Years ago, when I was in high school, I probably felt musically frustrated because there was no singer that I really liked, and no celebrity of whom I was truly a fan. When everyone else followed Linkin’ Park and Green Day, I didn’t understand what being a fan was like. But, all of that changed when I stumbled upon Jen’s Last.fm profile from her blog in 2007. One of her top artists was a singer named Vienna Teng and there was a full-length preview of her song Gravity. I instantly fell in love with her voice and the flowing piano.
And then, I wondered, “Who is this lady?” and looked up her biography. She is a Taiwanese-American who grew up playing piano, got a BS in computer science at Stanford, worked in Silicon Valley as a programmer for a couple of years, and then quit her job to record her first album, Waking Hour. She “made it”, although never into mainstream music, and recorded two more albums, Warm Strangers and Dreaming Through the Noise, after that. As someone from a similar cultural background, I admired her a lot. Unlike with most celebrities, I felt like I could relate to her somehow, though she didn’t even know that I existed. Plus, unlike most of the mainstream pop songs out there, at the time, I was actually able to relate to several of her songs, particularly “Drought”, “Enough to Go By“, and “The Atheist Christmas Carol“.
I then listened to all three of her albums and loved them all. For the first time in my life, I was a fan of a (quasi-)famous person and understood why other kids would flock to New York City to see their favorite artists. But I kept the fact that I was a Vienna Teng fan to myself because as far as I could tell, nobody else I knew liked her.
During my first year of college (2008-2009), she released her fourth studio album, Inland Territory, which instantly became my favorite album to listen to. Compared to the first three, it was experimental and bold. Then, to my surprise, a small group of people from the same school wanted to go to her concert on the LA stop of her tour. Pleasantly surprised, I joined them and went to the first gig that I had ever gone to.
That concert was magical. Standing up in front of the stage, I could feel the vibrations in my legs. Vienna and her percussionist, Alex Wong, also both used many interesting stage tools, such as a looper, to pretend that they have more voices and instruments than they actually did. I was impressed and awed. We left the concert happy.
Later, I learned that she would be leaving the music scene to get a MBA. I was going to miss her, but in the meantime, I’d enjoy listening to her four albums. And, as time went on and as I explored more music, I stopped listening to her music constantly and she slipped away into the back of my mind.
Then, earlier this year, I learned that Vienna would be releasing a fifth album, Aims, and touring the world. I preordered the album and listened to it dozens of times over. Her previous albums were mostly about her life, the people in her life, and portraits of characters she created in her mind. But her new album was distinctly different. It is about what she studied in grad school and the world events and issues that aspired during the time; its songs are similar to the Taiwanese song “Green Island Serenade” and Sixx:AM’s “Girl with Golden Eyes” in that they are about serious topics and disguised as love songs. Surely songs titled “In the 99“, “The Hymn of Acxiom“, and “Copenhagen” can’t possibly be love songs, right?
And then, I came a bit out of my shell and dragged two friends who had never heard of her before (the friends I went with in 2009 all live elsewhere now) to her concert in LA. And I was scared for the concert: What if my friends didn’t like her? What if we couldn’t find the venue?
Thankfully, none of that happened. Dragging my friends to the show was a great idea and created two new Vienna Teng fans. At this concert, she and her co-performers took advantage of an extensive sound library and a diverse set of tools in addition to the looper: an auto-tuning device that created an “instant choir”, a set of percussive pads that could be set to any instrument, and a French horn that gave a nice sound to one of my favorite (older) songs, “Antebellum“. The entire show was full of vibrant energy and enthusiasm from both the performers and the crowd. Starting from the moment she said “I wrote this album while I was in complete nerd-mode”, I was completely hooked.
All this time, I feel that she is my “other self”, who chose to become a musician instead of an engineer. So when I noticed that she had sheet music for her first three albums on sale, I bought all three of them. As I approached her for an autograph, I couldn’t figure out what to say. I just awkwardly asked her to sign one of the covers, and I think she looked a bit confused as she signed it. Her signature looks gorgeous, by the way.
A week later, one of the guys who I went to the concert with wanted to play and sing music from the three songbooks. So, we went up to one of the school’s pianos and bonded. Never before have I bonded with someone over a fandom. I never knew that it was possible. But we had a blast, and now I do know.