Like A Rolling Stone

An interesting post on Silicon Hutong, that lifts heavily from an equally interesting post by Ed Peto, on the Chinese music scene. The conclusion of both seems to be that, any day now, there will start to be a move away from traditional saccharine Chinese pop songs and diversity will be the word of the day.

The reality would dictate otherwise, as access, habit, and peer pressure will continue to dictate things for years to come. Currently, a large indie, hip hop, and rock scene exists in Beijing, and to a lesser extent other cities, but there are very few people jumping on the bandwagon. Part of it is that a number of artists in these scenes insist on using English, thus pushing fans of these genres to focus away from domestic options and instead pick foreign ones. If they're singing in English anyways, why not listen to people who speak better English?

Yet the biggest issue is peer pressure and acceptance of something new and unusual. Play a Gong Fu or Joyside song for 10 Chinese youngsters and maybe 1 or 2 will be bouncing their head to it, the rest will just see it as strange and go back to blasting their Jay Chou or Cai Yilin megahits. Part of the attraction to these other genres is that it makes one different from everyone else. There has been a nascent rock scene in China for nearly 25 years and yet its never been able to go mainstream, despite huge crowds showing up to concerts of top foreign and Chinese acts. It is a rebellion against what your parents and everyone in your school is listening to, its an act of individualism in a country where individualism is frowned upon.

It is interesting as well that if a genre exists outside of pop in China, it is folk/ethnic music, with singers like Dao Lang (mentioned in the article) and Han Hong garnering a lot of popularity. This sort of "traditional" music is familiar and easy on the ears of all generations, thus making it more acceptable to all.

Chinese labels are looking for music that will have mass appeal in an extremely large, diverse country. Selling music to a subculture wouldn't be that hard as there is still a huge audience for it, but the choice always goes for music that is attractive to 10 million Chinese instead of 500,000. I find it so interesting how 21 year olds who weren't even born when Jackey Cheung (张学友)began his career will know every word to every one of his songs. Music is typically generational, but in China, it crosses generations as many songs today don't sound that much different than songs 20 years ago.

There will always be a market for Re-Tros, there will always be a market for CMCB, but they will never be mainstream and there will never be the same degree of acceptance of these subcultures as there is in the US or abroad. Just looking at Korean and Japanese music shows this, sure other genres have taken a small portion of the market (hip hop and rock, respectively), the majority of what is out there isn't very different from your everyday Mandopop tune.

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