Sad China’s illimy captures community power
Posted on October 21, 2021
Vancouver artist born in Nanjing, Sunny Chen, alias Sad china, turns darkness into light on their debut album, ilyimy (“I love you I miss you“). Like other hyperpop albums made during the pandemic, ilyimy it’s wanting to sing and dance with friends and touch your face. But more than that, ilyimy captures Chen’s changing ideas about the community – how that can create a false sense of security and what real support looks like for them now.
ilyimy was shaped in part by Chen’s past experiences with abusers in the arts. Their treatment of the handling, gas lighting and control they went through is ongoing, but ilyimyChen’s entire co-worker set is a testament to how far Chen has come to learn to trust again.
Above the tumbling, tunneling electronics of “Toxic (friends),” Chen points out that “Solidarity is not a perfect picture for the ‘gram / My real ones, I got you / And I know you got me too. ” Rapper JERRYCHERRY debuts recording here: “Lose a couple people from my life / I just could,” he says. “Bless.bliss”, featuring a touching singer Khamisa & afro-hop artist adeloup, is the purest distillation of the R&B influence that runs through ilyimy. The slow jam practices what it preaches: taking the time to appreciate the little joys in life.
The most important of all Chen’s collaborators is the electronic pop composer KERUB. Not only did they co-produce seven of the album’s 10 tracks alongside Chen (pop maven pseudo antigone and I am Omo took care of the rest), KERUB also helped in the “Seen” workshop, a track on mental traps in virtual space. “Watching the numbers go up / I shouldn’t equate this to love,” Chen sings over a bright, swollen synth line. Despite their desperate question, “Can you understand me from this small screen?” they realize that “people come and go”. Likes, comments and shares are not a substitute for tangible support; at most, they are dressings where stitches are needed.
Chen also addresses colonial violence – settlers systematically dismantling Indigenous nations. “We settled on Vancouver’s lost streams / On stolen land / You claimed stolen names,” Chen said of the sad but shimmering “Mt. unPleasant,” a reference to one of the most vibrant neighborhoods from town, Mount Pleasant.
Elsewhere on ilyimy, Chen turns their attention to their own ancestry. “Between the realms / We will make you proud / You know our ancestors / They watch over us / They guide us home / Among the stars”, they sing on “hum 人 n”. On the bilingual “nbl”, which emulates the electro downbeat of the guest singer Yukari *, Chen warns in Mandarin: “My ancestors can see you.” Although Chen never spoke with their maternal grandparents due to a language barrier, they thank them for all their love on “永远 在 我 的 心里 forever in my heart”, a song that urges listeners to “remember our common past”.
Nevertheless, ilyimy brimming with undeniable optimism. “Good things come to those who wait,” they sing on the cheerful title track. Such patience is the key to one of the fundamentals of the album, caring for oneself and for others. “Trust me to take care of you even when it’s hard to do / Because I also want to trust you / … / It’s a new beginning / You can do it all over again,” they encourage. And on the lens “VirgoVenus professional and personal coaching.
“Why do all good things come to an end? Chen asks about Vancouver harpist / producer dreamy weaves desire process. The almost namesake song, “All good things (come to an end)”, is of course rhetorical. With ilyimy, Chen has only started to make a fresh start on a solid footing. The shadow of adversity will always fall on Chen – they are “human”, after all. But as ilyimy prove it, light and love will always prevail. (Independent)