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Asia’s sad ballad queen rolls out new upbeat sound

HONG KONG (AP) — Sad songs have been good to Fish Leong. The Malaysian-Chinese singer’s soulful Mandarin ballads about unrequited love and breakups have earned her a pan-Asian fan base and album sales of just over 18 million.

But life has changed for the 32-year-old, and it shows in her first album since getting married, the upbeat “What Love Songs Didn’t Tell You.”

“I can’t stay in a distressed emotional state forever,” Leong said in a backstage dressing room in Hong Kong late Monday, a week into a new world tour to support the album.

“It’s just like acting in the movies — sometimes you derive your emotions from your life, sometimes you are portraying something fictitious in songs,” she told The Associated Press. “I want to share the different sides of myself.”

Leong married businessman Tony Chao last year in a beach ceremony on the Philippine island of Baracay.

The title track of her new album urges her fans to act on their emotions instead of dwelling on missed opportunities and venting their sorrow by singing her songs. One verse reads, “Singing ’Courage’ but lacking courage leads to nothing,” referring to one of her biggest hits, about the difficulties facing a controversial relationship.

By contrast, the title track on Leong’s last album was called “Don’t Cry for Him Anymore,” in which a woman comforts a friend going through a tough separation.

So far the numbers back up Leong’s new approach. “What Love Songs Didn’t Tell You” has already sold some 900,000 copies in Asia, according to figures released by her management company.

Leong is mindful that it may take some time for her fans to get used to her new sound, so the rundown for her new tour, dubbed “The Love Library World Tour,” draws mainly from her classics — with one or two new releases mixed in.

On Friday, a sold-out audience at the 12,500-seat Hong Kong Coliseum — one of the most prestigious venues in Chinese pop — Leong belted out hit after hit in a one-shoulder baring zebra-striped top, black pants and black high heels.

There is little in the way of dancing or screaming at Chinese pop concerts. Instead, fans waved bars illuminated with pink lights in unison as they sang along with Leong.

Backstage sat bouquets from fellow singers wishing her good luck, a Hong Kong custom. The senders read like a Who’s Who of the Chinese music industry, and included Hong Kong singers Jacky Cheung, Aaron Kwok, Joey Yung and the popular female pop duo Twins.

“The Love Library World Tour” kicked off May 28 in the Taiwanese capital Taipei, where Leong, a native of the Malaysian town of Bahau, launched her career. She played three nights in Hong Kong, and in a sign of the growing importance of the thriving mainland Chinese market, 12 of the 17 confirmed dates are on the mainland.

The half-year tour also will take her to Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne and the U.S. Malaysian dates have not been confirmed due to tight stadium bookings.

Leong said she has also started to listen to demos for her next album. “What Love Songs Didn’t Tell You” was the first album she produced and she plans to retain creative control of her next release. “This is something I want to work hard at,” she said.

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