Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Comedy wins over nationalist cringe on Youtube, showing humor is more powerful than bad music

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Hah

I'm working through the busiest part of my dissertation right now (which means, again, don't expect much from me through the summer).

But, with what little free time I have, I wanted to showcase just one small example of political discourse that shows, at least unofficially, that Taiwan is winning the public opinion war and getting better at overall political messaging - both intra- and interculturally.

Fanny Liu (劉樂妍), an entertainer from Taiwan who lives and works in China, put out a - um, how to word this gently - not great music video where she sings through the Chinese provinces and how much she loves them all, while extolling the virtues of being in China. These include all sorts of lifestyle perks such as "home delivery", "mobile payment", "bike share", "high speed rail" and "convenience".

Leaving aside the fact that all of these are also available in Taiwan and generally at far higher quality, they don't include things like, say, freedom of speech, human rights, freedom of religion or marriage equality.


Fanny Liu herself is something of a controversial figure. Born in Taiwan to a family from China, she often publishes her views about Taiwan and China on social media - those views generally being pro-China, she's been labeled the "female Huang An" (Huang An is another Taiwanese entertainer who lives in China and espouses pro-unification views. For this reason, he's reasonably well-known in China but much reviled in Taiwan). These views seem to have undergone a rapid radicalization from "why should I have to choose [between being Taiwanese and Chinese]?" (okay), to "the CCP is too democratic, I would shoot Lee Ming-che" (what?) to this video, where she beats up a guy in a green superhero outfit, supposedly because China is so much better than Taiwan, what with all that home delivery and mobile payment, punches him repeatedly in the crotch, takes his little Taiwan sticker and adds it to the rest of China.

So, you know, really classy high-minded art.



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barf

Very soon after, comedian Brian Tseng premiered a parody video in which he, in drag, along with fellow comedians, extol the virtues of all the great places you can live in Taiwan (except Miaoli). Here's the link again.

These virtues include TSMC (which has just announced that it will build its next fab in the US, despite Chinese attempts to dangle economic incentives in front of Taiwanese companies), having doors on our toilets (most bathrooms in Chinese cities do now, but it's not a given), tea eggs (which I am pretty sure is a pun on balls but I'm not sure) and - my personal favorite - better taste in music (than Fanny Liu's nationalist schlock).

There are other shots at the CCP, including references to the Tiananmen Square Massacre (六月四號), lack of freedom of religion (with a reference to Falun Gong) and Taiwan being great for "having very few Communist bootlicker artists" (少數舔共藝人).

My least favorite parts are his reference to the Senkaku islands and a lyric that translates more or less to "everything in your borders is actually legally ours". But, considering that the intent is maximum trolling of China and of Liu, it's best to let this go.

He also re-names some cities in China, such as "Chinese Beijing 中華北京" and "Chinese Shanghai 中華上海", ("we'll help you rectify the names", he sings) in the same way that China forces Taiwan to compete in sporting events as "Chinese Taipei".

The best part? Now if you search for Fanny Liu in Chinese, the top results are heavily inclusive of...Brian.

There's a Rick Santorum joke in there that I will not make. But just know that I thought it.


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Brian's video is genuinely funny, something you can't say for Fanny's ultranationalist cringe-fest. I showed it to a teenage student who didn't know the context of Brian's video, which has far more views than Fanny's, whose only comment was "...but who did she make this for? Did she think this would make Taiwanese like China?"

Exactly right. The producers had to know it wouldn't be popular in Taiwan, YouTube is banned in China, and frankly I can't see this being popular in China either because it's just not very good. I simply don't know what she was trying to accomplish - show her CCP bosses that she's a loyal lapdog?

So how did people react? Well, the numbers don't lie. When I began writing this morning, Brian's video had half a million views, 46,000 likes and just 814 dislikes. Fanny's had about 100,000 views, with less than 200 likes and 9,100 dislikes. After a nice long nap I've come back to my work, and Brian is at 840,000 or so views, with 74,000 or so likes and 1,300 or so dislikes. Fanny's hasn't even cracked 200,000, with 381 likes and 15,000 dislikes. 


 What does this show us?

Not just that satire is a popular political tool, we know that already. But that, in a battle of highly asymmetric resources, comedy and genuinely amusing sarcasm are some of the greatest weapons Taiwan has - something it's good to be reminded of occasionally.

But also that Taiwanese artists and activists have become quite adept at shifting frames in political discourse. For awhile now, they have been taking the nationalist bromides (even the ones dressed up in cotton-candy pop) of China and turning them around into sardonic comedy. I noticed this back when Freddy Lim was not issued an artist visa for Hong Kong due to a lack of "special skill" and he commented that he should "start practicing his backflips". Taiwanese online are expert memelords - which I mean in the best possible way - from their "First Annual Apologize To China Contest" to blanketing China's "Wan Wan, Come Home" message with all sorts of hilarious retorts. When Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus insisted that "racist" attacks against him had come from Taiwan, they created the hashtag #ThisAttackComeFromTaiwan to showcase what they think is great about their country. They contributed to the Milk Tea Alliance, a site of discourse where comedy has given way to a path to a pan-Asian identity that explicitly excludes CCP influence.

In fact, if you still think Taiwan in general "lacks a sense of humor", perhaps you're the one who isn't getting the joke.

Indeed, the best way to re-frame nationalist discourse isn't to lob more nationalist trash - it seems to me that that was how the previous generation of Taiwanese activists handled Chinese saber-rattling, and it didn't work very well. It didn't appeal to the youth (nationalism of that sort rarely does, it's usually your uncles and aunties shouting it), it wasn't particularly interesting discursively, any moreso than any shouty populism is. It handed the CCP a counter-strike that they should have never been given: the ability to label the emergence of Taiwanese identity as "dangerous ethnonationalism" or "Hoklo chauvinism", both within Taiwan and abroad. These labels stuck because there was a kernel of truth in them.

But who can say that Brian Tseng's video is either of these things? You can call it unserious - but that's the point. You can say it spends too much time trolling everything that sucks about China rather than extolling the virtues of Taiwan (it does, but that's why it's not nationalist - it even shit-talks Miaoli!). But you can't say it's not fun. 


What's key here is that this re-framing of the discourse is working. Brian's video premiered last night, and by this morning my teenage student had seen it, and thought it was great. Intra-culturally, it's a uniting force without the baggage of the previous generation's stodgy old populism, which has proven unpopular with the youth.

It also works interculturally. Yes, Taiwan's discourse with China is intercultural, and no, I shouldn't have to explain why. Every time someone like Brian makes a joke video which becomes far more popular than its source material, it shows China (and any Chinese who happen to be watching online) that their schlock doesn't work here. As China attempts to gain influence in Taiwanese mainstream media, the youth turn to people like Brian Tseng, or EyeCTV, and are not engaged by those boring nationalist oldsters. 


Before I end this, I want to point out two other things in that video: first, that the piss-taking of Miaoli is probably more related to Brian's "thing", as a friend pointed out, of criticizing Miaoli's politics. And to be fair, there's a lot to criticize. But, it serves another purpose too. In a red-ruffled nationalist cringe party like Fanny's video, it's imperative to love every single part of your country and talk about how all of it is great, even including entire provinces full of people who actually hate you. You can never admit that in a lot of places, your toilets don't even have doors, let alone care about your country despite this. Everything must be great. The fact that Brian can piss-take Miaoli in a video about Taiwan shows that defending one's distinct identity doesn't require that fakey-fake love for everything. You can love Taiwan, and still think that Miaoli sucks. Anyway, it's still Taiwan.

(I don't think Miaoli as a place sucks, by the way, though he's right about the politics.)

Secondly, the drag was probably for simple comedic effect, to make fun of the "sexy" (though honestly a bit outdated) outfits in Fanny's video. But it serves another, possibly unintended, implicit purpose: to show Taiwan as a country which is more inclusive and open to different expressions of gender. Drag is fairly normal in Taiwan, to the point that it can go beyond being a necessarily political act, and can be, well, for fun. Fanny Liu's brand, in general, is very female-gendered, heteronormative, somewhat sexualized and...frankly, kind of establishment and boring. Brian skewers this beautifully, and in doing so, skewers establishment beliefs as a whole.

Finally, let's remember that authoritarians have terrible taste in music, something that Brian more or less explicitly called out in his video. So their attempts to win over hearts and minds with pop culture has been a failure and will continue to be so - it is simply never going to work. Good art - be it music, comedy or in any other form - comes from either fighting oppression, or having the freedom to be creative. 


That's why Bauhinia Rhapsody is a fantastic song which is still in my regular playlist, and CCP-backed attempts at pro-police "rap" were roundly mocked. It's why I generally like Taiwanese artists that don't sell out to China - and not only because they did not do so, but because their music is actually better - whereas I find the Taiwanese pop which is popular in China, from artists who are welcome in China, to be...about as memorable and akin to "art" as comparing the candy-colored exuberance of Yayoi Kusama to actual cotton candy. One will endure; the other is cheaply available and withers in a light rain. 


But you know what? We knew that too. It seems like the CCP is incapable of figuring that out, because they're incapable of conceiving of, let alone allowing, the freedom for that sort of discourse to flourish.

Well, them, and maybe also Miaoli. 


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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Han Kuo-yu sings (badly) at Spring Scream and it's so terrible, it's wonderful

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Screenshot from TVBS Youtube livestream of Big Uncle Sweatervest and his airfisting minions

I was going to post something serious, and I will. Soon. I promise.

But it's Sunday night, I'm tired, I've had a long week, amd I just need you too enjoy this absolute horrorshow that went down at Spring Scream yesterday as much as I enjoyed it.

With flagging numbers, bad weather and all around not-as-good-as-it-used-to-be'dness, Spring Scream (held this year on Kaohsiung's Cijin Island) has...not been doing well. Numbers have been declining for years, but apparently it was especially bad this year.

So, what do you do when nobody comes to your not-great festival?

You get divisive turdnugget and Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu to show up with a coterie of dorky city councilors and sing so badly that literally nobody clapped. 

No, really, if you can stand it, watch until the end of the song. Nobody claps. While there are more than the "50 or so" people that Taiwan News reports (there are other inaccuracies in the article), it's just delightful that everyone just sort of stared at Mr. Sweater Vest and his air-fisting minions like "what the hell is wrong with you?"

I concur: this might fly at your company's annual party (尾牙) but at Spring Scream? Do you really think sweater vests, "old people karaoke" and air-fisted slogans are going to excite the youth?

Also, lol:

Hoping to enliven the party and make sure that the audience got its money’s worth, the mayor of Kaohsiung and several of his city councilors appeared on stage at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday....

Hoping to enliven the party indeed. That's how I want my Saturday night to start.

TVBS makes it really hard to make out (in more ways than one, hey), but there are also a few cries of "get off the stage" (下台!), which can also be interpreted as "step down from office!" You can hear them more clearly here.

It's just...wow. You have no idea how happy this makes me. I mean, it's painful to watch but in that so-bad-it's-good way, because a person I hate looks like an idiot, and that's great. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Chthonic performance in Hong Kong cancelled, showing again that authoritarians have bad taste in music

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Sexy Legislator and Chthonic frontman Freddy Lim, performing at the Taipei pro-marriage equality rally on December 18th in support of three pro-LGBT referendums 


Hong Kong continues its unwilling slide into authoritarianism at the hands of China with the cancellation of a performance by Taiwanese black metal band and all-around great musical act Chthonic. There had been talk on Facebook by the band that it might perform without its frontman/vocalist, Freddy Lim, but even that plan seems to have been cancelled.

Update: apparently Freddy's visa was denied because he lacks "special skills" that are "not available in HKSAR". Freddy responded by saying he was "practicing cartwheels and backflips" (to be better qualified to work in Hong Kong).


This is obviously nonsense. Chthonic has performed in Hong Kong before; being denied now points to growing CCP influence there, not any 'lack of special skills'. I personally remember Hong Kong as being far more open just a few years ago. Since then, political parties not aligned with China have been targeted and banned, with activists and elected legislators from those parties jailed. While technically freedom of speech remains a right that Hong Kongers may enjoy, in practice that's no longer the case: remember all those bookstores that sold reading material banned in China, specifically books critical of the CCP and its top officials? Those are gone now (though you can still buy the books from street vendors).

It also points to the growing political clout of Chthonic frontman and sexy legislator Freddy Lim, who (according to the article above) was denied a visa to Hong Kong after becoming an elected member of the legislature through the New Power Party. Lim had been to Hong Kong before, as well.

And that brings me to my main point: authoritarians have crap taste in music. I'm sorry, they just do. Chthonic was denied because of what they stand for: they are very pro-independence, and their music is steeped in Taiwanese history and folklore. They don't even sing in Mandarin, and they stand for a number of progressive causes including marriage equality. This scares the CCP - no music that makes any sort of real political statement (Communist propaganda music...doesn't count as music) is terrifying to them.


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But music - good music at least - is fundamentally political. It makes a statement, or at least stands for something. Good bands stand for something, even though that might not be evident in individual songs (for example, what Ani DiFranco stands for infuses all of her music, even her love songs which don't have anything directly to do with politics. You could say the same for Joni Mitchell or even groups not immediately identified with political music like The Talking Heads.)

Music under authoritarian regimes, however, can't ever stand for anything. Only - as a friend put it - "Canto-pop and Mando-slush" are acceptable in China. Context-free gunk about only the few topics that can be rendered apolitical - mostly love songs, and a few others including absolute nonsense music - can be allowed. They all sound kind of the same and they're so lightweight, they'd blow away in a light breeze. They tend to be earworms (that's how they hide their lyrical empty calories) but are also interchangeable and, to be frank, forgettable.

So, you wonder why "Mando-slush" all sounds kind of the same, with lyrics you could literally change out for anything because they just don't matter, it's not because people in Mandarin-speaking societies aren't good at creating music or are somehow culturally uncreative. I've heard that before and it's simply not true and frankly kind of racist. It's because in China, they risk their actual lives by being truly creative and writing songs that actually mean something. Outside of China, if they want to be allowed into the lucrative Chinese market, they have to churn out the same kind of tripe. Music with meaning will simply not be allowed in.

To be fair, people tell me that China, and especially Beijing, has a thriving underground hip-hop scene, and I guess I believe them? Maybe? But unless these underground artists are actively risking being 'disappeared' by the government, I can't imagine that what they sing stands for anything, either.

As such, I've noticed that the Taiwanese music I like tends to be banned in China, by artists who don't care if their music is allowed in the market there. They make music to make music, not primarily to make money. All the Taiwanese music I don't like - the love ballad gurgling, the motivational "you can do it!" crap that thinks it's edgy because there's an electric guitar played by a guy with spiky hair, the K-pop imitators, Jay Chou - is allowed in China, and hugely popular there. And it is, to be frank, terrible. All of it. (Yes, I know other people like that stuff. I don't care.)

To sum up, if an authoritarian government finds some music acceptable, that music is probably bad. At the very least, it's the tasteless, sugary white cake of music: unsatisfying, lacking basic nutrition, and will make you metaphorically corpulent and complacent if you consume too much of it.

So, it's no wonder that of all the music in a Chinese language which is popular internationally, Chthonic is one of the best-known outside Asia, for a niche market anyway.

News reports keep calling Chthonic a well-known band "in Asia", but I'd like to point out that, in the international black metal scene, they're quite well-known outside of Asia as well. Pretty much every black metal fan I know, even if they have no connection to Taiwan, knows Chthonic. All of them say the music is top-notch, and they transcend being a 'local act' by a very wide margin. They release English versions of all of their Taiwanese-language songs, Lim has held 'ask me anything'-style live interactive videos in English.

This is because Chthonic stands for something, and they put out genuinely good music because of it. Creativity and meaning are intertwined, and cannot be separated. Without meaning, art has no weight (which might just be why so much public art is forgettable, if not terrible - when you seek not to offend anyone, you inspire no-one). And that's why the same old love ballad recycled a hundred times with lyrics that you could just make up mockingly as you go along, with the parody indistinguishable from the original, will never find as much international acclaim.

Friday, October 12, 2018

If you think Taiwanese have no sense of humor, perhaps that's because you don't get it.

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I hear it a lot: some expat dude (it's usually, though not always, a dude) who decides to hold forth and grace us with his deep knowledge of and wisdom about Taiwan, and proffers what he feels is a gem of intercultural knowledge: that Taiwanese have no sense of humor. 


There's even a blog post out there mentioning this, but I'll do the author a favor and not link to it. Obviously, I don't agree

This is often accompanied by the oft-repeated nugget (what kind of nugget I'm not sure) that Taiwanese don't understand sarcasm. 

It seems to be a common double standard - that it's okay for us to stumble around like idiots in the local language (and it is okay, by the way, as long as you try), but if someone isn't William freakin' Shakespeare in English, it must be some issue in "their culture" or their DNA which makes them "incapable" of sarcasm, jokes, being engaging, making a clear point, saying no, or whatever. Hmm, so you don't think that maybe it's just that they, like you, aren't perfectly fluent in the foreign language they are using and so they struggle with some higher-order language competencies which they are quite capable of in their native tongue? We don't think we "lack a sense of humor" if we can't properly crack jokes in Mandarin or Hoklo, so why do we apply this standard to Taiwanese learning English?

Personally, I find some of my Taiwanese friends, acquaintances and students deeply hilarious, some darkly funny, some basically normal (not particularly funny but able to enjoy a good joke) and some cold and humorless - just like I do any other people.


With that in mind, please enjoy this unintentionally hilarious "rap" from campaign staffers for Taipei mayoral candidate Ting Shou-jung (丁守中). I'm sure they'll get all the Kool Youngsterz to vote for them with this jammin' tune!


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台北的未來在他手中??



This isn't even the first time a KMT candidate has come out with a completely ridiculous song to try to appeal to the Cool'n'Hip Kidz, although it's more polished and overall less wholly inexplicable than this total head-scratcher from KMT chair Wu Dun-yih.

And, from a friend, there's this...um, song? From former Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡自強).

Ting - or rather, his staffers, as I don't think Ting himself could loosen up enough even to sing this zipped-up family-friendly extended jingle - are basically singing "Taipei's future is in your hands, Taipei's future is in my hands, Taipei's future is with Ting Shou-jung! He's keeping watch for you, he's defending your dreams, Taipei's future is with Ting Shou-jung!"


Wow, inspiring.

Now, to get the taste out of your mouth, check out the wonderfully sarcastic parody rap from EyeCTV, which is well-known for its sarcastic mockery of old ROC diehards and has come out with some trenchant Daily Show-like political satire in the past. 

They're taking the original catchy, dorky, deeply annoying tune, stealing some of the language choices, and turning it into what sounds like another stupid rap, but actually hides a pro-ROC, pro-unification, Chinese chauvinist old-school KMT style propaganda message. Most notably, it replaces "Taipei" with "China", with an old ROC map of China in the background.

It has all the old lingo, including "counter-offensive" (反攻)which is associated with old Nationalist slogans, includes the phrase "unification is not a dream" (another common propaganda message) and then goes on to say that it - that is, unification - is the "bright, sunny dream" (青天白日夢) of all "Chinese sons and daughters" (中華兒女). "Chinese sons and daughters" is propagandistic term which calls to mind the New China Youth (a wing of creepy, New Party-affiliated/China-supported-and-paid-for astroturfing unificationists) and the words for "bright and sunny" alluding strongly to the "white sun on a blue field" of the KMT party symbol (which is also on that blasted ROC flag).

Making this sort of joke even more culturally-specific is the wordplay at the end. Remove the "bright" (青天) part of "bright, sunny dream" and you get "白日夢", another way to say a daydream. A fantasy, an illusion. Which is exactly what "unification" is to these guys, no matter how much they try to dress it up in a dweeby hip-hop song pretending to be 'fresh'. 


Of course this isn't pro-unificationist ROC claptrap, it's sarcasm - satire, after a fashion - that thing so many foreigners in Taiwan think Taiwanese lack. It mocks the "trying to be hip" and "overly earnest" vibe of the original (something no late-middle-age uptight political candidate should attempt), while laying bare the KMT's actual beliefs as per its own symbols and past rhetoric: that Taiwan is ultimately Chinese, and that their actual goal is unification with China on their terms, not an independent future for Taiwan. No catchy tune can erase that.

The Facebook post even says that the ROC map pin he's wearing was sent by fans for the "rap" and can not be bought, with a ton of "crying" emojis.

I highly doubt any of those people reacting with the "crying" face actually wanted to seriously, unironically, own that pin.

This also shows how culture-specific some humor can be. Sure, Chad, I know you think you're so hilarious that it translates across cultures, but in fact, the reason your Taiwanese students don't laugh at your jokes isn't because they don't have a sense of humor, it's because your jokes just aren't that funny in Taiwan. Similarly, you might not find this video particularly funny. That's not because it isn't (I laughed a few times), but to really get it, you have to have be familiar enough with a culture that was just starting to shake off the enforced adherence to Chinese-style propaganda that has always sounded quietly ridiculous to Taiwanese whose ancestors have been here for hundreds or thousands of years, and who never had any intention of or desire to "take back the Mainland". 


So yeah, I'd say that Taiwanese understand sarcasm just fine, and their sense of humor is doing A-OK. If you don't see that, maybe you're the one who doesn't get it. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

BREAKING: Taiwanese artists desperately trying to convince China that their political positions are not "vague"

"HOW THE HELL IS THIS A 'VAGUE' POLITICAL POSITION?"
from here

INDEPENDENT FUCKING TAIWAN, YOU FUCKERS (31 Dec 2016): Following the announcement of the banning of several international artists from performing in China, including creatives from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, a number of Taiwanese artists rumored to be on the list are protesting the circumstances of their inclusion in the strongest possible terms.

Taiwanese black metal group Chthonic and political activist rapper Dwagie both lodged harsh criticisms of the as-yet-unconfirmed list circulating online, which is said to attribute their being banned from China to having "vague political positions".

"What the actual fuck," noted Dwagie. "There is nothing 'vague' about anything I write. How the hell do a bunch of Zhongnanhai asshats take lyrics like We are beaten by the batons of history / Although our heads are bleeding, we never lower them / We climb the barbed wire and barricades / To light up the darkest corner with a sunflower and call them 'vague'? Seriously, what the hell? They have heard of the Sunflowers, right? Aren't they banned from China too? Are their political positions also 'vague'?"

"I mean, definitely the goal of every talented artist in Taiwan is to get banned China," Dwagie continued. "That's obvious - you're nobody until China hates you. So I guess I should thank China? But still, fuck them for thinking there is anything at all 'vague' about my politics!"

"For real," added members of Chthonic. "What do we even have to do to convince the Chinese government that we do not in any way consider Taiwan to ever have been, to be, or to have any possibility of ever being a part of China? How is this not crystal freakin' clear?"

When reached for comment, a Chinese government official declined to say much on the record, but did note that the "complex" and "questionable" political ideologies of the groups was "under serious consideration", but no decision has yet been made.

"Do I just need to write a song called "TAIWAN IS INDEPENDENT AND CHINA CAN EAT OUR BALLS?" added Dwagie. "Is that what it takes? I wrote an entire song eulogizing Taiwanese political hero Nylon Cheng and they, what, aren't sure? I mean it's an honor to be banned - maybe I could write a song called It's An Honor To Be Banned From China, would that be vague? But come on, the actual hell, China?"

"So, like, screaming Let me stand up like a Taiwanese / only justice will bring you peace into a mic with a stage background of intensely Taiwanese imagery is somehow vague? The rest of the song is about killing tyrants!" interjected Chthonic frontman Freddy Lim while other band members rolled their eyes. "Are they trolling us? Is this on purpose? Did they even listen to our songs? There is literally nothing, not one thing, in our discography that isn't either explicitly or implicitly about Taiwanese history, identity or sovereignty!"

"Seriously! You try to get to the heart of Taiwanese identity and the Taiwanese experience and sing about the country you love - COUNTRY, NOT PROVINCE, FUCKERS - and maybe even actively try to piss of China a bit in the process, but who even cares about them because they are a totally different country from beautiful, independent Taiwan, and this is what you get?" added Dwagie, exasperated.

Both members of Chthonic and Dwagie expressed surprise that they were not, in fact, already banned from China. "Was the list just, like, making it official? How did this not happen years ago?" quipped Chthonic member Doris Yeh.

"Hey, what about us? Are we already banned, or did they just forget? We wrote that 'Island Sunrise' song you hated over in China, and you as well as your buddies in Singapore even refused to show the segment of an awards show where it won an award for best song," added members of the Taiwanese rock group Fire Extinguisher. "What are we, nothing? Seriously? We work really fucking hard to have the honor of being banned from China!"

"Yo, us too," added Taiwanese indie hip hip group Kou Chou Ching. "FUck China man, we can't even get on the list?"

After hearing of the musicians' reactions, a Zhongnanhai official noted, "although our operatives have released these rumors on the Internet as per our instructions, we would like to remind everyone that the list has not yet been confirmed by any government official. These vague and unclear political positions will be weighed carefully, however," before smirking and getting into a black Mercedes.


Just covering my ass here: if it wasn't obvious that this is a work of satire and none of the artists named actually said any of those things, I really don't know how to help you be smarter, but this was a work of satire and none of the artists named actually said any of these things.

...though I like to think they would. 

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?

Monday, February 22, 2010

叮叮噹


So every year at Christmas I get annoying carols stuck in my head - usually Joy To The World and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. I'm not even religious! But oh well.

And as you know, Chinese New Year has its own complement of songs that are, well, just like Christmas carols (with pithy, throwaway lyrics about the season and catchy jingly tunes) except in Chinese and on a pentatonic scale.

Turns out I get these stuck in my head as well! I never realized, as until this year, I've always gone abroad for CNY.

Thanks to Matsusei - yes, the Japanese grocery chain - I got "恭喜,恭喜,恭喜你!" stuck in my head for days, to the point where people would giggle when I'd randomly start humming it in elevators. Just to get it stuck in your head, here you go. (Any long-term China/Taiwan/Singapore expats will recognize this irritating little tune, but for friends back home who read this, have fun getting it out of your skull! Mwahahaha!)

That was finally pushed out when we went to Cingjing Farm last week, and the lodge we spent all of our time in because it was too wet to hike had this Awesome Robot Confucius:




Who I realize is a prosperity god and not a Robot Confucius, but I just like the phrase "Robot Confucius" so I will continue to call him that. He was basically just like one of those annoying mechanical Santas who, when turned on, sway back and forth holding a bag of presents and sing "Jingle Bells" or some such...over and over and over again. You know what I mean.

Oh, you can't see it in the photos but he has blue eyes, which is vaguely hilarious.

Well, this guy sang the song that got the first one out of my head: 財神到 (literally "the wealth god arrives"). Turns out this song is even more irritating than "恭喜,恭喜,恭喜你".

So. I was telling some students today about getting songs stuck in one's head, and got to teach them a nifty phrase as a result ("get a song stuck in [your] head" - v phrase) and how both of these songs have been bouncing around my brain for weeks now and I've started listening to the Magnetic Fields to try and force them out.

They laughed, said the same thing happened to them, and that they have a name for the kinds of songs that seem to be implanted firmly in my cerebral cortex: 叮叮噹 or "ding-ding-dang".

叮叮噹 are those Chinese songs that "sound Chinese" - you know, like that old favorite, Kung Fu Fighting ("And everybody was kung fu fighting - 叮叮叮叮噹噹叮叮噹 - those kids were fast as lightning - 叮叮噹叮叮噹叮叮叮噹噹") that Americans find vaguely offensive and everyone in Taiwan seems to like. This is, apparently, a well-known enough phrase that if I mention "叮叮噹歌" to anyone, they'll understand instantly that I mean those old-timey Chinese-sounding songs that go, well, ding ding dang.

I love that. It's like a funky piece of cultural understanding that I'm now grateful to have. I haven't been this chuffed since I learned what a "雙-B" is.