Ngọc Hương Channels Ngọc Lan
The first time I watched Ngọc Hương’s video, “Mưa Trên Biển Vắng,” I flipped the fuck out, just as I did thirty years ago when I first heard Ngọc Lan’s voice. In Ngọc Lan’s case, I was amazed. In Ngọc Hương’s case, I was shocked. From the voice to the curly hair to the outfit, Ngọc Hương struck unmistakably resemblances of Ngọc Lan. I didn’t know anything about Ngọc Hương. I had no idea who she was. She loves Ngọc Lan even more than the dedicated fans at iLoveNgocLan.com.
Last week, I watched Ngọc Hương perform as a guest singer on Lung Tung Xèng just to hear her in conversations. The whole time I had the impression that she played Ngọc Lan’s character. From the soft tone to the sweet talk, she seemed to have impersonated Ngọc Lan. If someone were to make a film about Ngọc Lan, Ngọc Hương would be perfect for the part—similar to how Jamie Foxx played Ray Charles and won an Academic Award for his portrayal of the iconic soul singer.
I am curious if Ngọc Hương steps out of the Ngọc Lan character in her real life or if she has embedded herself deep into her idol. Whatever the case, I have tremendous respect and admiration for her courage. I am sure she gets tons of criticism for trying to be like one of the most beloved Vietnamese singers of all time. It is obvious that Ngọc Hương will never live up to Ngọc Lan’s stature. Even she admitted on Lung Tung Xèng that she can’t be the second version of Ngọc Lan. Her technique is nowhere near Ngọc Lan. From her phrasing to her enunciation to her breath control, Ngọc Lan’s technique was to reveal no technicalities. She has mastered the art of natural expression in her singing similar to Billie Holiday even though the two were a world apart in their styles and repertoires.
As with Ngọc Lan, Billie Holiday has left a profound influence on singers long after she has passed and Madeleine Peyroux is one of them. In the early days of her career, Peyroux channeled Lady Day down to the vibratoless technique and off-key singing. Over time however, Peyroux has escaped Lady Day’s towering shadow and found her own voice. I hope Ngọc Hương will also find her own path as she develops her singing, style, and sensibility.