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In the past, the urge to prove he was more competent than other lyricists exerted a lot of pressure on Chan and was counter-productive. At the time, he found he could not even write a word, because he was struggling to find unique writing styles and new expressions.

Fortunately, he overcame this block when he realised that frankness is the most important thing in writing lyrics. He then wrote from genuine feeling and included things that really touched him.

Chan with artist Pakho Chau Pak-ho
Chan with artist Pakho Chau Pak-ho (left)

Chan wants to encourage listeners to reflect on meaningful issues. For example, society constantly emphasises how important it is for individuals to get “an edge at the starting line”. For Chan, that implies that people are all competing on a single track. Chan refutes this idea in the lyrics of Keep Going (自由意志). “I don’t think life is a competition. As long as you are walking on a path that you feel comfortable with, it works,” he says.

Chan prefers writing inspirational songs, like Keep Going, to love songs, even though these are usually more popular. He wants listeners to feel hope after listening to his songs. “If you have hope in the face of adversity, you’ll still live well,” he says.

He is rather pessimistic about Hong Kong’s overall situation in the future, but he wants people to have hope. He conveys this message in Sail On (同舟之情) which was the theme song of the government’s 2013 campaign “Hong Kong: Our Home”. He says the song does not come down on any political side, but suggests Hong Kong people should should be optimistic about the future.

Chan says he respects lyricists, like Adrian Chow Pok-yin and Lin Xi who often write articles critical of the political situation. But he makes it clear he is not as politically conscious as them. “I wouldn’t pretend to be radical. I’m not,” he says. “There are things we don’t want to happen now, but will they really turn out to be as bad as we thought they were years from now? Are the things we want to retain now, things that we’ll still really want to keep after many years? No one knows.”

Chan prefers to adapt to the circumstances no matter how the situation changes. “I believe I can still search for happiness under different circumstances, and this is the ultimate goal of human beings,” says Chan.

He believes writing lyrics helps him to have a conversation with himself and to gain self-knowledge. He thinks his words will become the traces of the life he leaves behind in this world when he passes away. “The speed of the world is too fast, and it’s easy for us to forget who we are actually and what we want,” says Chan.

Having been disobedient in the first 20 years of his life, Chan has now settled into his lyric-writing career. “No regrets. [But being impetuous] really has a consequence. Originally, I could have walked on an easier path but I’m forced to dance on a tightrope now,” he jokes.

The former mischievous troublemaker says he wants to continue to inspire listeners through his lyrics. “When I was small, the source of happiness was to take. But now it’s to give,” he says.

Edited by Vanessa Cheung