My Tam has been hailed as Vietnam’s number one pop star after selling out stadiums and releasing the highest selling album in Vietnamese recording history. The singer talks with Lorcan Lovett in time for the release of her new single. Photo by Tung Chu.

You have been one of Vietnam’s top pop stars since bursting onto the scene in 1999. How have you managed to stay relevant and popular for so long?
I honestly have just one way to manage my career: everything I do today must be better than yesterday, and I have to motivate myself every single day.

How has the pop scene changed since you released your first album?
The pop scene has changed a lot; it’s much more diverse now. The easiest way to see the difference is that the lyrics are more (pointed) towards self-expression. Lyrics nowadays are taken more from spoken language than poetry.

Some of your best hits are also the most popular karaoke songs in Vietnam. How do you feel about people singing (sometimes, not very well) your songs on karaoke?
Only happy, despite how good or bad they are. They love and sing my songs and that makes me happy. 

Your music styles have ranged from soft ballads to dance-pop and R&B. Which is your favourite?
I love pop ballads and blues jazz.

Many young women constantly copy your ever-changing styles. How do you feel about that?
Back in 2001, whenever I went to my regular hair salon, they told me customers that came would ask for the My Tam hairstyle. I feel very happy to hear that. It is still the same now. I changed my hair to kind of a dark-green mixed with brown, and quite a few of the young people like it. I honestly don’t mind having people copying my style or singing my songs at all. It’s nice they choose to follow; it’s a positive sign.

Your third album Yesterday and Now is the most successful in your career and one of     the best selling albums in Vietnamese musical history to date. What made that album so successful?
I think it’s definitely because Yesterday and Now was released at the right time in the industry and my right moment. Moreover, it’s very close to the audiences, so got accepted quite comfortably.

In 2008, you started the charity My Tam (MT) Foundation which builds houses for the poor, and also provides scholarships for the underprivileged. Why did you decide to help this part of society?
I don’t know much about medication so I chose not to go for that direction. I followed charity groups when I was much younger and always wanted to have my own foundation for a charitable purpose. I chose to give away scholarships because I believe children that love to study should have more support to continue studying for their future. However, we do also support the underprivileged older people by building community houses and bridges. 

You often collaborate with Korean artists and producers. Is the Vietnamese music industry strong enough to support its own artists, or do you think it needs the help of Korea?
Vietnam does not yet have a strong (enough) music industry, so it will be hard to support. Whatever we do, we always need to be consistent and professional. If we appear as permissive and scruffy, with an attitude of ‘it’s worked out anyway’, then it will be hard to get support in the region.

Do you feel the music industry in Vietnam has an equal representation of women?
Vietnam’s music industry has always been fair for both sexes; even I see the female side is more dominating. I’m lucky to have a great team to support me, making sure that everything goes smoothly and carefully. My shows have always been selective with good content, so they are often sold out. I am so glad and feel thankful to all my great audiences.

As a judge on Vietnam Idol and The Voice of Vietnam, how good do you think reality TV competitions are at finding true talent?
I think they’re very good indeed. Those reality TV competitions are best for those who are looking for chances to shine. To be straight, if they can prove themselves in those competitions, then they will have a good chance to be successful.

Your new single Blue Eyes has a scenic, fairytale theme. What was the inspiration behind the song and the video?
I’m glad to hear you like it. I was listening to some music when I was on the plane for my US tour. I suddenly thought, what if I go horse riding instead of taking the plane? – that’s my inspiration behind the song production. Regarding the lyrics, I wrote it from a relaxing afternoon of reading books and listening to music, and I wrote the lyrics quite fast. My inspiration comes and goes; it usually comes before I’m going to do something. Once I’m finished and that inspiration has gone, I then only feel enjoyment.

Editor’s note: this interview was translated from Vietnamese by AsiaLIFE Vietnam.