Jay Chou’s series J-Style Trip is out on Netflix, and it is one worth watching. For those who don’t know the C-pop artist, Chou is arguably the most well-known Chinese musical superstar and legend. J-Style Trip, which features Chou and his friends (often with an A-lister in the mix) journeying around the world, is advertised as a combination travel and magic show. Yet at its core, J-Style Trip is a deeply personal profile of an artist who has defined the Chinese music industry.
The travelogue, which at first glimpse feels awkwardly contrived, makes more sense if one is familiar with the unique blend of sentimentality and humor that often characterizes Chinese variety shows. J-Style Trip interweaves meme-able moments of magic tricks while also incorporating memorable conversations about the singer’s life. In these many moments, we get a glimpse of the Jay Chou beyond the mass following. Despite each episode taking place in a different destination or expanding upon the experiences in one place, there is a certain quality of familiarity that underlies each segment and ties them all together. This approach looks at Jay Chou not as a musician, but Jay Chou as an individual. It relies on the Jay Chou that others know, but it also focuses on Jay Chou as he understands himself.
On a practical level, what J-Style Trip does a good job at is highlighting Chou’s music and his process of songwriting. This is no surprise given the prolific singer-songwriter it features, but it is here that the soundtrack becomes a jumping off point for deeper conversations about Chou’s work. Jay Chou’s music is often a household staple for many Chinese Americans. Knowing this, J-Style Trip takes that music and integrates it into Chou’s own origin story as well as the reasonings behind his music videos. In Paris, one of Jay Chou’s most popular songs “Love Confession” is repeatedly played across the city’s scenery where he shot the track’s music video. The episode filmed in Taipei has Chou reminiscing on his school days with his self-composed music playing in between conversations about the past, adding a layer of nostalgia.
In addition to a brief stint of gaming at a night market, the “Taipei” episode in particular is as nuanced as it is comprehensive, depicting Chou’s home of Taiwan with both care and wonder. The cinematography of Taipei’s skyline at night is awe-inspiring, spotlighting the grandness of the city from a tourist lens. Yet in the more human moments — interactions with street vendors and shopkeepers, jokes between friends in alleyways — each aspect of local Taipei is amplified and given personal significance. Perhaps this is why this episode of J-Style Trip is the most meaningful; it simultaneously pays homage to the place that Chou derived much of his inspiration from while giving viewers their own space to find inspiration in the city.
Structurally, of course, J-Style Trip is not without flaws. Given the series’ original intent, the sometimes out-of-place magic tricks and humorous “digs” at another member of Chou’s crew lends a certain comedic element to the series. It’s in these moments that J-Style Trip becomes less of a travelogue and more akin to a YouTube video featuring “Chou and friends.” There are moments where the show becomes not about traveling — which given its title, is meant to be a central element — and more about a group of friends cracking jokes with and about one another.
Certain references to people and places imply an “insider” knowledge that only those close to Jay Chou would know about; those who are not familiar with the emotional resonance of Chou’s work may find the travelogue lackluster at best. Considering the implied premise of the show, which is to have Chou explore destinations appealing to tourists, it sometimes appears confusing why Chou would choose to play basketball in Paris or go go-karting in Singapore when there are so many other attractions. In this regard, J-Style Trip is less like an established travelogue than it is a celebration of Jay Chou, who, as the series reminds us, is a person before he is a musician.
Those seeking to watch what the title advertises will surely be disappointed. But for those who simply want to know more about Jay Chou behind the C-Pop legend, J-Style Trip provides the perfect opportunity. With the addition of Chou’s acclaimed music, the series becomes a noteworthy profile of Jay Chou, giving a voice to the people and places that shaped the artist we know today.