Sammi Cheng: The reigning queen of Cantopop

Sammi Cheng: The reigning queen of Cantopop | Soho House

She’s the singing and acting sensation that’s taken Hong Kong by storm for more than three decades – but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. At Soho House Hong Kong, the star opens up about battling depression and the reality of life spent in the spotlight

Friday 15 July 2022   By Zaneta Cheng   Direction by Tedman Lee   Production by Triple Happiness Co   Photography by Renee Neoh and Samuel Choi   Cinematography by Ivan Chan   Styling by Tanglai   Makeup by Ricky Lau   Hair styling by Joey Hui

The name Sammi Cheng needs no introduction among Chinese speakers across the globe. The icon, who broke into the Hong Kong entertainment industry aged just 16 after winning third place in the New Talent Singing Awards, has since gone on to produce almost 100 studio albums. She’s also starred in more than 30 films and is noted as one of the top female artists with the most concert shows at the Hong Kong Coliseum to her name.

Now at 49 – her 50th birthday a mere month away – Cheng, known as Sammi or Mi, has reigned as an emblem of Cantopop and the Hong Kong film industry for more than three decades. Not that anybody would really be able to tell just by looking at the perennially youthful star who, thanks to a rigorous regimen of weight training and Insanity workouts, has conditioned herself to keep up with her persistently busy schedule. 

Not content with being one of the few stars to stage a show at the Hong Kong Coliseum before COVID-19, Cheng managed to chase her #FOLLOWMi World Tour with a special Listen to Mi Birthday Gig, performed for her fans in August 2021. At the end of 2020, it was also announced that Cheng would join a cast of A-list stars including Zhou Xun, Xu Di and Stephen Fung in Her Story; a female-centric film about the effects of the pandemic on ordinary lives directed by Sylvia Chang, Li Shaohong and Joan Chen.  

Sammi Cheng: The reigning queen of Cantopop | Soho House

None of it really seems like work to Cheng, who grew up in the entertainment industry and released three full-length studio albums before leaving secondary school. Instead, Cheng pegs her emotions and the highs and lows of life to her performances. ‘I think a performer exposes their inner selves to a certain extent in any performance and I believe that a person’s experience will also help elevate their performance and give it substance,’ she explains. 

Cheng’s work, which serves as both motivation and outlet, has evolved as she has into something unique. ‘I’m a bit of an eccentric. My personality is a bit up in the sky and my mind constantly races with weird ideas. I let that part of myself out in my work. In the past, I had concerns about commercial constraints, so I didn’t quite dare let those aspects of myself out,’ she admits. ‘In recent years, however, I’ve become a bit braver about showing the world how I feel and what I think about my metier. Last year, I came out with a song called ‘Deserted Island’ and the entire music video comprised artistic elements that I wanted to express. There are so many more fantastical ideas in my head that I haven’t yet realised, and I want to make sure I seize every opportunity I can to make them a reality.’

Getting to where she is today hasn’t been easy, even if Cheng makes it look effortless. A consummate professional, she puts in the hard work behind the scenes to make sure that every performance is flawless. Even on set at Soho House, Cheng diligently runs through her answers that she’s agreed to record in English, ensuring she doesn’t miss a word that she’s written herself on sheets of paper. 

Sammi Cheng: The reigning queen of Cantopop | Soho House

Top: top and skirt, both Chanel Above: jacket, shirt, cravat and trousers, all Ralph Lauren

But perhaps it’s those most immaculate of performers that feels the biggest toll. In 2005, Cheng took a three-year hiatus from the industry in what was widely reported to be a bout of depression; a condition she has since recovered from and now publicly speaks about. ‘The most challenging and difficult times were the days during my depression,’ she says. ‘I was at the lowest point of my career and my life. When I finally found the strength to get back on my knees again, I was lucky enough to be able to catch up to the ever-changing landscape of our times.’

It’s a credit to Cheng that she has been able to sit untouchable at the top of Hong Kong’s entertainment industry, despite the amount of flux Cantopop has undergone in the years since her debut. But Cheng believes in the genre that she has devoted her professional life to. ‘Cantonese songs are a unique representation of the Cantonese dialect,’ she says. ‘In the way that every language and dialect is special, Cantonese deserves our respect and appreciation. Cantopop has undergone changes in style across the eras and it’s still constantly evolving. But regardless of change, I personally think that if the music is good, it will move people.’

Cheng also believes that lyrics play a particularly important role in Cantopop songs. ‘When we listen to the music, we’re looking to resonate with the song and to put ourselves in it,’ she explains. ‘Cantonese is such an interesting and lovely language. Often in Cantonese songs, you’ll find vernacular spoken terms and slang in the lyrics that are used to depict quite profound themes.’

Sammi Cheng: The reigning queen of Cantopop | Soho House

'In the past, I had concerns about commercial constraints, so I didn’t quite dare let those aspects of myself out. In recent years, I’ve become a bit braver about showing the world how I feel.'

Despite having one of the most impressive resumes in Hong Kong entertainment, Cheng is a superstar who remains approachable. With more than 800,000 followers on Instagram, she’s well-loved for posting makeup-free videos of herself discussing her struggles, or images relaxing at home giving a dose of relatability amid the concerts, fashion shoots and show-stopping outfits that pepper her feed. ‘Social media is a way to express myself,’ she says. ‘It’s a very important channel to showcase my work, but it’s also a hub for my fans and those who support me. It’s a place for direct communication and it’s always filled with warmth and love.’

Through her work, Cheng wants to let people know that ‘chasing your dreams is never too late – passion is the greatest motivation.’ She also hopes to be acting and singing for many more years to come in order to continue realising her own dreams. ‘What you want to do and what can be achieved can be very different. In most cases, everything just needs time to evolve. Everything will come in its own time. A world tour and movie projects [are] in the works in the coming months, so please believe in Mi.’

Sammi Cheng: The reigning queen of Cantopop | Soho House
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