Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Ears are Burning: A Taiwan Coffeeshop Rant

I have a whole slew of shorter posts I want to write, but I  think right now I am just going to have a short rant about something totally inconsequential, yet dear to my heart.

That topic is "coffeeshop music in Taiwan".

Last year, over Chinese New Year in Kaohsiung, we were watching TV with our friend's family and an advertisement for a set of CDs came on - the set was a collection of the "best" Western music -"if you want all the best songs, from The Carpenters to Richard Marx, don't miss this amazing CD set!" the narrator intoned in Mandarin. In the background, Yesterday Once More, something by Celine Dion, Love is a Battlefield (which I associate more with the Philippines than Taiwan), I've Been to Paradise But I've Never Been to Me and other soft rock hits from the 60s through the 80s played in the background. I don't know all of the artists but I assume they all have names like The J.C. Edwards Experience or Muttles McDougalson Sings The Blues and they've all released albums with mustard-and-brown covers featuring men with bouffants and way too much chest hair, and possibly a belted sweater.

from here
And of course there's Hotel California, which, whenever it comes on someone always says "Oh that's my favorite love song!"

But that's not the worst of it - although that's pretty bad.

I mean, I don't want to come off as some music snob. I like a lot of different stuff and I'm not anti-popular artist. I don't like to say "you've probably never heard of them". I like rap (Talib Kweli!), I like rock (The Dandy Warhols! The New Pornographers!), I like folk (vintage Ani DiFranco! Neko Case! Joni Mitchell if you wanna go old school), I like classic rock (Led Zep!), I even like "goth metal" (Lacuna Coil!) in small doses and lots of world music, on top of "everyone likes them except that one guy who thinks he's so cool" bands along the lines of Radiohead and Jay-Z. I admit to liking Cake even though they're so over. I like a lot of music I expect people to have heard of, like Esthero and Tabla Beat Science, and am surprised when they haven't. I don't like much contemporary music in Asia - not a big fan of Mando-Pop or Canto-pop or J-Pop or Korean pop. I do like a lot of classical music, Western opera and Taiwanese opera (but not Beijing opera, mostly), Indian music both classical and contemporary and world music, too.

The music in coffeeshops in Taipei rankles even my relatively modest tastes in music. Forget the '70s stuff -  some of it was innovative at the time, some derivative, some pure schlock. I'm talking the stuff that actually makes you want to rip your ears off and run, screaming and bleeding, into the street.

Here's a run-down:

-  A harp instrumental cover of I Am The Walrus, with no lyrics. What is the point of that? The same exists in piano form. WHY?

- The Entertainer, slowed down to ballad tempo and played softly and lyrically on a harp. WTF

- An R&B version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, notable for being played sometime in mid-July

- Ballad. Covers. Of. Radiohead. I really have no idea. Who thought that Wolf at the Door, Idiotheque, Paranoid Android and Everything in its Right Place would make good soft rock ballads? I mean this is seriously the worst thing to happen to music since hip hop artists figured out that "in the club" could be rhymed with "sippin' bub".

- Songs by Journey - fun as they are as a pure guilty pleasure to sing to if they're playing in a bar and you've had a few - played on and I seriously kid you not, a glass harmonica. I really wish I were joking but I am not.

- The Sonny and Cher Techno Remix, and again I wish I was making that up.

- Rap music that really has no place in a family-friendly environment. I mean it's funny enough when you're shopping in Old Chen's Bedding Emporium (which is a tiny store in a crowded lane flanked by a store that sells random stuff and a 7-11) and hear Slap That (All On The Floor) blasting, and you wonder if Old Chen really has any idea what the song is about, and funnier still when you're in a taxi chatting with your student (mild-mannered nerdy engineering type) and hear lyrics along the lines of "I'm gonna hit the club wit' it, and sip some bub wit' it and and later imma hit the limo wit' it and stick my **** in it..." and I can't go on, because I started laughing so hard that I couldn't understand the lyrics anymore. But when that starts up in a coffeeshop? Really, I don't need to know who you're going to stick your what into and where it will happen and after which events it will take place as I sip my siphon Yirgacheffe.

- Something I need to add as of today: entire CDs of synthesized dog barks and cat meows belting out famous tunes. You can buy cats meowing Christmas songs (great for your coffeeshop's ambience, especially if you play them in March), dogs barking show tunes, a mixed mammal choir doing their toe-tapping, bacon-begging renditions of Karen Carpenter songs...maybe you can even buy Eminem's Greatest Hits Barked By Synthesized Dogs! If you can name an artist, song or type of music, you can probably find it in Taiwan being barked or meowed.

I'd like to say "to each his own" but...I wouldn't wish this music even on someone who actually liked it!

It leaves me to wonder not who buys these CDs (clearly coffeeshop owners do) but who makes them. Why? Why create that and send it out into the wild to make our world just a little bit worse?

And I also wonder - do the baristas care that they have to listen to this all day? Do they get nightmares? I would.

Do the owners actually think that this is good music? Would they listen to it at home? Or do they not care for it personally but think it's what we want to hear?

Basically, what I want to know is - why?

4 comments:

Kathmeista said...

On the topic of holy inappropriateness, Batman: F***you by Lilly Allen, playing in a mother and child cafe in an area frequented by the international community. Not censored. Loud. Disturbing.

cephaloless said...

maybe a strategy to make customers feel like leaving after grabbing coffee? makes room for other customers and definitely keep non-customers from hanging out.

Nick Herman said...

On music and the lack thereof (particular with regards to quality) in TW society: I find it galling and ironic that you apparently need a license to busk in Da An park (I was shut down by the cops in ten minutes), even though I've never seen a busker there (I guess that's why), but it's totally acceptable to leave a recorded megaphone shouting some asinine ad, out on the street, playing on an infinite loop.

Fuse said...

I totally agree with you there. TW is a big music exporting country (in mandarin of course), but I think we (I'm a taiwanese too) generally don't have good music sense. Plus, language is a huge barrier, a lot of people listen to music that they don't even know what it means. Well, let's just leave it at that...

To Nick, I agree with you too. Why you need a license to busk? It's something beyond me.