Mat Biec Star Nguyen Lam Thao Tam’s Guest Mix Is Her Musical Safe Haven

Vietnam’s cinema scene is on the rise. And so are a host of emerging movie stars. Nguyen Lam Thao Tam is one. That’s thanks to her starring role in the hotly anticipated return of director Victor Vu with Mat Biec, based on the novel by Nguyen Nhat Anh.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

Nguyen Lam Thao Tam is still only 20 years old. She first gained fame thanks to her intelligence and not her acting talent. Her impressive IELTS scores and English proficiency (she achieved an 8.5 and won EF’s Challenge International Speech Competition at 16) earned her the nickname “IELTS Hot Girl” which, in turn, led to her hosting educational segments on shows like VTV7’s IELTS Face Off.

Clearly comfortable in front of audiences and in high-pressure situations, Thao Tam transferred those skills to the big screen…even though this was her first film. “I started modelling in 2016 too. Four years on, I’ve done a number of photo shoots. And I still consider myself to be only a part-time actress, model, and MC,” Thao Tam explains humbly. “For me, my full-time ‘job’ is being a student!” 

But, for now, she’s enjoying the ride that the film has taken her on. “What a blessing to be involved in the adaptation of what I see as one of the most important pieces of modern Vietnamese literature,” Nguyen Lam Thao Tam nods, “It’s been surreal!”

“I love to put on my headphones and create a state of urban calm.”

She credits her acting success to committing fully to the role. “I really put my heart and soul into that character,” the actress smiles. And for intense scenes like the one where her teacher Hong becomes outraged upon discovering her crush on Ngan, she listened to melancholy playlists on loop “to try to understand the characters’ emotions”. 

“I love to put on my headphones and create a state of urban calm. And I hope this playlist helps to create that bubble of calm for your listeners too…” Nguyen Lam Thao Tam says about her ten-track guest mix, the latest in our series.

Nguyen Lam Thao Tam was nicknamed “IELTS Hot Girl” thanks to her academic achievements long before her film debut.

What does music mean to you?

Music shapes my lifestyle. And it’s my safe haven. I grew up surrounded by music — in the media; from people who entered and exited my life; from my own discoveries…

There are songs that fill me with the glow of nostalgia. They create this blanket of comfort whenever I need something familiar to cling on to. And I’ve gone on endless searches of the far corners of the internet, just to find the perfect tune. So, I guess, music has been both a challenge and a source of great assurance to me.

What was your first meaningful experience of music? 

I loved hearing my mom sing lullabies. I used to babble along whenever she sang. If she stopped, I would open my eyes suddenly…even though her purpose was to put me to sleep. My favourite song was “Mẹ yêu con” by Anh Thơ. I stil know the melody by heart and feel a sense of warmth whenever I think of it…

Music is Nguyen Lam Thao Tam’s “irreplaceable companion.”

How does music fit with your daily life? 

My first thought is to say it doesn’t play too big a role in my life nowadays. However, when I think about it, music informs everything I do. My fondest memories all have their own soundtrack. And I bond with my closest friends through the songs we share. 

Music is a constant, whether listening to my favourite songs while doing the dishes or cleaning the house. It’s my irreplaceable companion. 

How have your listening habits evolved since you first started listening?

To be honest, I never paid much attention to what I was listening to until recently. I would hear a song. Then I’d download it simply because it was catchy. 

Then, gradually, I started to seek out music. I’ve become pickier with songs that I’ve downloaded and I think more deeply about why I like a certain song. I think that’s only fair to the artists and their music… 

What’s the most underrated genre of music? And the most overrated?

For the Vietnamese market, I would say the music from musicals is largely overlooked. 

I used to love Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa plays and can still recite some of their songs until this day. But I haven’t seen a Viet musical in such a long time. I wish there were more chances for theatre and musicals to shine through.

“Music is supposed to make you laugh and feel good too.” — Nguyen Lam Thao Tam

What do you listen to secretly when no one’s around?

I blast my music loud and proud whenever I can. So there’s no hiding here. But a sample of my (in)glorious past would be the K-pop of the late 2000s and early 2010s. I absolutely loved the Wonder Girls and still listen to them on repeat. 

You have one track to make someone love music. What do you play them? 

I’d sing them the lines of some Vietnamese remixes of popular foreign songs. For example: “I love it when you call me Senorita” becomes “Tôi thích cách mà anh nói tôi là gái chưa chồng”. Music is supposed to make you laugh and feel good too, and, for me, that’s as close as it gets to both…

And which song would you play someone to help them understand who you are?

“I don’t know you” by The Marias hits closest to home in terms of what I feel goes on in my head. From the music to the silky singing to the attitude to the music video, aesthetically it all appeals to me. 

I’ve texted Maria from the band to fawn over her. And I fully intend to do a cover at some point in time. You’ll have to wait to see how hard I rock along to the track! 

What song would you like played at your wedding? And which at your funeral?

I have too many wedding songs in mind, both for emotional and comedic effect! But I haven’t quite decided yet. 

But I’m definitely going to request in my will that “The Nights” by Avicii, “Remember Me” by Miguel, and “I lived” by  OneRepublic should all be played at my funeral. 

They’re all celebrations of a life well-lived and inside are loving messages to those I’ll leave behind, so it’ll be a lovely parting gift. Or maybe I’ll have my coffin roll out on four heavy-duty wheels and fireworks to “Uma Thurman” by Fall Out Boys. I’ll have to decide later!

“I have too many wedding songs in mind, both for emotional and comedic effect! But I haven’t quite decided yet.” 

Which song can’t you help yourself singing along to right now?

Definitely “Em ăn sáng chưa” by Kiên even though it’s a couple of years old. It’s such a sweet mood-enhancer. The story about the attention and care you give a new love interest is really endearing. Kiên’s music does that a lot – it talks to the audience about idle affection. And it never ceases to amaze me.

You’re giving us a ten-track guest mix. How does the character of this mix reflect your character and life experiences?

I’m most often seen either running to class, or to work, and joking with my friends, but when I disappear, it’s to regroup with myself and just blankly stare out of windows, palm-to-chin and all. So this is a mix of those moments when I keep my own company.

Where would be the perfect place to listen to this mix?

Anywhere, really – on a walk, in a car, in between classes at school, at home while in the shower, or even before sleep. But I’ve found my favourite time to listen would be in between work sessions. Standing up to twirl around after finishing a few hundred words of an essay always puts me in a better mood.

Despite becoming a rising star in the entertainment industry Nguyen Lam Thao Tam still sees her full-time job as “being a student”.

Finally, describe the tracks you’ve chosen to us!

We’re starting off with “New Manhattan” by Joy Crookes. This song is a poem to urban life, to the streets and humanity in every city. I’ve never been to the States, but the idea that our eyes can take photographs of a beloved city feels strangely familiar to me…

As I told you, The Marias are currently my favourite band – they’re the perfect combination of Miami in the ‘50s and Spanish romance. “I don’t know you” is my aesthetic dream – to dance around in a beautiful slip dress to relaxed guitar, talking about the self and about love. I find myself mumbling the lyrics idly all the time.

Next is a song that never fails to give me a heart-wrenching sense of nostalgia, “Around” by NIKI. It talks so tenderly about a reassuring relationship and it has this lilting soft melody that mirrors the lyrics to amplify the feeling. I can sing along, word for word to every song in Zephyr, the album, but “Around” and “Pools” definitely stand out most.

Then, “Starlight” by Kuwada is such a cute song for the evening. Perfect for curling  your hair and doing your make up to in preparation for a hot date. I feel extra cherished whenever this song is played!

And, conversely, I find this the perfect song for mid-morning: “Cyanide Remix” by Daniel Caesar ft. Koffee. Doing body rolls to Daniel Caesar’s voice while getting a quick cup of coffee is ideal.

Then, I’ve chosen “Youth” by Glass Animals. The song has this strange sense of freedom. And Glass Animals have such an odd way of presenting each and every song as a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic experience. “Youth” reminds me of running at full speed down streets and through alleys. 

After that, a little bit of Vietnamese music for a change. I first heard of “Trời Sáng Rồi” by Nguyên Hà in Chung Chí Công’s wonderful Trời sáng rồi ta ngủ đi thôi, as it was on the OST for that movie. I circle back to this calming, loving melody whenever a long day’s gone by. Nguyên Hà’s smooth voice, accompanied by a story of Saigon’s youth makes you feel like all is right in the world.

Next is an upbeat, light-hearted song that reminds me of my friends and the after-school hours spent together walking and talking: “What if I go” by Mura Masa ft. Bonzai. “Wherever you go, I’m going with you babe” reflects the absolute comfort and determination I have with my closest people.

“She likes spring, I prefer winter” by slchld is a dose of good times. I can almost smell the daisies when this song plays. This song makes me feel especially fond of the weather, whatever it’s like at the time of listening, as the gentle beat picks up.

Lastly, another afternoon song, preferably listened to with a cup of tea and a little rain on the window pane: “Loanh Quanh” by Mademoiselle. I used to sing this song so often whenever I thought about the love stories shown in movies. It’s a tranquil Hanoi soundtrack, ever so soft, and it’s perfect for self-reflection…

Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen.

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