[Review] Hong Kong Cantopop: A Concise History (Yiu Wai Chu) by Nathanel Amar

http://www.cefc.com.hk/article/yiu-wai-chu-hong-kong-cantopop-a-concise-history/

YIU-WAI CHU, HONG KONG CANTOPOP: A CONCISE HISTORY

Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 2017, 256 pp.

Review by Nathanel Amar

Yiu-Wai Chu, director of the Hong Kong Studies Program at the University of Hong Kong, continues in Hong Kong Cantopop: A Concise History the analyses he outlined in his previous book, published in 2013, Lost In Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China.[1] Like Lost In Transition, this book is haunted by the decline of Hong Kong culture since the handover, and by the spectre of mainland China. By offering a chronological history of Hong Kong popular music, Yiu-Wai Chu’s book emerges as a reference in Asian Cultural Studies in English.

The introduction (pp. 1-20) reviews the notion of “Cantopop,” a term that emerged in the late 1970s to describe popular music in Cantonese produced in Hong Kong. For the author, Cantopop lies at the intersection of the two traditional definitions of pop music, as it is both “the main commercially produced and marketed musical genre” (p. 3) and popular in the sense that it is “capable of uniting a variety of social groups” (p. 4). This fairly wide definition of pop allows Chu to not contrast Cantopop too strongly with rock and alternative music—which are present at the margins throughout the book. The author justifies his focus on Cantopop in view of the limited existing English language studies on Hong Kong folk music: “Academic work on Chinese popular music shows a bias toward rock music from Beijing rather than pop music from either Hong Kong or Taiwan” (p. 10). The present work is thus an introduction to Cantopop. This leads the author to leave aside the study of the lyrics of songs, which, while regrettable, is justified by the global economy of the book.

The second part of the book (pp. 21-39) challenges the representations traditionally associated with Cantopop, by making a genealogy of it even before the appearance of the term. Until 1974, Cantopop was marginalised in the colonial society of Hong Kong, with music and the Cantonese language being perceived as inferior to English and Mandarin. Popular music in Cantonese was thus considered a “working-class pastime” (p. 21), which most often dealt with the difficulties of daily life during colonisation.

The rise of Cantopop in the 1970s is the subject of the book’s third part (pp. 40-68), concomitant with the identity and social claims born of the workers’ revolts of 1967 and the extension of the market in the 1970s. The year 1974 marks a turning point in the history of Cantopop, with the broadcast on TVB (Television Broadcasts Limited) of the series A Love Tale between Tears and Smiles, the Cantonese theme song of which was hugely successful. The author shows the close links between Cantopop and other cultural forms, such as television and cinema. The 1970s saw the emergence of many singers and lyricists who made it possible for Cantopop to develop, such as Sam Hui, “the God of Cantopop” (p. 48), who took up social problems in songs using vernacular language. Composer Joseph Koo and lyricist James Wong also participated in the popularisation of Cantopop through their songs for the television series Jade Theater. James Wong, nicknamed “the Godfather of Cantopop,” was also to make Cantopop the subject of his thesis, defended in 2003 at the University of Hong Kong,[2] and which serves as a reference throughout Yiu-Wai Chu’s book. The popularity of Cantopop pushed the music industry in Hong Kong to turn to Cantonese. Singers who hitherto sang in Mandarin or made covers of English hits began producing songs in Cantonese, giving Cantopop the hybrid aspect that would make it successful.

The 1980s, described in the fourth part, represent the golden age of Cantopop (pp. 69-104), as well as its cultural hegemony on the Asian scene during the period of economic reforms in mainland China. The popularity of the song “The Bund,” from the eponymous television series, sung in 1980 by Frances Yip with music by Joseph Koo and lyrics by James Wong, went well beyond the borders of Hong Kong and was even translated into Mandarin and Thai. During this decade, the first “superstars” appeared, such as Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung, and Anita Mui, who initiated a wave of unprecedented concerts. More than mere commercial events, these concerts “became a venue for building a collective memory for Hong Kong people” (p. 84). It is also the period when a limited but very influential Cantonese alternative music scene developed, including the rock bands Beyond and Tat Ming Pair, whose songs contain subversive political messages. The Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 profoundly marked Cantopop, prompting singers, even the most popular ones, to pose the question of the future of China and Hong Kong in their songs.

The fifth part of the book focuses on the 1990s (pp. 105-144), in which the decline of Cantopop began, although it enjoyed a prosperous period at the beginning of the decade with the “Four Heavenly Kings”—Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, and Aaron Kwok, and the “Four Heavenly Queens”—Sally Yeh, Cass Phang, Sammy Cheng, and Kelly Chen. These singers were to dominate the Asian musical and visual scene in the 1990s, but this was not enough to stop the more general decline of Cantopop in the face of the development of Mandapop—popular music in Mandarin—from Mainland China and Taiwan. This shift is illustrated by the journey of the singer Faye Wong, born in Beijing, who became famous after settling in Hong Kong in 1987 by singing Cantopop before returning to Mandapop in the late 1990s. The slow decline of Cantopop was accompanied by a crisis of Hong Kong identity as retrocession approached, expressed in 1997 by a song that reeked of nationalism, “Chinese” (“Zhongguo ren”) by Andy Lau, sung in Mandarin.

The last part (pp. 145-183) deals with the Cantopop crisis, which began in the noughts. In addition to declining sales, the world of Cantopop lost two of its most popular representatives in 2003, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui, while the SARS epidemic hit the Hong Kong economy hard that same year. The promotion of four new Heavenly Kings, Andy Hui, Edmond Leung, Hacken Lee, and Leo Ku, did not enable Cantopop to resist the domination of Mandapop. Cantopop nevertheless followed the evolution of society, and some groups took a stand in support of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, such as Denise Ho, Anthony Yiu-Ming Wong, and Kat Tse, who sang the anthem of the movement, “Raise the Umbrella.” In the midst of an identity crisis, Hong Kongers also turned to other forms of music, such as hip-hop with the collective Lazy Motha Fucka (LMF), while the record labels were no longer investing in new singers, preferring to recycle the old glories of Cantopop.

Yiu-Wai Chu’s book opens new perspectives in Asian cultural studies, including a comparative approach to popular music in mainland China. The author provides some very interesting analyses of the queer genre and the queer imagination of Cantopop, but one is surprised when he states that “Leslie Cheung never openly declared his sexual orientation” (p. 135), nor does he mention TVB’s censorship of homoerotic clips produced by Cheung.[3] Moreover, the scandal provoked in 2008 by the diffusion of pornographic photos taken by the actor Edison Chen in the company of popular Cantopop singers is barely mentioned.[4] The book’s aim to write a history of Cantopop, which undoubtedly fills one of the gaps in Chinese studies, neglects the mainland’s popular music, whether inspired by or critical of Cantopop. The book therefore encourages future research on the relationship between Cantopop and Chinese rock in the 1990s, for example through the concert given in front of 8,000 people by He Yong, Tang Dynasty, Dou Wei, and Zhang Chu on December 17, 1994 in the Hong Kong Coliseum, during which He Yong called the Four Heavenly Kings “clowns” and insulted Cantopop.[5] Similarly, the author’s desire to deal with Hong Kong alternative music at the same time as Cantopop forces him to bring together bands as diverse as the hip-hop collective LMF, the subversive anti-folk group My Little Airport, or the hardcore-punk band King Ly Chee, all of which deserve to be further analysed. Unfortunately, there are typos in the names of some Mainland singers and song titles, as well as repetitions in the body of the text.

Hong Kong Cantopop nevertheless remains an essential book for Asian cultural studies. In addition to a very complete chronology of Cantopop, accompanied by an excellent appendix, Yiu-Wai Chu’s book makes it possible to place Hong Kong pop music in its geopolitical, cultural, and social context. Also to be appreciated is the effort of systematic transcription of the names of singers and songs in Chinese characters. This is an important book for understanding the construction of Hong Kong identity, which more generally enables taking popular music seriously, and deconstructs many prejudices about Cantopop.

Translated by Michael Black.

Nathanel Amar, Ph.D. in Political Science, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities of the University of Hong Kong (namar@hku.hk).

[1] Chu Yiu-Wai, Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China, Albany, State University of New York Press, 2013.

[2] James Wong, The Rise and Decline of Cantopop: A Study of Hong Kong Popular Music (1949-1997), PhD Thesis, Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong, 2003.

[3] Natalia Sui-hung Chan, “Queering Body and Sexuality: Leslie Cheung’s Gender Representation in Hong Kong Popular Culture,” in Yau Ching (ed.), As Normal As Possible: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender in Mainland China and Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 2010, p. 147.

[4] It was the subject of a chapter in the book by Jeroen de Kloet and Yiu Fai Chow, Sonic Multiplicities. Hong Kong Pop and the Global Circulation of Sound and Image, Chicago, Intellect, 2013, pp. 81-100.

[5] Mike Levin, “Chinese Pop Music Lovers Show A Taste For Rock,” Billboard, 21 January 1995, p. 45.

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cfp: XX Biennial IASPM Conference (Canberra, Australia, 24-28 June, 2019)

Turns and Revolutions in Popular Music Studies

XX Biennial IASPM Conference
School of Music, The Australian National University
Canberra, Australia, 24–28 June 2019

Call for Presentations

As certain songsters and songstresses have noted, seasons turn, turn, turn, even if you are talking about a revolution. While global warming alters seasonal cycles with the aid of neoliberal and (pseudo)socialist forms of capitalism, and waves of societal turmoil follow each other with varying degrees of authoritarianism in different parts of the world, popular music studies remains committed to critical enquiry of music of the masses, the everyday, a variety of subcultures, the megastars, all with their revolutionary potential. Faced with the increasing worldwide austerity in the humanities and social sciences, caused by short-sighted research funding policies that purportedly aim at revolutionary technological and business innovations, popular music studies also struggles with its future directions. Whither popular music studies and where to turn?

Popular music studies in its institutional form is approaching the end of its youthful years, and IASPM will celebrate its twentieth biennial conference in Canberra. This provides also an opportunity to turn to the past and reconsider what may be learned from the twists and shouts of the previous decades. How have recent affective, neomaterialist, performative, post-humanist, spatial, transnational and visual turns, among others, affected popular music studies, and what might the emergent or future disciplinary turns be? Or to what extent do the turns and revolutions within popular music studies signal an excessive neoliberal belief in constant innovation that implies a lack of thorough investigation of the field’s intellectual history? How are the politics of higher education changing the field’s history of critical research and challenging its civic agenda?

To address these issues, as well as any other questions and topics related to the past, present and future turns and revolutions of popular music studies, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music invites proposals for the twentieth biennial conference, to be held at the School of Music at the Australian National University in Canberra 24–28 June 2019. The general theme of the conference is divided into six interrelated streams:

a) Temporal turns and revolutions. In recent years there has been a pronounced interest in popular music as cultural heritage. Alongside issues of heritagisation, this stream accommodates topics relating to nostalgia, history, historiography and futurology alike, and any other aspect involving temporal relations within popular music studies.

b) Spatial turns and revolutions. As popular music studies is a global field of enquiry, debates emerge concerning the key geographical loci of its knowledge production. This stream welcomes discussion on the centrality of Western conceptualisations of popular music and their challenges, including the variety of centre–periphery relations, “locals” versus “newcomers”, migration and displacement. Furthermore, how are issues of space and place dealt with in the field, including such liminal circumstances as festivals?

c) Technological turns and revolutions. Media studies approaches constitute a dominant strand of popular music studies, and in addition to issues of media, mediation, mediatisation, et cetera, this stream invites topics that address all dimensions of popular music and technology, whether conceived as practical technical solutions or more abstract logic behind the use of various tools and techniques. A particularly relevant theme in this stream is the presence of technological elements in all stages of the music industry, from production to consumption, and how they blur the lines between live, recorded and streamed music experiences. Additionally, how is technology inspiring aesthetic choices, also in terms of post-digital backlash?

d) Political turns and revolutions. Popular music studies, however defined, is intimately associated with questions of power relations and hence with politics. In an age of global migration, extremist populism, global warming and #metoo, the politics of popular music are implicated in issues of racism, ecological activism and gender and sexual discrimination in particular. Presentations focussing on identity, intersectionality, and more generally, inclusivity are especially welcome, as well as those that address the socio-historical shifts in protest music, however conceived.

e) Theoretical turns and revolutions. How has the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the field evolved during the last decades? How have “popular” and “music” been – and continue to be – understood in the field, and how is their “study” or “analysis” conceived? Furthermore, how are the theoretical and methodological choices that popular music scholars make today likely to affect the field’s “health and wellbeing” in the future? Of particular relevance here are topics that deal with conceptual curves and conflicts within popular music studies, whether stemming from feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, semiotics, music analysis, or any strand of music theory in its broadest sense.

f) Affective turns and revolutions. Issues of feeling, emotion and pleasure have been central in the study of popular music, in part because of the importance granted to forms of stardom and fandom. Alongside such questions, this stream tackles additional aspects of affective attunements and alliances within popular music and its scholarly investigation.

Academic Committee

Pablo Alabarces, Emilia Barna, Sam de Boise, Giacomo Bottà, Diego García Peinazo, Elsa Grassy, Florian Heesch, Sarah Hill, Fabian Holt, Nadine Hubbs, Laura Jordán González, Akitsugu Kawamoto, Pil Ho Kim, Serge Lacasse, Kristin McGee, Isabella Pek, Rosa Reitsamer (co-chair), Geoff Stahl (co-chair).

Local Organising Committee

Samantha Bennett (chair), Catherine Hoad, Di Hughes, Stephen Loy, Bonnie McConnell, Pat O’Grady, Georgia Pike, Julie Rickwood, Geoff Stahl, Catherine Strong, Aleisha Ward, Samuel Whiting, Kirsten Zemke.

Abstracts

There will be four options: panels (of 3 or 4 presenters), individual papers, film/video presentations, or poster sessions. Panels and individual papers may also be delivered as practice-based presentations, featuring performance-based, composition-based, recording-based or multimedia-based research. In case of practice-based presentations, please make sure to include a description of room and/or technical requirements. In addition, online presentations may be considered for inclusion in the programme, yet priority is given to on-site participation.

Panels

Proposals of organized panels are strongly recommended (two-hour long sessions with four papers, or three papers and a discussant). Each session should leave at least 30 minutes for discussion or for comments by a discussant immediately following the presentations. The panel organizer should submit the panel abstract and all individual abstracts (200 words each) in one document, with a full list of participant names and email addresses. Where an independently submitted abstract appears to fit a panel, the Academic Committee may suggest the addition of a panellist.

Papers

We invite abstracts of no longer than 200 words, including five keywords for programming purposes and an optional list of references (max 10). Individual paper presentations are 20 minutes long to be followed by 10 minutes of discussion.

Film/video session

Recently completed films introduced by their author and discussed by conference participants may be proposed. Submit a 200-word abstract including titles, subjects, and formats, and indicate the duration of the proposed films/videos and introduction/discussion.

Poster session

A space where presenters can exhibit posters will be provided. A 200-word abstract by the poster’s author, including five keywords for programming purposes, must be submitted.

Submission

Please email your abstract no later than 31 July 2018, as a doc/odt/rtf attachment to iaspm2019@anu.edu.au. Please name the file with your surname (eg. Ciccone.docx). The following format should be used:

• Name, affiliation and contact email address
• Type of presentation (select one from: panel, individual paper, film/video, poster)
• Stream (select preferably one but not more than two from: Temporal/Spatial/Technological/Political/Theoretical/Affective Turns and Revolutions)
• Title of presentation
• Abstract (200 words maximum; in the case of panels, include a general abstract followed by individual abstracts, in total 1000 words maximum)
• Five keywords
• Bio (80 words maximum; in case of panels, bios of all participants)

Abstracts will be accepted in English, IASPM’s official language. Papers in all other languages are allowed, if accompanied by a visual presentation in English. Letters of acceptance will be sent by 30 September 2018.

Each participant must be a member of IASPM: http://www.iaspm.net/how-to-join. Each participant may present only one paper at the Conference, but may also preside over a panel or serve as a discussant.

The conference organisers look forward to receiving your submissions!

With kindest regards

IASPM Executive Committee:
Julio Mendivil, Chair
Jacopo Conti
Marta García Quiñones
Antti-Ville Kärjä
Kimi Kärki
Sílvia Martínez
Ann Werner

[Book Review] Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music – Motti Regev

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/D4DksXuHKZkJ8PHRdfX9/full

Book Review

Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music

Pages 1-2 | Published online: 10 Jul 2017

A fine addition to the highly recommended series Global Popular Music (edited by Franco Fabbri and Goffredo Plastino), this volume on popular music in Korea (short for South Korea) is as comprehensive as such a book can be. Its sixteen thematic chapters are divided into four sections, devoted to histories, genres, artists, and socio-cultural issues. These are preceded by a short introduction, outlining some basic information about Korean history, aspects of language, and transcription. The book is rounded up by a chapter on the circulation of Korean pop in Asia, and (a permanent feature in the series) a conversation with a prominent musician. In this case it is the late Shin Hae-chul (1968–2014), a major figure in Korean pop-rock music of the 1990s.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on Korean music or culture. For my own work on the globalization of pop-rock music (see Regev) I have consulted several available texts in English (notably Epstein; Howard; Shin; Kim and Shin) that provided intriguing introductions to the complexity and richness of the field of pop-rock in this country. This new book goes several steps further in offering a multifaceted view of major themes and issues in Korean popular music. Three key topics seem to be at the core of any interest in Korean pop-rock. These are the stylistic and socio-cultural evolution of pop-rock music in Korea, and especially its relation to local indigenous traditions; the social and political context of pop-rock music production and consumption, amid the prominent American presence in the country or the authoritarian regimes that were in power until the 1990s; and the phenomenon of K-Pop that swept young people in East Asia and other parts of the world at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Indeed, audiences in other parts of the world became aware of Korean popular music mostly in the wake of K-pop. This major phenomenon is covered here in two chapters. One (by Sun Jung) illuminates the deliberate production of the “wave” as an export project by the cultural industries of Korea, and especially their conscious use of social media. The other (by Dong-Yeun Lee) examines the meaning and role of idols in the context of K-Pop. Combining pop tunes and glamorous images of youth, these cultural products with short life spans are interpreted here as typical of the neo-liberal market.

K-pop and idol culture are, however, but one relatively recent phase in the history of Korean pop-rock. As the thread that runs through this book makes clear, it is a history characterized by a quest for a balance between Western, mostly Anglo-American influences, and traditional or indigenous sounds. Strictly local genres attempt to preserve a musical language of supposedly pure “Korean-ness.” These obviously include folk music and People’s Song (both discussed here in a chapter by Aekyung Park), but also Trot and Ballad, explained and described in a chapter by Yu-Jeong Chang.

Several chapters in the book add up to present a broad picture of the stylistic evolution of pop-rock in Korea, including explorations of typical Korean sounds and the intricate ways in which this has been entangled with changing attitudes of the regime towards popular music. A chapter by Jung-Yup Lee in the History section follows the change in media broadcasting of music from being a state and politically controlled institution to a highly commercialized and diverse mechanism in the 1990s and 2000s. Soojin Kim, in her chapter in the Issues section, completes this aspect by surveying the ambivalence towards popular music in the cultural policies of the regimes through the years.

Chapters in the Artists section fill this institutional context with examinations of three towering figures in the history of Korean pop-rock. Dohee Kwon focuses on Shin Joong Hyun, one of the most influential and prominent rock musicians in the country, and especially on one of his most famous works, “Miin” (1974); Okon Hwang outlines the career of composer and singer Kim Min-ki, whose song “Ach’imisŭl” became an anthem for the anti-dictatorship movement of the 1970s; and Eun-Young Jung discusses the impact of Seo Taiji, whose career was pivotal in introducing hip hop, dance, metal and hard rock to the mainstream of Korean popular music. Additionally, an interesting chapter by Haekyung Um in the Issues section examines changes in the vocal style of Korean singers along history and across styles, and points to the cultural shifts reflected in them.

A review of the stylistic scope and genealogy of Korean pop-rock is provided by Pil Ho Kim in the Genres section. His chapter traces the path of Korean rock from the early Group Sound phenomenon of the 1960s and early 1970s to the most recent indie and alternative bands of the 2000s. His observation about the relation of twenty-first-century indie rockers, who “managed to bring back the old formula of global-local balance with a new twist,” to the history of Korean popular music seems to capture the cultural essence of the story unfolded in this book. He writes, “For example, 3rd Line Butterfly resurrects Kim Hae-song, the jazz genius during the 1930-1940s, by sampling his music in “Kimp”o ssangna’al’ (Double Horn of Kimp’o, 2004). Chang Ki-ha Wa Ŏlgul Tŭl (Chang Kiha and the Faces) . . . makes clever references to Group Sound rock and modern folk of the 1970s.” Kim concludes that “Korean popular music has been around long enough to establish a tradition of its own and to help create new local sound that may well be added to the global repertoire of rock music” (all quotations 80).

Regretfully, language and other cultural aspects hinder fans in other countries from getting acquainted with and enjoying the full range of pop-rock music from Korea. At the scholarly level, however, this book provides an expansive overview, written by an expert team of researchers. This book is certainly not just for scholars of Korean or Asian culture. I think that researchers in popular music, cultural studies, media, and cultural sociology who are interested in the details and intricacies of cultural globalization can find a wealth of information and insights hidden in these pages.

Motti Regev
The Open University of Israel

© 2017 Motti Regev
https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2017.1348594

Works Cited

  • Epstein, Stephen J. “Anarchy in the UK, Solidarity in the ROK: Punk Rock Comes to Korea.” Acta Koreana 3 (2000): 134. Print.
  • Howard, Keith, ed. Korean Pop Music: Riding the WaveFolkestoneGlobal Oriental2006. Print.
  • Kim, Pil Ho, and Hyunjoon Shin. “The Birth of ‘Rok’: Cultural Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Glocalization of Rock Music in South Korea, 1964–1975.” Positions 18 (2010): 199230. Print.

     

  • Regev, MottiPop-Rock Music: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in Late ModernityCambridgePolity2013. Print.
  • Shin, Hyunjoon. “The Success of Hopelessness: The Evolution of Korean Indie Music.” Perfect Beat 12 (2011): 147165. Print.

[Interview] Noriko Manabe – Anger & Resistance

An interview with Manabe Noriko in what probably is the most challenging German music and popular culture magazine, Spex. The current issues’ topic is “anger and resistance” and the interview with Noriko is part of the cover story.

The English version: http://www.spex.de/2017/08/09/anger-resistance-no-11-noriko-manabe-japan-anger-is-an-important-motivator/

A short version in German: Spex: Magazin für Popkultur, No. 375 (July/August 2017), “Schwerpunkt: Wut & Widerstand: Anger Is an Energy.”

The images are from https://twitter.com/nmanabe/status/885484987633606656