Jacky Cheung Hok-yau is known as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” throughout the larger Chinese-speaking world. The term was first coined in 1992 to describe the four biggest male entertainment figures in Hong Kong at that time. With his rich baritone and dramatic vibrato voice, Jacky Cheung dominated the entertainment industry in the 90s along with the rest of the “Four Heavenly Kings”. He is regarded by many as the best singer of the four. He is deemed the God of Songs of Hong Kong. With a career spanning over 30 years, Jacky Cheung is still one of the household names of the larger Chinese-speaking entertainment industry and is as hardworking as ever.
Cheung was born and raised in Quarry Bay, at the Eastern District of Hong Kong Island. His first language is Cantonese, but he also speaks Mandarin and English. His singing languages are even more diverse having sung in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and English. Cheung came from humble beginnings having been raised in a small one-room apartment with his family.
He first worked as a reservation officer for the airline Cathay Pacific. His singing career began when he won the Amateur18-Hong Kong District singing contest in 1984 and bested 10,000 other contestants. It was certainly no small feat and Polygram Records (now Universal Music Group) knew it. They signed Cheung after the competition and he has been with the record company ever since. A bright start did not mean Cheung achieved immediate supremacy as the Cantopop scene was then dominated by Leslie Cheung, Alan Tam, Anita Mui and Danny Chan.
Success soon came a-calling as Cheung won two major awards in 1985, the 1985 RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs Awards and the 1985 Jade Solid Gold Top 10 Awards. His 1992 album, Love Sparks achieved audited sales of over 400,000 copies in Hong Kong alone. 1993 proved to be a groundbreaking year for Cheung as his 1993 album, The Goodbye Kiss broke multiple album sales records. It still holds the record as Taiwan’s second highest selling album. The album sold over 4 million copies in 1993, making Cheung the first Asian artist to become one of Polygram’s first top 10 artists worldwide. He also became the first non-Taiwanese to win Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards.
Cheung has certainly never shied away from the grand and ambitious. In 1995, he embarked on a record-breaking 100-show world tour, Yau Hok Yau. The tour traversed Hong Kong, Australia, Taipei, China, parts of Europe and even the premier Madison Square Garden in New York, USA. Cheung was regarded by Business Week as the new Michael Jackson.
With wild success came a gush of recognition and awards. In 1996, Time Magazine crowned him as one of the 25 most influential people in the New Hong Kong. In 1999, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World by Junior Chamber International. In 2000, he was awarded the Golden Needle Award, an equivalent of a lifetime achievement award which recognises outstanding contributions to music.
Cheung’s success carried forward past the 90s. Although one could argue that the 90s were his prime years, such unprecedented success was difficult to maintain for such a long time in the first place. In 2004, he released his album Life Is Like A Dream in which his songwriting skills were featured and Cheung again proved to the world that he was more than just your typical pop star. He composed all of the songs in the album and penned the lyrics for three. The next year, Jacky Live Performance won Best Selling Cantonese Album in the Hong Kong IFPI Awards.
The 105-show Year of Jacky Cheung World Tour 2007 broke the record for the highest numbers of shows in a tour by a Chinese artist, breaking his own previous record of 100. His 2010 tour Jacky Cheung ½ Century World Tour would later go on to break the 105 record with 146 shows. It also broke the Guinness World record for the largest combined audience for a live act in 12 months with 2,048,553 audience members. This year, his 157-show world tour, A Classic Tour, broke the record for the most performances in a single tour by a Chinese singer, with more shows yet to be performed. Again, his own previous record of 146 shows was broken. His encore concerts in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia scheduled in early October and organised by Star Planet was sold out in less than 5 hours.
2009 marked another reinvention and a changing of gears for Jacky Cheung as he recorded his first jazz album, Private Corner, from which he coined the phrase “Canto-jazz”. The original song Everyday is Christmas from the album became the tenth most downloaded Christmas song in 2010 on the Nokia music download service website (Ovi.com). Cheung is the only Chinese language singer to make it into the Top Ten.
Similar to many other Cantopop stars, Cheung forayed into acting. His work in As Tears Go By (1988) won him Best Supporting Actor at the 8th Hong Kong Film Awards. His lead role in the 2002 Hong Kong drama July Rhapsody won him the Best Actor Award at the New Delhi Film Festival. He has attracted a strong following from his work in films.
Cheung’s longevity in the Hong Kong pop music scene has certainly been unparalleled. From humble beginnings to the record-breaking multi-faceted artist of today, Cheung is in a position very few singers in the world ever get to. He is not an artist that simply comes and goes but will instead be forever remembered in the annals of time as a legend of Chinese music.