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06
Aug
2010
Why We Don't Like It E-mail
City Life - Music Scene
Written by Daemon Borek
It is sometimes said that if you want to keep your friends there are 3 topics that you should never discuss: Politics, Religion, and Abortion. Anyone who has ever engaged in a discussion about any of the above three know that the conversation usually gets heated, as all involve people arguing from an emotional response to the topic based in a personal belief.

Any man who is married understands that when your wife is having an emotional response to something based on her own personal belief it’s best to go “Caveman”; just nod and grunt your way through until she loses steam. Trying to argue is futile and any logic or rationale you think you can bring to the argument is like trying to put out a grease fire by throwing water on it. Well, music is a topic that should be added to that list. This is very true for those of us living in China. The topic of Chinese Music will usually be met with the rolling of eyes and knee-jerk reactions that border on soul crushing insults.

Every time this happens I always find myself staring across the table at our Chinese friends and seeing the hurt and confusion in their eyes as they listen to a group of foreigners bashing the living hell out of the music they love and adore. I have even been known to jump in on the boot-stomping myself and give Chinese Pop music a swift kick. But, alas, this may not be the way to express my opinions of their treasured art form. We are attacking the very thing that speaks to them as people; it helps them through the tough times and is the soundtrack to their triumphs. So, if they love it so much, why don’t I? To answer this we need to first understand some things about people’s opinions on music.

First and foremost, your opinions on music are exactly that, opinions. They are a matter of taste and the equivalent would be like berating me because I do not like the famous tomato and egg dish that everyone seems to love. It’s a matter of taste. To me it tastes like ass, to others it tastes like a magical concoction of happiness that slides into the mouth and gives your taste buds a hug. Music is the same.

Exposure will also play a large role in developing your tastes and this starts from the moment you are born and there is very little you can do to change this. Unfortunately, this mostly comes from our parents. My father had three tapes in the car when I was a kid. They were Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Marley; I heard those albums over and over throughout my childhood and they formed the basis for what I listen to today. When I was 4, The Rolling Stones song “Paint it Black” was my absolute favorite song and this could be used to explain a lot about my current playlists, but Dire Straits and Ole’ Bob have their role as well.

Culture is the third and final component to this development of a musical taste. All of us who grew up in the West spent countless hours in the car listening to the radio and whether you love it of hate it, that’s why all of us find ourselves singing “Pokerface” in the shower and questioning our sanity. And don’t act like you don’t do it, it’s like masturbation in high school; deny, deny, deny, until you get home and then its doors locked and, to quote Seinfeld, you start “treating (your) body like an amusement park”. You probably just got finished with an impromptu shampoo and dance routine to “Pokerface” before you read this article.

So, know that we understand the Why, let’s get into it. What is it about Chinese Pop Music that makes foreigners so angry? Well, it literally is the opposite of everything we love and adore about our own music. I know that’s a broad generalization, but hear me out on this one. We’ll start with the music first and then move on to lyrics.

Even before I understood what they were saying in their songs the very rhythm and tempo of Chinese Pop music made me climb the walls in anger. It was so slow, calm, and gentle; there was nothing there for me to grab on to. It was ballad after of ballad that made me sit in the KTV and ponder thoughts like, “I wonder what the response time would be by emergency services to a suicide by broken bottle?” Anyone who has had to spend more than two hours in a KTV as the only foreigner has come to the realization that this is the first time you have thought about suicide as a truly viable option. Yet, to my Chinese friends these ballads were offering a wonderful comfort and soothing respite from the chaos of their normal lives. To quote them, “It is good to listen this music. I can relax myself”.

In America and Canada, I grew up on the tail end of the 70’s and early 80’s and anyone who told you, “Disco is Dead!” is not being wholly accurate. It may be dead but like any good Rock-Star, it fathered a series of bastard children that haunt us to this very day. It gave birth to New-Wave and Electronica and a myriad of other styles that came out of the 80’s and 90’s to be refined down into what we hear on the radio and MTV today. This instilled something in all of us that turned everyone into a fiend for rhythm and tempo that Busta Rhymes calls “that head nod shit that makes you break your neck”.

We need an upbeat tempo that Chinese Pop Music just doesn’t have, even what Chinese call Hip Hop is really more of a watered down version of what we call R&B. Take the popular song from a few years ago, “不得不爱(Bu De Bu Ai)” by Pan Wei Bo and Jolin. The samples in the song sound like the wind chimes from some new age meditation album. Play that in a club and you would have people sitting around in a massage circle talking about the synchronicity of the universe, which, would serve the Chinese desire for a calming and relaxing style of music, but makes me pray for sudden and quick death.

In the West Pop Music must be something we can dance to. There is a reason the dance floor at clubs has been increasing exponentially. If on the first note of the song, 20-30 hammered co-eds don’t start screaming like their hair is on fire and stampede the dance floor like the bulls in Pamplona, you just don’t have a hit. Even the majority of Underground or Indie music you hear today has its roots in Disco’s bastard children; everything has to cause you to “Let Your Backbone Slide”, and Chinese Pop Music just doesn’t have it. What’s more, they don’t want it in there, so there will always be a rift in the music we like.

Alright, let’s tackle the subject of lyrics. Lyrics in Chinese Pop Music, if you can understand them, will only serve to make a foreigner reach for that broken bottle faster. They are cheesy and sappy, offering no real insight into anything, and sound like someone is reading an 11 year-old girl’s diary entries. I’m not even going to begin to give you examples, both for your safety and mine as well. It’s too early in my life for me to do shots of drain cleaner. But you get the general idea.

Now, I am not saying that Beyonce, KE$HA, or Justin Timberlake are the fountains of enlightenment that we should all follow. They are cheesy as well, but by Chinese lyrical standards they are cutting edge and downright pornographic. The writing in Chinese Pop Music is much more idyllic and fanciful than we are used to. In general, I find Chinese people to be far more optimistic and romantic when it comes to love and this most evident in the lyrics of their Pop Music. But, I think this idealism is a good thing, it’s a nice change from the jaded and fatalistic way we see love.

Most foreigners are so embittered by the time we get to our early teens we think “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix is a quality break-up song. Take a quick listen to the first Western Pop song you can find that mentions anything about any relationship between men and women. It’s all about, one-night stands, power struggles of the sexes, cheating, champagne pouring, hitting anything that moves, strippers, bitches, and it just goes on and on. Download the song “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)” by Eamon and think about the fact that middle school kids loved that song in 2004-2005. It’s amazing anyone gets married in the West these days.

And that’s why we don’t like their music and they don’t like ours. It’s this fixation we have on tempo, rhythm, beat, and lyrics that causes the majority of the cultural riffs when it comes to music anywhere in the world. But, we westerners love to tell people that we listen to all kinds of music and we truly believe this lie. I thought the same about myself. I even thought I was someone who could be polite and at a minimum tolerate any style of music, as music is the universal language or some other hippie crap I picked up in a coffee shop in University. But, I was wrong.

Around 8 months ago I went to a wedding at noon, hit a KTV at 2pm, left at midnight, went to Salsa, and finally got home at 4:30am. After 14 hours of every style and version of Chinese Music I was a broken man with nothing but thoughts of vengeance and unbridled hatred to keep me alive. My magnanimous self had been destroyed and all that was left was the shell. I left my ideals under a couch cushion in the Real Love KTV and I no longer refer to myself as a man who can listen to any kind of music. I’m lying if I say that. I hate a Chinese Pop Music and that’s natural, but that doesn’t mean I need to act like a pro-life nut job outside an abortion clinic about it.

There’s no point, you are never going to get your Chinese friends to understand why you like what you like and they will never get you to like what they have. It can’t be done, the rift is too great. We can come here and fall in love with their culture, food, history, language, and everything else that this great place has to offer, but music will never be one of those things. The same will be true for them. Try as I may, I’m never going to get them to understand why Snoop Dogg’s “What’s my Name” is one the classic songs of my generation, and they will never be able to convince me that Pan Wei Bo is anything more than a lying poof. So, these days I just keep my mouth shut like I’m at Christian revival in the Deep South, and I remember this horrifying thought. Chinese Pop Music has 1.3 billion fans...

Pan Wei Bo (see photo on the right) is the only person who I have ever truly hated on sight. The first time I saw him talking about how he “had studied Hip Hop in America and was bringing it back to China”, I chalked him down to being the first sign of the coming musical apocalypse. I’ve listened to his music, and it bears ZERO resemblance to anything remotely resembling Hip Hop! What did he study in America? Did he even go there? Is this like Bush’s “military service” in the Texas National Guard?
I want to punch him.

Our valuable Editor Daemon Borek has been with us since Saturday, 24 July 2010.

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Comments  

 
+2 #12 Alex McLain 2010-10-12 20:44
Excellent article! You Guys at New Dynasty are real pioneers in Xian. There is NOTHING compared to you in the whole city and China. Great work and beautiful site! Good to have you!
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+2 #11 Technoman 2010-09-04 03:49
Quoting Gorch:
Well... how about Celine Dion, Rod Steward, Mariah Carey, James Blunt, etc? Just look at the foreign music section of your favourite CD shop here in Xi'an (exclude Music Heaven). Don't they make you want to push a q-tip so deep inside your ear that it comes out on the other side? The west can produce accustic waste as well...

And: Girls who dress like typical Chinese girls (oh so sweeeeeeeet) probably hear that kind of music everywhere in the world. And boys who date those girls probably go through the same kind of musical pain everywhere...

For all of us who grew up with Dire Straits and Nirvana: There's a nice independent scene here in China as well (see bands like Hedgehog); check out the more and more happy festival when it comes to Xi'an again (anyone knows when?)


I hate Nirvana and rock. I am a Techno and Trance fan and grew up with Rave parties, Trance tunes, gabba and beer and girls.
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+2 #10 ND 2010-08-15 14:24
@Gorch,Udo

the "more and more festival" was supposed to be on 16. June but we got a message that it was postponed. I will investigate the new date and add it to our Event List. Keep an eye open please, perhaps you get to know where (it can only be in the textile city art district...) and WHEN and some more details let me know: .cn

@all

What daemon said.. i could not say it better. Music is what it always was: a question of taste. the problem is that some have taste and others have no taste. But even that is a question of taste.... :-D.

@gorch

what about deutsche schlager....uhh..that is a terrible topic of its own :-D fiesta, fiesta mexicana...*argh!*
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+2 #9 Gorch 2010-08-15 14:02
Well... how about Celine Dion, Rod Steward, Mariah Carey, James Blunt, etc? Just look at the foreign music section of your favourite CD shop here in Xi'an (exclude Music Heaven). Don't they make you want to push a q-tip so deep inside your ear that it comes out on the other side? The west can produce accustic waste as well...

And: Girls who dress like typical Chinese girls (oh so sweeeeeeeet) probably hear that kind of music everywhere in the world. And boys who date those girls probably go through the same kind of musical pain everywhere...

For all of us who grew up with Dire Straits and Nirvana: There's a nice independent scene here in China as well (see bands like Hedgehog); check out the more and more happy festival when it comes to Xi'an again (anyone knows when?)
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+4 #8 Daemon Borek 2010-08-08 20:53
@Joe, I agree with the Motown and the 50's and 60's music, I love it as well, but the problem is that's 30-50 years ago. Unfortunately, any modern music from the last two decades would be nearly impossible to get Chinese people to like, aside from the nightmarish boybands of the 90's.

@schalckgolowks i, good on ya man! You proved my point on music being a matter of opinion better than I could.

@the rest, Chinese Opera sounds like cats in heat fighting in a blender. Just because it's part of a culture doesn't mean its a good thing, Lady Gaga and slavery are part of my past traditions and culture, doesn't mean I have to like them or agree with them.
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+1 #7 ND 2010-08-06 22:35
@Joe: I assume that your wife is Chinese? Well, my wife is Chinese and when it comes to Chinese music bands, singers and stuff i do the "Caveman" as Daemon suggests :-D. It is the best way to stay alive :-D!
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0 #6 ND 2010-08-06 22:30
@ramazotti: Se volete potete scrivere le storie in italiano per ND. Selo metta in contatto con mi: stories@newdyna sty.com.cn
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0 #5 ND 2010-08-06 22:25
Nigg, thank you for your comment. Please avoid the "f"-word in future postings. Thank you.
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0 #4 Nigg 2010-08-06 22:12
F"""" great article folks! You really know somethin' about f""" China!
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+1 #3 schalckgolowksi 2010-08-06 22:06
well as european i dont like american and english style music. it is considered not no so highly in Eu. as for chinese opera: it is what is most known and appreciated and related to chinese culture. it is exotic and interesting like our eternal european treasures like the spanish flamenco, german and italian operas etc.. sorry north american hip hop has no class for us people in europe. china can be happy to have somnething more valuable and precious than that.
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