This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. Sonic portraits of young minds re-shaping the country’s future. For episode twelve we travelled to Ho Chi Minh City to have coffee with pop music composer Lê Đức Hùng better known as Mew Amazing who is wanting to add depth to mainstream tunes and gave us an insight in how a viral hit is made, and why he thinks he would have benefited from stricter parents.

My stage name is Mew Amazing. I am 26, that is too old for an artist I think

I first connected with Mew, almost 10 years ago when Yahoo 360 blogs were still a thing.

I even wrote him letters to express my admiration for his work. He sent me some of his early demo songs and I fell in love with his music. But it wasn’t until he released his first single U Thi a couple of years ago that the wider public took notice of his talent…

Sings…. Omg I am so shy, I couldn’t sing the whole song…. It would be so comfortable for me if I am on stage and sing it for you guys, but yeah I released my first EP as a singer songwriter, it’s just a demo song that I put on YouTube and people get to know it and people share it around…

His career has gone from strength to strength. He made his first important connection with big players in the music industry on The Voice Vietnam. Though he didn’t make it past the battle round.

I was so weird that day, you don’t want to watch!

(audio from The Voice video)

…one of the judges, Mrs My Linh, my judge, my teacher, my first teacher, she taught me how to sing and stuff, she even brought my song to Bai Hat Viet contest, that is a contest for songwriter. My proudest moment is when I was on that stage giving thanks speech for my mum and my dad and everyone and then I gave my message. I gave a message about diversity in music.

(audio from acceptance speech)

He won for his hit song…. You might be one of the 40 million listens on zing or 25 million clicks the video has had on YouTube, which helped push it to the top of Vietnam’s streaming services. Chances are you have heard it. We wanted to know how one of the most popular songs of the year came to be.

(audio from Thật Bất Ngờ song)

This is I think what we are lacking of in Vietnamese music, we just focus on little details on the love story topic and stuff, but I wanted to explore it, wanted to expand it to the big picture, more about the society.

So in 2012 he set out to poke fun on the public’s obsession with celebrity news. He researched the biggest scandals of the year and started stringing together stories, like a famous singer hitting his girlfriend in public, news about female celebrities getting plastic surgery or leaked sex tapes of well-known actresses. All the while, making sure the song would not lose its pop appeal.

If you want to write something serious that could be successful on the mass media you have to make it hilarious. So I try to come up with something that would make people repeat it in their mind.

At this point he was still working from his bedroom in District 1.

I played it on the piano and I recorded it with my iPhone and that’s it, that’s when I get the demo.

It cost me like six months to come up with the full demo, I call it the full demo, you have the instrumentation, you have the vocal…

… and then singer Trúc Nhân heard it

He went crazy about it, he wanted to have it, I said no from the first start, but then he convinced me.

Add a quirky music video, shot in Hanoi, and it turns out you have found a niche in a music industry that Mew thinks is very stuck in its ways.

What you heard form the Vietnamese music 10 years ago, now you still hear it. People working in the industry like songwriters and even the singers they tend to lack the motivation to renovate it, to make it different.

That isn’t easy and it takes determination.

I believe that inspiration comes from hardworking, what I mean by ‘hardworking’ is researching, reading and team working. That is when my inspiration would pop up in my head.

(audio from Thật Bất Ngờ song)

I am so sorry to say, but from my point of view 25 is a too old for this. Sometimes I make fun of my mum and dad, I was like mum, dad if you sent me to music school sooner, it would not cost me a lot of time like this… I kind of wasted a lot of my time – what did you waste your time doing? – being at university, trying to struggle with what I would do in the future. If I realised that I could do music sooner, well maybe I would be a bit further now.

…Mew is as hard on everyone else as he is on himself. For example last month he posted this:

While I’m trying to write better quality music, somewhere out there, there are mainstream musicians making bad rotten music. Rotten from the melody to the lyrics. And they claim they’re writing music for young people… #imdone  

By critisising people on Facebook I do remind myself that this is the quality I want to be, this is the things I stand for.

Using your platform to tell the world what you stand for is something that Mew talks about a lot. he takes his inspiration from people who he feels do just that.

I do love Jesse J and Beyoncé – because their personality is so strong, and when they get famous it always has a message. Beyonce she fights for the women, she fights for her race.

… and his own message?

My biggest question when I do music as a performer and as a songwriter, is when will Asian artists get the respect that they deserve globally.

… So we asked him what his biggest dream for his career is?

To sit next to Drake in the same room and maybe I would be like “Hey Drake how is your music doing” [laughs].

There are a lot of people, who now are still at my age, who now are still haven’t realised their purpose of life yet and I think happiness is when you realise what you are doing, and how you do it, what is that for, that is happiness.

This has been The Renovation Generation. Follow us on SoundCloud or subscribe to The Renovation Generation on iTunes, Stitcher or MixCloud to never miss an episode.

It is produced by Eliza Lomas and Fabiola Buchele, our production assistants are Trang Nghiem and Trang Ngo.

Jacques Smit is our photographer and the narration is done by me Maia Do.

An And Of Other Things production.

Our next episode was recorded live at Manzi Art Space. Maia Do was in conversation with Xuân Lan. She talks about why she was inspired to start a cartoon career.

Be sure to listen!