I’m assisting Cheryl with her latest album. I managed to figure out a direction for her, which is to write the lyrics first, followed by melodies, which will be composed by a team of women. The subject matter has to be related to women, like a prose-styled album.
I was wondering if you’d like to have a go with it?
Please don’t let the lyrics limit your composition, you may add or remove the lyrics as you see fit.”
University dorm in Hatfield; February 2013
It was towards the final stages of winter in 2013 when I received that email (originally in Mandarin). I didn’t submit the melody until three months later. I suppose I was busy with my studies. Then in autumn, I received three more lyrics. I tried three songs in total, “Tonight” was one of them.
The process of composing “Tonight” was exceptionally smooth. I needed to compose a strong “hook” for the song, as advised by the producer. So there I was, sitting on the carpeted floor in a ridiculously small dorm room in London, holding my guitar, trying to ignore the runny nose that I was having. I closed my eyes, and wished for a “hook” by simply repeating the word “hook” several times in my head. Moments later, the melody for the first line of the chorus “Ni xi huan wo, wo xi huan ni” appeared, like magic. Convinced that it was THE hook, I seized the moment and completed the song soon after. I didn’t want to wait until I recover from the cold, so I recorded my voice with a heavy nasal twang, and sent it.
“Nice, I like, give you another later”, the producer replied.
About a year later, I vaguely remember receiving a message, that the lyricist/singer was recording “Tonight”, it was a video recording. Only then did I know that the song was selected to be in the album (yay!).
Two years later, the album was released. I didn’t manage to obtain a copy from the producer. So I went to various record stores to search for it, and requested to listen to it through the speakers at the store. The song was renamed to “I Admire You”. Listening to the full version for the first time felt wonderful.
Dorm in London; December 2013
It was common to have zero communication with the lyricist/singer in the process. Nevertheless, I was curious about what she thought, so I searched about the album on the internet. If I remembered correctly, on one interview I found, which is no longer available online, she mentioned something like this about the song – “The 4-worded structure of the lyrics is generally a challenge to composers”.
Surprisingly, I also found reviews from listeners.
“…On the contrary, the arrangement of ‘I Admire You’ is even more sorrowful. Each sentence of the lyrics is composed of four characters. The melody is actually not complicated. I believe that a lot of work has been done to create it. Sometimes, the simpler it is, the harder it is to place lyrics into a beautiful melody;” https://songismusic.blogspot.com/2015/05/blog-post_31.html (originally in Mandarin)
“My favourite song is “I Admire You”, the melody is composed by Straw Lim. The structure of the lyrics and the lines of the melody weaved into a little poem, revolving around the ambiguity between love and admiration. Needless to pursue the result, just enjoy the moment.” https://www.kkbox.com/my/sc/column/reviews-0-219-1.html (originally in Mandarin)
I appreciate their kind words.
Although composing for others wasn’t my forte, it was an honour to collaborate with them.
I wasn’t sure what the back story of the song was, or what it intended to express, therefore I shall not attempt to explain it. At the time, I resonated strongly with the first line of the chorus “You admire me, I admire you, but not enough to be in love”. So I harnessed that emotion, imagined a story in my mind, and composed the melody.
Trying out props for a video attempting to expose an inside story of corruption (his POV); May 2013
Coincidentally, I bumped into my high school “dream guy” at the Bersih rally in London. He was a “dream”, simply because I didn’t know him at all. I had literally only seen him twice briefly before that. Anyways, these two fresh grads who met during a social movement in a foreign land, were extremely passionate about fighting for a revolution for their motherland. Their relationship was inexplicable. Later on, I found out he had a girlfriend all along.
Indeed, I was sad. But I’m glad that the admiration wasn’t strong enough to be in love.
While preparing for my album, Excursion, I knew the experience wouldn’t be complete without a love story. Hence, I decided to include “Tonight” in the album, keeping its original name. At first, I got my friend, Zin, to arrange the song. I loved that version. Later on, Dae kindly re-arranged it, while maintaining some of Zin’s arrangement, in order to match the overall feel of the album.
If you enjoyed the song, feel free to buy the mp3 via the link below.
Or add this song to your playlist on Spotify.