Giant on the move
A lot of rude things are written about Chinese pop music, often referred to as “Mandopop”, as opposed to Hong Kong’s “Cantopop”. That it’s syrupy nonsense and all the lyrics are the same — boy/girl meets girl/boy, they fall in/out of love, it’s all so tragic/happy etc etc.
I beg to differ. Mandopop rocks.
It’s all a matter of who you listen to. There are plently of interesting artists, who sing plently of interesting and unusual songs. I actually learnt a lot of my Mandarin from singing Chinese songs at karaoke in Taiwan, the spiritual home of Mandopop.
Visitors to this year’s Beijing Olympics will no doubt be subjected to a barrage of songs about the Games (most of which really are not that good). But I recommend you go into one of the many coffee shops, bars or restaurants that abound here, and the chances are you will hear some really cool songs.
Though China does have a growing popular music scene of its own, artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore tend to dominate. So here is a little list of some of my favourite singers, and some of my favourite songs.
1) Faye Wong. The goddess of Mandopop. Though she started out on the road to fame singing in Cantonese under the English name Shirley Wong, she is Beijing born and bred. And her music has just gotten better and better as she gets older, though she has more or less stepped away from the music scene of late. She has done Chinese covers of songs by Tori Amos, the Cranberries and the Cocteau Twins, and on her album “Fable” even experimented with trip-hop. Unusually, she also writes some of her own songs. Her understated cool, effortlessly glamorous image and fairly stand-offish public persona have all added to her popularity.
2) Sarah Chen. Very old skool. I admit I don’t really know that many of her songs, but every time I go singing I will always sing her “Waking from a dream”. I think it’s the desperate lyrics that impress me most (that and her 1980s fashion in the music video) — “There are some things you can’t ask/There are some people you must never wait for”. She no longer sings, and I’m sad that I’ll never get to hear her sing in person.
3) Faith Yang. A Taiwanese-Australian indy rock queen. She burst onto the scene with songs like “Stars piled up to the sky” and “Alone”, the later a furious rock track with Taiwanese rocker Wu Bai providing backing vocals. Later collaberations with Chang Chen-yue (“The love I gave”) were equally well received, and she returned last year with a new, much calmer and more mature album.
4) Jacky Cheung. One of Hong Kong’s “Four Heavenly Kings” of male singing superstars, Cheung is basically popular everywhere in the world where ethnic Chinese have settled. He came to my attention with Cantonese classics including “Why do breakups always happen on rainy days”, but it was his Mandarin mega-hit “Kiss and Goodbye” (bizzarely later covered in English by a European band) that won my undying loyalty.
5) Chang Hui-mei, aka A-Mei. I will always love this petite Taiwanese aboriginal star. “Can I hold you?” was an album I listened to over and over again, and I screamed and screamed when I saw her in concert a few years ago. It also helps that she appears to be a genuinely nice person, bursting into tears on stage because she is so moved by her fans’ support. You may get to see a lot more of A-Mei as the Olympics approaches — she is submitting a song to be sung at the opening ceremony on Aug. 8. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Pictures (from the top): Faith Yang by REUTERS/Kin Cheung, Faye Wong by REUTERS/stringer, Jacky Cheung by REUTERS/Tim Chong