Hip hop ban not about hip hop

Like so many things in China, the trouble with hip hop is its popularity–its ability to draw a crowd.–Anne Henochowicz  <annemh2@gmail.com>

Source: Magpie Digest (1/25/18)
China’s Hip Hop Ban is Not Really About Hip Hop
This is issue #9 of the Magpie Digest newsletter, originally sent on 1/25/2018

Co-champions of Rap of China, GAI and PG One

On January 18th, Rap of China co-champion GAI was abruptly pulled from the celebrity-studded entertainment reality TV show 歌手 (“The Singer”) right before the second episode aired, despite a wildly successful performance the week before. The next day, Sina Entertainment reported that his hasty removal from the show was likely due to a broader governmental crackdown on “countercultural content” on television. Continue reading

Hip-hop culture faces crackdown

Source: BBC News (1/24/18)
China’s fledgling hip-hop culture faces official crackdown
By Beijing bureau, BBC News

Rap of China poster

Image copyrightIQIYI. PG One was the first of China’s A-list rappers to fall from grace

Last summer, a reality show called The Rap of China took the country by storm.

The show brought hip-hop music from the underground into the limelight and made it a multi-million dollar business. Several of the top contestants shot to stardom.

In the past few weeks, however, things took a surprising turn and the buzzing hip-hop scene was quickly muzzled.

It all started with PG One, one of the two rappers who won The Rap of China. He was accused of having an affair with a married celebrity. Continue reading

Chinese composers with an ear to the world

Source: NYT (1/12/18)
Chinese Composers With an Ear to the World

Joel Sachs conducting the New Juilliard Ensemble. Mr. Sachs is the founder and organizer of Juilliard’s annual Focus! festival, concentrating this year on contemporary Chinese music. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

What makes Chinese music Chinese? After a century of revolution and change, how do contemporary Chinese composers understand and reflect their heritage, even as they try to connect with global audiences?

These are questions that get to the heart of a musical culture that remains largely veiled to American listeners. The Juilliard School’s annual Focus! festival of new composition is trying to pull aside that veil, to make the world of music a bit smaller. With “China Today,” a series of six free concerts from Jan. 19 to 26, the school is avoiding traditional Chinese instruments and foreign-based composers, choosing instead to concentrate on Chinese artists living and working in their own country, and using the same instrumental forces as those in the United States and Europe. Continue reading

PG One under fire

Source: Sup China (1/4/18)
PG One Under Fire For Lyrics Glorifying Drugs, Sex, And The Pursuit Of Wealth
Rapper’s song “Christmas Eve” is denounced by the Communist Youth League for promoting drug use and insulting women.
By Jiayun Feng

Wang Hao 王昊, aka PG One, one of China’s best-known rappers, who rose to fame this year on the hit show The Rap of China, issued an apology on January 4 after one of his old songs, “Christmas Eve,” was criticized for its dark lyrics.

The backlash started when some internet users complained on Weibo that the song contains “degrading and out of line” lyrics. The Communist Youth League made a post (in Chinese) on its official Weibo account to criticize the song for “encouraging teenagers to use drugs” and “insulting women.”

Read the rest of the essay, with its many images and video clips, here.

Spending on music in China

Source: Sup China (9/14/17)
China’s per capita spending on music is $0.15, only 0.7 percent that of Japan’s
By Jiayun Feng

“We didn’t pay for music, but we watched ads. I think it’s quite fair.”

“I am appalled by those comments questioning why we should pay for the music we listen to. I know most Chinese have a low level of intellectual property consciousness, but it’s still sad to see that many people have zero respect for musicians and their works. They are not obliged to provide free music for you. Today, you enjoy pirated music and generations after us will have no good Chinese songs to listen to as a result.”

Music tastes of Chinese individuals are very alike — primarily cheesy and insubstantial love songs with hook-laden melodies. Yet as the two comments above indicate, opinions are significantly divided (in Chinese) as to whether music listeners should pay for the products they consume, a poignant question raised by a recent report (in Chinese) from the Communication University of China in Beijing, which reveals the alarming status of China’s digital music industry. Continue reading

Higher Brothers rap their way to the top

Source: Nylon (8/29/17)
Higher Brothers Are Rapping Their Way To The Top Of The Chinese Music Scene
Get to know the group

Higher Brothers Are Rapping Their Way To The Top Of The Chinese Music Scene


The following feature appears in the September 2017 issue of NYLON Guys.

On the surface, the origin story of rap foursome Higher Brothers sounds rather typical: friends cut a mix tape, start touring, find success. But remove that narrative from the context of Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York and transplant it into central China, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so familiar. Needless to say, China is not necessarily known as a bastion of free expression, let alone as a hotbed of hip-hop, but Higher Brothers have not let that discourage them. In the past year and a half, the group—made up of Masiwei, DZKnow, Psy.P, and Melo—has released two mixtapes and gone on three countrywide tours. Now they have their sights set globally.

“We wanna go to America, let the world know us,” says Masiwei, in English, via WeChat, China’s all-encompassing social medium. He’s flanked by his bandmates and Lana Larkin, a master’s candidate from U.C. Berkeley who is their translator and longtime friend, as well as an anthropologist. Does your crew roll with an anthropologist? Didn’t think so. Continue reading

Helen Feng on the future of music

Source: Sixth Tone (9/1/17)
Helen Feng on the Future of Music and Everything Else
Nova Heart frontwoman talks commercialization, community, and China’s music culture.
By Kenrick Davis

Nova Heart performs in Beijing, Nov. 8, 2013. Courtesy of FakeMusicMedia

Singer, VJ, promoter, music critic, event and tour manager — Helen Feng has worn many hats in China’s music industry since she first came to Beijing from the U.S. in 2002. Described by media as the “Blondie of China” and the “Queen of Beijing Rock,” the Beijing-born artist is perhaps best known as the lead vocalist for rock group Nova Heart, which was the first Chinese band to perform at U.K. music festival Glastonbury and is now working on a second album. Continue reading

Chinese rocker’s thermos

Source: Sixth Tone (8/24/17)
Chinese Rocker’s Thermos Becomes Viral Symbol of Aging
Commentary in Party paper People’s Daily reminds readers to always look on the bright side of life.
By Kendrick Davis

Left: Zhao Mingyi plays the drums during a concert in 2003. Cheng Gong/IC; right: The viral photo of Zhao holding his thermos at a recording studio in 2017. From his Weibo account

Left: Zhao Mingyi plays the drums during a concert in 2003. Cheng Gong/IC; right: The viral photo of Zhao holding his thermos at a recording studio in 2017. From his Weibo account

The humble thermos — a must-have item for tea-sipping middle-aged Chinese — may seem an unlikely viral sensation, but a photo of an aging rock star holding such a bottle recently sparked wide discussion on social media about aging, midlife crises, and fear of the future.

In the widely circulated photo sits Zhao Mingyi, the 50-year-old drummer for the iconic ’90s rock band Black Panther. Once a muscular man, Zhao’s hair is now graying, he has a slight paunch, and — to complete the picture of middle age in its most distilled form — he holds a silver thermos. In his heyday during the early 1990s, however, Zhao was part of the generation of rockers who gave an energetic voice to China’s economic revival. Continue reading

The stifled desires behind Acrush

Source: The New Yorker (7/1/17)
The Stifled Desires Behind Acrush, the Chinese Boy Band Made Up of Five Girls
By Jiayang Fan

The forces underlying Acrush’s gender fluidity are more complicated than they might appear from outside China. Courtesy YouTube

Just when you thought the boy-band phenomenon had finally run its course (in how many more directions can One Direction go?), a Chinese iteration goes and renovates the form. At first blush, the five members of Acrush (the “A” stands for Adonis, the Greek god of male beauty) resemble the prototypical Simon Cowell-culled group: boyishly handsome, impeccably groomed, freakishly flawless in a way that mortal teen-agers typically aren’t. There is, however, one difference. Underneath the leather jackets, Timberland boots, and conspicuously masculine posturing, the group is comprised of five cisgender girls. Continue reading

Godfather of Beijing’s indie music scene

Source: Caixin (6/10/17)
Godfather of Beijing’s Indie Music Scene Dissects China’s Experimental Soundscape
By Malcolm Surer

Michael Pettis is owner and founder of one of China’s biggest indie-rock record companies, Maybe Mars, and a professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. Photo: Ma Minhui/Caixin

Michael Pettis is owner and founder of one of China’s biggest indie-rock record companies, Maybe Mars, and a professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. Photo: Ma Minhui/Caixin

China’s alternative-punk music scene has evolved from a genre that represented the rebelliousness of a niche group of well-off educated urbanites to one that’s international, hip, and popular. Chinese bands now play to sold-out gigs not only in old “hutong” bars in Beijing, but also at some of the most popular clubs in New York.

The Chinese capital was a rock-free zone until the mid-1980s. But it’s underground music scene today runs the gamut from hip-hop to grunge to noise. Continue reading

China’s hottest ‘boy’ band (1)

Here’s another piece on Acrush.–Kirk

Source: NYT (5/20/17)
The 5 ‘Handsome Girls’ Trying to Be China’s Biggest Boy Band

The women of Acrush at a dance studio in Beijing in April. There are slick boy bands and foxy girl groups, but Acrush seeks to appeal to those who reject gender norms. CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

BEIJING — In a small dance studio in Beijing, the members of China’s newest entry in the national pop-music pageant ran through a sequence of pulsing pelvic thrusts and choreographed crotch grabs.

After a three-minute workout, the group’s leader, Lu Keran, breathlessly asked the band’s manager: “Now can I go to the bathroom?” Continue reading

Du Yun wins Pulitizer

Source: NPR (4/10/17)
Du Yun Wins Music Pulitzer For ‘Angel’s Bone’

Du Yun, 39, has won the music Pulitzer for her opera Angel’s Bone. Matthew Jelacic/Courtesy of the artist

Du Yun, a 39-year-old composer, musician and performance artist, today won the Pulitzer Prize for music for her opera Angel’s Bone. The Pulitzer jury describes the piece as a bold work “that integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world.” Angel’s Bone, which has a libretto by the versatile Royce Vavrek (Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves and David T. Little’s Dog Days), was commissioned by New York’s Prototype Festival and Trinity Wall Street, which staged the world premiere Jan. 6, 2016.

The opera tells of a middle-American couple who find a pair of angels dropped into their backyard. They nurse the angels back to health — only to clip their wings and exploit them for money. Continue reading

Dali’s music scene

Source: Sixth Tone (4/7/17)
Reinventing That Old Town Sound
Dali’s Old Town in rural Yunnan province is a refuge for wayward musicians, a bastion of ethnic folk traditions, and a quiet haven for avant-garde Chinese music.
By Josh Feola

Li Daiguo (left) and Wu Huanqing play music outdoors in Dali, Yunnan province, July 11, 2015. Wang Qiong for Wu Huanqing and Li Daiguo

YUNNAN, Southwest China — Nestled between the expansive Erhai Lake to the east and the picturesque Cang Mountains to the west, Dali Old Town is best known as a must-see destination on the Yunnan tourism map. From near and far, tourists flock to Dali for a glimpse of its scenic beauty and its rich cultural heritage, characterized by the high concentration of Bai and Yi ethnic minorities.

But beyond and beneath the waves of people swept up in the region’s ethnic tourism industry, Dali is quietly making a name for itself as a center of musical innovation. In recent years, Dali Old Town — which sits 15 kilometers from the 650,000-strong Dali city proper — has attracted an inordinate number of musicians from both within and outside of China, many of whom are eager to document the region’s musical traditions and repurpose them for new audiences. Continue reading

China’s hottest new “boy” band

Source: Quartz (3/30/17)
China’s hottest new boy band is actually made up of five androgynous girls
By Zheping Huang

Earlier this month, China’s social network giant Tencent held a series of music events called “Husband Exhibition” at Chinese universities. The idea was to showcase new pop stars who appear on the company’s online streaming site; the term “husband” is how China’s female fans refer to male pop stars who are so charming they fantasize about marrying them.

Enter Acrush, a hot new “boy band” that performed at the tour’s last stop in southern Zhejiang province, where the group is based.

They had one big surprise in store for fans: They’re not actually male. Continue reading

Feminist folk quartet

Source: Sixth Tone (3/29/17)
Feminist Folk Quartet Gives Voice to China’s Migrant Workers
By Yin Yijun

Duan Yu, Ren Juan, Xiong Ying, and Ma Wei pose for a photo in front of the violin shop where they rehearse in Beijing, Sept. 17, 2016. Courtesy of Jiu Ye

Duan Yu, Ren Juan, Xiong Ying, and Ma Wei pose for a photo in front of the violin shop where they rehearse in Beijing, Sept. 17, 2016. Courtesy of Jiu Ye

For a band that seek to depict the plight of migrant workers in today’s China, it was an odd choice of music. But like the other numbers in the Beijing-based quartet’s growing repertoire, the song resonates with generations of women both young and old who feel that the country’s fixation on economic development has left them few opportunities to make their voices heard. Continue reading