CoCo Lee is amazing. Jaws inevitably drop in disbelief whenever the striking siren sings for those who would judge her solely by her Asian looks.
“They cannot imagine what I’ll sound like,” admits Lee, who is blessed with a soulful set of lungs that simultaneously devastate listeners and change the preconceived notions of who can or can’t sing R&B. “But always when I’m done singing, people are very surprised.”
Although she can count the element of surprise as one of the facets of her vast musical repertoire, CoCo Lee is by no means a novelty act. The 23 year-old songstress signed with 550 Music in the US after making an impact overseas that continues to reverberate: CoCo has recorded and released twelve albums since her 1994 debut, eight of those released through Sony Music with whom she signed in 1996. Whether in Mandarin or English, all of these discs have enjoyed brisk sales in Chinese-speaking territories throughout Asia.
“People liked my voice so much, it was so different,” says CoCo about her Asian audience. “I also combined the R&B feel with the pop music of Taiwan. Everyone there used to sing really conservatively – they sing to the melody and that’s it. The music just sounded so dead. I wanted to bring the R&B flavor and other Westernized sounds to my music, because that’s the type of music I grew up listening to.”
Her Stateside debut, JUST NO OTHER WAY, is a vibrant, pulsating collection that reveals a special voice of not only power but also range and emotion. Whether moving the dance floor with the joyous and sexy rapture of “Do You Want My Love” (punctu-ated by a cameo from rapper A-Butter from Natural Elements) or exploring the untamed longing of lost love on “Can’t Get Over” with second vocalist Kelly Price, CoCo commands your attention with her tone, taste, and drive.
Born in Hong Kong but raised in San Francisco, CoCo Lee is the youngest of three girls-all of whom can sing. Their mother, a medical doctor and a musical talent in her own right, encouraged her children to pursue more traditional careers.
Nevertheless, CoCo’s older sisters began entering local singing contests and were quite successful. CoCo, for her part, spent much of her spare time singing songs by such favorite artists as Whitney Houston, Madonna, Debbie Gibson and George Michael-so her move to the next level of performing came naturally.
“I really idolize everything my sisters do, so I went into singing contests and won also,” says the chanteuse. “That’s how I really got into singing.” Unforgettable moments like the standing ovation she received after performing for her high school junior class kept the dream alive for the then teenaged Lee.
“I remember going to a karaoke place at Fisherman’s Wharf where you can record your own songs,” she recalls. “My best friend paid for it, and I made a tape. Later, she’d play it in the restaurant she worked at and people would want to buy it. And that’s when I was like, ‘Wow, I can actually sing [as a career].'”
CoCo’s first big break came during a vacation in Hong Kong following her high school graduation. Just for fun, she entered an annual singing contest-the Asian equivalent of Star Search, and a breeding ground for some of the country’s biggest stars. CoCo took second place; remarkably, she was the only contestant to sing in English, delivering a heartfelt rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Run To You.”
“The next day a local record company called and wanted to sign me,” Lee remembers, “because they felt that my voice was so different compared to those of all the other Asian artists.”
Aside from releasing a slew of albums, in August 1998 CoCo Lee performed in concert to more than 30,000 fans. (Only Michael Jackson has performed before a larger audience in Taiwan.) She also worked opposite international action star Jackie Chan, supplying not only the voice for the lead character in the Mandarin-language version of Disney’s animated adventure Mulan but singing the film’s theme song as well.
Now poised to take on the US, the sultry singer shines on her 550 Music debut album JUST NO OTHER WAY. She harbors a serious love jones on “All Tied Up In You” while telling a po-tential lover all the things she needs on the tender “Before I Fall In Love.” “Crazy Ridiculous” revels in the splendor of the super ’70s and finds CoCo getting playful with modern urban wordplay. And Frankie Knuckles drops by on “Don’t You Want My Love,” an uptempo dance track bound to leave clubgoers sweaty and satisfied.
The artist herself isn’t afraid to sweat: “When I work, I work. I don’t think about anything else. I just wanna get the work done. And I’m a perfectionist.” Knowing no boundaries, CoCo Lee is singing from the heart with nothing but soul on JUST NO OTHER WAY.