaoge in the third person, saying the latter has always been part of him.
“It is just that Cao Xiaoge has never been seen in the public eye,” he said.
“(But) this whole album is written by Cao Xiaoge. So it is only right to introduce him to everybody. I think this is the right time for him to meet people.”
Pressed on the identity, he said: “Maybe it is a split personality… This personality (Cao Xiaoge) is there. It is real… It could be an alter ego, but it could also be a braver, more truthful, more innocent Cao Ge.”
For example, emojis feature heavily in the lyric video of album track Lonely Lonely No Good. This is no coincidence as Chaw uses the humorous ideograms frequently in his Instagram posts and text messages.
The songwriter is married to Taiwanese fashion blogger Wu Su-ling, 40. They have a son, Joe, 10, and daughter, Grace, eight. In 2014, he and his children took part in the reality television show Where Are We Going, Dad? (2013 to present).
He said: “I’m always complaining about my son replying to my texts with a smiley face or a face with sunglasses. But then I realise I’ve been doing that too. For Cao Xiaoge, as long as I ‘feel’ it, it is fine.”
Cao Ge, in contrast, is more aggressive, competitive and obsessed with details, he said.
But was it necessary to create a separate identity? “Yes,” he said. “I needed an outlet to let this other side of me be shown to people. With this album, I can be Cao Xiaoge all the way.”
But in the long term, both identities will have to work together, he added.
“Both of them are me. But not in a spooky way.”
That said, Chaw is not ditching his original persona, known for belting out aching love ballads such as Betrayal and Mr Lonely.
He explained: “Most people still want to hear Cao Ge sing. If you want to listen to Cao Ge, you will, at a concert. But (now), you will also get to hear Cao Xiaoge.”
After all, Taiwanese singer A-mei has been successfully switching between identities – with her aboriginal name Amit – for a decade now.
Chaw’s Super Junior features several mid-tempo, 1990s-style R&B tunes, a nod to the music he grew up listening to growing up in Canada and New Zealand. The number Smooth is groovy and smooth-sounding, with lyrics such as “come on/let’s go with the flow”.
That is certainly what the singer seems to be doing with the introduction of Cao Xiaoge.
Super Junior is available on platforms such as Apple’s iTunes store and music-streaming services Spotify and KKBox.