Of the handful of Westerners who have taken to singing Mandopop songs as a method for learning Chinese and reaching out to their host country, one of the best known is the Guangzhou-based television personality Hazza Harding.
Hazza, 23, became an online celebrity in 2010 for singing covers of Mandarin pop songs while still a student back in his native Australia. He was subsequently offered a job in television in Guangzhou where he still lives, currently presenting the chat show Face Time.
Singing in Chinese
Hazza first became interested in China when he travelled to Beijing on a school trip in grade 7, but it wasn’t until he heard one of Jay Chou’s songs that he started to become fascinated by Chinese culture. “I bought Jay Chou’s ‘November Chopin’ at a dingy CD store in Chinatown back in Brisbane – best $15 I ever spent. I have listened to that album hundreds of times, the CD is all scratched up now,” Hazza told The Nanfang.
Singing in Chinese became a big part of his life while studying the language at university and it is what gave him his first taste of celebrity, making his current career possible: “Now looking back, learning Chinese songs wasn’t the best way of learning Mandarin (probably evidenced by my exam marks) but I guess I wouldn’t be doing what I am now if I hadn’t taken this approach,” said Hazza.
Serendipitously, the earliest videos of him singing in Chinese coincided with the rise of Sina Weibo in 2010. “At first I just uploaded a few videos to share with some of my Chinese friends from university, and all of a sudden they were re-tweeted a few hundred times. I guess this encouraged me to keep going,” he said.
Passion for Mandopop
Even though he acknowledges that a few million hits to his videos might not count for much in a country of over a billion people, he is proud that his videos have received a combined total of more than 12 million hits, half the population of Australia. His most popular video with several million hits has been his cover of Jay Chou’s “Nocturne,” the song which happens to be the one that got him interested in Mandopop all those years ago.
“Obviously I love (Mandopop), otherwise I wouldn’t be trying to make it! Some people think that Chinese songs are too ‘soppy,’ and sometimes I would have to agree, but there’s something about the sound that I really like and that attracts me,” he said, echoing some points made by The Nanfang last month.
He also writes his own songs in Chinese. “I released a single, ‘Let Go,’ that was on the ‘Guangzhou New Music Charts’ last year, and am currently working on my next single – it will be released in a couple of months. I hope that I have stayed true to the genre whilst adding my own individual touches at the same time,” Hazza told The Nanfang. Here is the video of Hazza’s original song “Let Go”:
Television work in Guangzhou
His online celebrity helped him land an interview for a job with Guangdong Television where he has been employed as a television presenter since early 2012. The job enables him to meet all kinds of interesting people while travelling around the country.
“Of course I enjoy interviewing models, despite the fact that they make me a little nervous. But by far, my favourite episode was when I interviewed my Chinese teacher from Australia who was here for a holiday,” he said, describing the moment as “surreal”. Other highlights of his time working for Guangdong Television include going backstage at a Wilber Pan concert and being put up in hotels that are way beyond the price range of most expats.
Despite having a relatively glamorous job, Hazza does not get out much in Guangzhou. “When I’m not at work, I’m at home sleeping (that’s my number one hobby) or learning new songs,” he said, adding “I would LOVE to meet some Australians who are in Guangzhou though, because I really miss my friends from home sometimes.”
As for the future, Hazza is happy to keep doing what he’s doing with his singing and his media work. “To be honest, I know I still have a LOT to learn when it comes to hosting and singing but I do put 100% into what I do because I know the chances that I have got are very hard to come by.”