In last week’s China e-mail we listened to ancient Chinese music and a few bits from the ethnic folk revival. This week we’re going to focus on two genres of contemporary music that are vastly popular in Asia: Cantopop and Mandopop!
In 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China, one of its first actions was to equate popular music with pornography. When successive waves of emigrants left China for Hong Kong in the ’50s they brought their “pornographic” popular music and began to share it. Well-to-do society in Hong Kong identified Western musicians like Elvis and the Beatles as sophisticated; by the 1960s an English-language pop community thrived in Hong Kong but when Cantonese became an official language in 1974, composers began to use it instead. Cantopop (“Cantonese popular music”) fuses Cantonese-language music with Western styles such as jazz and rock. It increased in popularity throughout the ’70s when vocalist Roman Tam scored several hits with Cantopop TV theme tunes. (Check out this awesome Roman Tan video from 1983.) In the 1980s (“the Golden Age of Cantopop”), Cantopop record sales boomed, performers like Danny Chan and Teresa Teng, former “Queen of Mandarin Songs,” became Cantopop stars, and Cantopop record companies signed musicians to lucrative contracts. This led to an era in the ’90s in which “Four Heavenly Kings” dominated Cantopop music:
— Andy Lau (watch him perform live, sitting on a fake horse)
— Aaron Kwok: (check out his funky ’90s dance to his “Dui Ni Ai Bu Wan”)
— Leon Lai (see him fall in love while fishing in the epic “Everlasting Love”)
— Jacky Cheung (who, by 2002, had orange hair)
Even after the 1997 handover and the change in official language of Hong Kong from Cantonese to Madarain, Cantopop not only didn’t wither, but it actually expanded to become popular throughout China, and, from there, the world!
(A musical aside. If Western listeners consider Cantopop vocals bland, they may be right, at least within a particular context. Because Cantonese is a tonal language any change in pitch results in a changing the meaning of a word. Cantonese singers therefore can’t ad-lib vocal inflections like Western singers, who often go this way, that way and back again. Yes, Cantopop songs hold different constraints for singers than Western songs, but does that make their vocals uninteresting? Not necessarily.)
In China of the 1920’s Mandarin language pop music was known as “shidiaqu,” meaning “music of the time.” Shanghai was its creative and business hub. In the 1930s and 1940s the industry focused on the work of “The Seven Great Singing Stars“:
— Bai Guang: nickname => White Light
— Bai Hong: nickname => White Rainbow
— Li Xianglan: nickname => Yoshiko Otaka
— Yao Lee: nickname => Silvery Voice
— Zhou Xuan: nickname => Golden Voice
— Wu Yingyin: nickname => Queen of the Nasal Voice, which probably sounds better in Mandarin than it does in English, and
— Gong Qiuxia, who must have slept in on nickname day, so people
just knew hims as Gong Oiuxia.
During the reign of Taiwan’s authoritarian Kuonmintang government, especially after the 1949 Communist/Nationalist split (see the “overview” section above), Mandarin became the island’s national language, and also the language of upwardly mobile, educated youth.
Mandarin language pop music took root in Taipei, which soon became the “Cradle of Mandopop,” and began to generate stars in both the Taiwanese and mainland Chinese markets. In the 1980s China really began to open to the world; the industry boomed. Before she began to sing in Cantonese, Teresa Teng became Mandopop’s “queen” and one of its first large scale stars. (Mainland Chinese authorities condemned her music as “bourgeois.”) Teng went on to sing Cantopop, leaving room for Faye Wong to become the Diva of Asia (watch her perform live in Budokan, Japan) and for Jay Chou to rise to the throne as “Mandopop Emperor.”
In class we’re going to listen to:
— “Qing Shan San bu Walkin’ Aoyama” by Stephy Tang.
Stephy Tang started her music career in the teen-pop band called “Cookies” and became somewhat controversial among Cantopop fans–some call her “the Queen of Offkey Singing.” Attempting to grow past the pop, she has starred in over a dozen Cantonese movies and has embarked on a well-reviewed solo career, though she is known
to revert to her teen pop past.
— “Long Zhong Hu Dou” by Miriam Yeung
Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah is a Hong Kong-based actress and Cantopop singer who, says Wikipedia, “is known for performing in comedic films; often as a silly, naive, and clumsy girl. For example,” Wikipedia continues, “in one of her very popular films, Love Undercover, she played a newly graduated police officer who failed every test as a cadet and had entertaining and nonsensical ways of completing her assignments.” Yeung has more recently received good reviews for her role in films such as Elixir of Love, in which she played a princess “who was born with a kind of odor that prevents her from finding a husband, despite her beauty and wealth,” and a “dramedy” called 2 Become 1 in which Yeung played Bingo, an advertising executive with breast cancer. Not silly at all.
All about Miriam Yeung, courtesy of AsianFanatics.net (nickname? “Big Laughing Aunty.”) | Miriam Yeung’s fun, though kind of confusing, “Thousand Islands Fans Club” website | Watch Miriam Yeung sumo wrestle (sort of) in her video for “Long Zhong Hu Dou”