Cantopop

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Cantopop (traditional Chinese: 粵語流行音樂; simplified Chinese: 粤语流行音乐) is a contraction of "Cantonese popular music". It is sometimes referred to as HK-pop, short for "Hong Kong popular music". The term "Cantopop" has its origin in "Cantorock", a term first used in 1974 to describe rock music in Hong Kong by Billboard correspondent Hans Ebert. Later in 1978 Ebert revised the term to "Cantopop" after noting a change in its style to something similar to British-American soft rock.[1] It now describes a contemporary category of popular music made primarily in Hong Kong in the Cantonese language since the 1970s, and the cultural context of its production and consumption.[2] Cantopop reached its height of popularity in the 1980s and 1990s before its slow decline in the 2000s. The most significant figures in the Cantopop industry include Samuel Hui, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Faye Wong and Sammi Cheng.

Cantopop draws its influence from international styles, including jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, electronic music, Western pop music and others. Cantopop songs are almost invariably performed in Cantonese. Boasting a multinational fanbase especially in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and in the Guangdong province of mainland China, Hong Kong remains the most significant hub of the genre.[3]

History[edit]

1920s to 1950s: Shanghai origins[edit]

Western-influenced music first came to the Republic of China in the 1920s, specifically to Shanghai.[4] Artists like Zhou Xuan (周璇) acted in films and recorded popular songs, and was possibly the first Chinese pop star.

In 1949 when the People's Republic of China was established by the Communist Party, one of the first actions taken by the government was to denounce pop music as pornography.[4] Beginning in the 1950s, massive waves of immigrants fled Shanghai to destinations like North Point in Hong Kong.[5] As a result, many first generation Cantopop artists and composers hail from Shanghai.[4]

1960s: Cultural acceptance[edit]

By the 1960s, Cantonese music in Hong Kong was still limited largely to traditional Cantonese opera and comic renditions of western music. Tang Kee-chan (鄧寄塵), Cheng Kuan-min (鄭君綿), and Tam Ping-man (譚炳文) were among the earliest artists releasing Cantonese records.

The baby boomer generation at the time preferred British and American exports. Western culture was at the time equated with education and sophistication,[6] and Elvis, Johnny Mathis and The Beatles were popular.[4]

Conversely, those who preferred Cantonese music were considered old-fashioned or uneducated. Cheng Kum-cheung and Chan Chai-chung (陳齊頌) were two popular Cantonese singers who specifically targeted the younger generation. Connie Chan Po-chu is generally considered to be Hong Kong's first teen idol, mostly due to her career longevity. Josephine Siao is also another artist of the era.

1970s: Rise of television and the modern industry[edit]

Roman Tam, the godfather of Cantopop[7]

Local bands mimicked British and American bands. Two types of local Cantonese music appeared in the market nearly concurrently in 1973: one type cashed in on the popularity of TVB's drama series based on the more traditional lyrical styles. The other was more western style music largely from Polydor Hong Kong. Notable singers from the era include Liza Wang and Paula Tsui.

Soap operas were needed to fill TV air time, and popular Cantonese songs became TV theme songs.[4] Around 1971, Sandra Lang, a minor singer who had never sung Cantopop before, was invited to sing the first Cantonese TV theme song "The Yuanfen of a Wedding that Cries and Laughs" (啼笑姻緣). This song was a collaboration between songwriters Yip Siu-dak (葉紹德) and the legendary Joseph Koo(顧嘉煇). It was ground-breaking and topped local charts.[4] Other groups that profited from TV promotion included the Four Golden Flowers.

Samuel Hui is regarded by some to be the earliest singing star of Cantopop. He was the lead singer of the band Lotus formed in the late 1960s, signed to Polydor in 1972. The song that made him famous was the theme song to Games Gamblers Play, also starring Hui.[8]

The star of TV theme tunes was Roman Tam. Three of the most famous TV soap opera singers were Jenny Tseng, Liza Wang and Adam Cheng.[4] The Wynners and George Lam also amassed a big fan base with their new style. Samuel Hui continued to dominate the charts and won the Centennial Best Sales Award in the first and second IFPI Gold Disc Presentations twice in a row in 1977 and 1978. Polydor became PolyGram in 1978.

1980s: Beginning of the Golden Age[edit]

During the 1980s, Cantopop soared to great heights with artists, producers and record companies working in harmony. Cantopop stars such as Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Alan Tam, Sally Yeh, Priscilla Chan, Sandy Lam, and Danny Chan quickly became household names. The industry used Cantopop songs in TV dramas and movies, with some of the biggest soundtracks coming from films such as A Better Tomorrow. Sponsors and record companies became comfortable with the idea of lucrative contracts and million-dollar signings. There are also Japanese songs with Cantonese lyrics.

The most successful Chinese female recording artist, "Queen of Mandarin songs" Teresa Teng also crossed over to Cantopop. She achieved commercial success with her original Cantonese Hits under the Polygram Label in the early 1980s. Jenny Tseng was a notable addition from Macau.

As Cantopop gained large followings in Chinese communities worldwide, Hong Kong entrepreneurs' ingenious use of the then new Laserdisc technology prompted yet another explosion in the market.


1990s: Four Heavenly Kings era[edit]

Further information: Four Heavenly Kings (Hong Kong)

In the early 1990s, the Cantopop stars Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung, Samuel Hui, Priscilla Chan, the songwriter Joseph Koo, and others either retired or lessened their activity. Chan left Hong Kong to pursue her studies at Syracuse University while the rest left Hong Kong amid the uncertainty surrounding the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

During the 1990s, the "Four Heavenly Kings" (四大天王), namely Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Leon Lai dominated music, and coverage in magazines, TV, advertisements and cinema.[9][10]

New talents such as Beyond, Grasshoppers, Hacken Lee, Sally Yeh, Vivian Chow, Cass Phang, Kelly Chen, Sammi Cheng and Faye Wong emerged as contenders. However, due to contractual disputes with PolyGram, Hacken Lee never became one of the member, and was replaced by Cheung and Lai, who were both with the same record company.

The sovereignty handover created a culturally challenging atmosphere for the industry. Establishment of Basic Law and language ordinances made the adoption of Mandarin official.[11]

Twins at the height of the group's popularity

2000s[edit]

At the turn of the century, Cantonese was still dominant in the domain of C-pop.[12] The deaths of stars Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui in 2003 rocked the industry. A transitional phase also took place with many overseas-raised artists such as Nicholas Tse and Coco Lee gaining recognition. As a result Cantopop is no longer restricted to Hong Kong, but has become part of a larger music movement.

In 2005 Cantopop began a new upswing. Major companies that drove much of the HK segment included Gold Typhoon Music Entertainment (EMI, Gold Label), Universal Music Group, East Asia Entertainment and Amusic and Emperor Entertainment Group. Some of the most successful performers of the era include Joey Yung, Twins, Eason Chan, Miriam Yeung, Leo Ku, Janice Vidal. The new era also saw an explosion of bands such as at17, Soler, Sunboy'z, Hotcha, Mr. and Rubberband. Many artists such as Stephy Tang, Kary Ng, Kenny Kwan and Renee Li later ended up going solo. The decade has also been dubbed a "People's singer" era (親民歌星), as most performers were frequently seen promoting in public. This is contrasted with the 1990s when previous era "big-name" singers (大牌歌星) unapproachable.[13]

A number of scandals struck some of the stars later in the decade. In 2008 the Edison Chen photo scandal involving Edison Chen and Twins singer Gillian Chung, among others, who were the subject of explicit photos uploaded online. The scandal occupied the front pages of the local press for a solid month, and also garnered the attention of international media.[14][15][16] The scandal tarnished the image of the previously "squeaky-clean" Twins, and resulted in their going into hiatus in late June 2008, four months after Gillian was caught up in the scandal.[17] Other events include the street fight between Gary Chaw and Justin Lo.[18] In 2009, Jill Vidal and her singer boyfriend Kelvin Kwan were arrested in Tokyo on 24 February 2009 over allegations of marijuana possession.[19] Kwan was released without charge after 32 days in jail,[20] while Vidal later pleaded guilty in Tokyo court to heroin possession, and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, suspended for three years.[21][22][23]

2010s[edit]

After the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Mandarin became more important and the influence of Cantonese began to diminish. In 2010, a proposal that Guangzhou Television station should increase its broadcast in Mandarin led to protests in Guangzhou.[24] While the authority relented, this event reflected the continuous marginalization of local dialect, and the prospect of Mandopop became brighter than Cantopop in the new globalized Chinese music industry.[25]

The first major award of the decade 09 JSG award was a highly controversial one with the on-going HKRIA tax case. The case was reportedly solved in early 2012 though. In January 2012, the 11 JSG award was again controversial since one of the biggest awards, Record of the Year, was handed to Raymond Lam with his unpopular song “Chok”. Some of the successful performers of the era are G.E.M., Ivana Wong, Sugar Club, Mag Lam, Alfred Hui, C AllStar and Khalil Fong.

Characteristics[edit]

Instruments and setups[edit]

Early Cantopop was developed from cantonese opera music hybridized with western pop. The musicians soon gave up traditional Chinese musical instruments like zheng and erhu fiddle in favor of western style arrangements. Cantopop songs are usually sung by one singer, sometimes with a band, accompanied by piano, synthesizer, drum set, guitar, and bass guitar. They are composed under verse-chorus form and are generally monophonic. Practically all early Cantopop songs feature a descending bassline.

Lyrics[edit]

A slow to medium tempo soundtrack by Danny Chan for the 1984 HK film "Merry Christmas" (聖誕快樂)

A transitional song from the golden age to the Four Heavenly kings era by Jacky Cheung

A hybrid cantopop techno song by Leon Lai

Problems playing these files? See media help.

Cantonese is a pitch sensitive tonal language. The word carries a different meaning when sung in a different relative pitch. Matching Cantonese lyrics to Western music was particularly difficult because the Western musical scale has 12 semi-tones. Through the work of pioneers like Sam Hui, James Wong and Lo Kwok Jim, those that followed have more stock phrases for reference.


Classical Chinese lyrics[edit]

The first type is the poetic lyrics written in literary or classical Wenyan Chinese. In the past, Cantopop maintained the Cantonese Opera tradition of matching the musical notes with tones of the language. Relatively few Cantopop songs use truly colloquial Cantonese terms, and fewer songs contain lyrics. Songs written in this style are usually reserved for TV shows about ancient China. Since the 1980s, increasing numbers of singers have departed from this tradition, though some big names like Roman Tam stayed true to traditional techniques.

Modern Chinese lyrics[edit]

The second type is less formal. The lyrics written in colloquial Cantonese make up the majority with compositions done in modern written Chinese. TV shows filmed under modern contexts will utilize songs written with these lyrics. Most songs share an overriding characteristic, in which every last word of a phrase is rhymed.

The following is an example from the song "Impression" (印象) by Samuel Hui. The last word of every phrase ends with '–oeng'.

Chinese original lyrics Lyrics Romanized in Jyutping
  1. 誰令我當晚舉止失常
  2. 難自禁望君你能見諒
  3. 但覺萬分緊張 皆因跟你遇上
  4. 誰令我突然充滿幻想
  1. seoi4 ling6 ngo5 dong1 maan5 geoi2 zi2 sat1 soeng4
  2. naan4 zi6 gam1 mong6 gwan1 nei5 nang4 gin3 loeng6
  3. daan6 gok3 maan6 fan1 gan2 zoeng1 gaai1 jan1 gan1 nei5 jyu6 soeng5
  4. seoi4 ling6 ngo5 dat6 jin4 cung1 mun5 waan6 soeng2

Covers of foreign compositions[edit]

Since the 1970s, Chinese cover versions of many Western music and Japanese traditional and pop compositions have been made. Historically the practice is done for business reasons of filling up albums and re-capitalizing on songs with a proven record. By definition hybrids are still considered Cantonese songs due to Cantonese lyrics, though the rights borrowed varies country to country. Songs like "Tomorrow sounds like today" (明日話今天) by Jenny Tseng, "Life to seek" (一生何求) by Danny Chan, "Snowing" (飄雪) by Priscilla Chan, and "Can't afford" (負擔不起) by Jade Kwan were originally composed outside of Hong Kong. Many critics disapprove of this practice of covering foreign music as lack of originality, and many albums promoted themselves as "cover-free".

Industry[edit]

Cantopop stars[edit]

Usually talent is secondary to the success of a Cantopop singer in Hong Kong. Most of the time, the image sells the albums, as it is one of the characteristic of mainstream music similarly mirrored in the United States and Japan. Publicity is vital to an idol's career, as one piece of news could make or break a future. Almost all modern Cantopop stars go into the movie business regardless of their ability to act; however the reverse may also occur with actors releasing albums and embarking on concerts regardless of singing talent. They immediately expand to the Mandarin market once their fame is established, hence pure Cantopop stars are almost nonexistent. Outside of the music sales, their success can also be gauged by their income. For example, according to some reports, Sammi Cheng earned HK$46M (around US$6M) from advertisement and merchandise endorsements in one month alone.[26] Many artists however begin with financial hardships. For example Yumiko Cheng owed her company thousands of dollars. Others include Elanne Kong crying in public with only HK$58 left.[27]

Labels[edit]

PolyGram, EMI, Sony, Warner and BMG were established in Hong Kong since the 1970s. Local record companies such as Crown Records (娛樂唱片), Wing Hang Records (永恆), Manchi Records (文志) and Capital Artists in the past have become successful local labels. As TV drama themes lost favor in the mid-1980s, market power soon drifted to the multi-national labels. Sales are tracked at the IFPI HK Annual Sales Chart.[28]

Criticism[edit]

Unoriginality[edit]

Cantopop has been criticised as being bland and unoriginal, since most stars tend to sing songs with similar topics with emphasis on "maudlin love ballads". Cantopop features many songs which use foreign and traditional tunes to which new Cantonese lyrics have been written, including many of the songs of the 1980s golden era. However this reflects the traditional practise and values of Chinese music in which only lyrics and lyricists are valued.

In the late 1990s, there was a shortage of creative talent due to the rising demand for Chinese songs; meanwhile, China and Taiwan had nurtured their own local industries posing serious competition to Cantopop. Renowned legendary lyricist Wong Jim wrote his 2003 thesis on the subject.[29]

However, there are still many indie musicians, with some such as Beyond (who emerged from the "band fever" of the 1960s) and Tat Ming Pair, whose songs reflect the darker, less-expressed side of society, achieving mainstream success.

Artists[edit]

Major awards[edit]

Award Year started Origin
IFPI Gold Disc Presentation 1977 Hong Kong
RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs Awards 1978 Hong Kong
Jade Solid Gold Top 10 Awards 1983 Hong Kong
CASH Golden Sail Awards 1987 Hong Kong
Ultimate Songs Awards 1988 Hong Kong
Metro Hit Music Awards 1994 Hong Kong

A record chart which includes all genres of C-pop is the Global Chinese Pop Chart.

Cantopop radio stations[edit]

Station Location Frequencies and Platform
CRHK Radio 2 Hong Kong 90.3 FM
RTHK Radio 2 Hong Kong 94.8 FM, 95.3 FM, 95.6 FM, 96.0 FM, 96.3 FM, 96.4 FM, 96.9 FM, and Internet live streaming (channel 2)
Chinese Radio New York New York 1480AM
WNWR Philadelphia when it is not doing the news and talkshows
KEST San Francisco 1450 AM
KMRB Los Angeles 1430 AM
KVTO San Francisco 1400 AM
CHMB Vancouver 1320 AM
Fairchild Radio Vancouver 1470 AM, 96.1 FM
Fairchild Radio Toronto 1430 AM, 88.9 FM
Fairchild Radio Calgary 94.7 FM
Music FM Radio Guangdong Guangdong 93.9 FM, 99.3 FM and internet stream media
SYN FM Melbourne 90.7 FM - Cantopop show as part of Asian Pop Night.
2AC 澳洲華人電台 Sydney (proprietary receivers)
2CR Sydney Melbourne (proprietary receivers)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joanna Ching-Yun Lee (1992). "Cantopop Songs on Emigration from Hong Kong". Yearbook for Traditional Music (International Council for Traditional Music) 24: 14–23. doi:10.2307/768468. 
  2. ^ Ulrich Beck, Natan Sznaider, Rainer Winter, ed. (2003). Global America?: The Cultural Consequences of Globalization. Liverpool University Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-0853239185. 
  3. ^ China Briefing Media. [2004] (2004) Business Guide to the Greater Pearl River Delta. China Briefing Media Ltd. ISBN 988-98673-1-1
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Broughton, Simon. Ellingham, Mark. Trillo, Richard. [2000] (2000) World Music: The Rough Guide. Rough Guides Publishing Company. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  5. ^ Wordie, Jason (2002). Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 962-209-563-1. 
  6. ^ Wiltshire, Trea. [First published 1987] (republished & reduced 2003). Old Hong Kong - Volume One. Central, Hong Kong: Text Form Asia books Ltd. ISBN Volume One 962-7283-59-2
  7. ^ HKVPradio. "HKVPradio." Roman Tam, the Godfather of Cantopop. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  8. ^ Tony Mitchell. "Tian Ci – Faye Wong and English Songs in the Cantopop and Mandapop Repertoire". Local Noise. 
  9. ^ Xinhuanet.com. "Xinhuanet.com." 四大天王. Retrieved on 2010-12-27.
  10. ^ 163.com. "163.com." 四大天王. Retrieved on 2010-12-27.
  11. ^ "Action Plan to Raise Language Standards in Hong Kong", Standing Committee on Language Education and Research. Retrieved on 2007-02-25.
  12. ^ Donald, Stephanie. Keane, Michael. Hong, Yin. [2002] (2002). Media in China: Consumption, Content and Crisis. Routledge Mass media policy. ISBN 0-7007-1614-9. pg 113
  13. ^ 星星同學會 episode 3
  14. ^ "Celebrity Sex Scandal". CNN. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  15. ^ "Sex scandal rocks Hong Kong". Msnbc. 2008-02-14. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  16. ^ Watts, Jonathan (2008-02-13). "China riveted by stolen sex photos of Hong Kong stars". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  17. ^ Clara Mak (5 July 2008). "Twins will reunite, says Choi". South China Morning Post. 
  18. ^ Orientaldaily.on.cc. "Orientaldaily.on.cc." 側田曹格肉搏街頭. Retrieved on 2010-01-02.
  19. ^ Nickkita Lau (4 March 2009). "Pot idols on Tokyo rap". The Standard (Hong Kong). Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  20. ^ Patsy Moy, Drug rap Wei Si in Tokyo jail as Kwan flies home, The Standard, 30 March 2009
  21. ^ "Prison relief as Wei Si admits heroin possession". The Standard. 24 April 2009. 
  22. ^ "HK singer returns after 2-month detention". Asia One News. 28 Apr 2009. 
  23. ^ "衛詩藏海洛英被日本法院判入獄兩年緩刑三年". HK ATV. 24 Apr 2009. 
  24. ^ Yiu-Wai Chu (2013). Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China. State University of New York Press. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-1438446455. 
  25. ^ Yiu-Wai Chu (2013). Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China. State University of New York Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-1438446455. 
  26. ^ Anhui news.com. "Anhui news.com." 是星就不愁沒錢 鄭秀文一個月賺1022萬. Retrieved on 2010-01-02.
  27. ^ Yahoo.com. "Yahoo.com." 鄭希怡:江若琳得$58不慘. Retrieved on 2010-01-03.
  28. ^ IFPI HK Annual Sales Chart. "IFPIHK." International Federation of Phonographic Industry. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  29. ^ Wong, James. The rise and decline of Cantopop : a study of Hong Kong popular music (1949-1997)/粵語流行曲的發展與興衰 : 香港流行音樂研究 (1949-1997)

External links[edit]