Embracing a world of variety
By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-25 07:19

Embracing a world of variety

A lot of Angela Chang fans were upset by my June 11 column, in which I wrongly attributed the song Invisible Wings to Zhang Liangying, 25, a Sichuan singer who rose to stardom three years ago on the Chinese version of American Idol.

In fact, as several emails have informed me, Invisible Wings was made popular by Chang, 27, a popular singer in Taiwan. It was the theme for a TV drama series, released in 2006, in which Chang played the protagonist, who had to grapple with the fact that the man she loved had killed her twin sister. Later, Chang included the song on one of her albums.

I'm afraid I'm a victim of the "generation gap". I have been out of touch with pop culture for so long that I confused Zhang Liangying, whose fans include some of my young colleagues, with Angela Chang, whose fans are mostly teenage girls.

Of course, popular culture is the province of the young, and pop music in particular is adored by teenagers. The age barrier is daunting. My young colleagues sometimes talk about their favorite songs, but those born in the 1970s barely recognize the songs favored by those born in the 1980s.

People a few years older than I enjoyed the exotic but melodious songs from the former Soviet Union. We still hear those tunes from time to time, as groups of retirees sing them in parks in Beijing.

I thought I might hear some of those songs last week, when I accompanied President Hu Jintao to Yekaterinburg and Moscow. I did hear some popular music on the bus, but it was more like rock than the tunes we used to hear.

Actually, I barely remember those old songs from the Soviet Union. I grew up humming a lot of songs in praise of the heroism of the founders of New China, most of them from films made in the 1960s. Later, during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1977), I learned to sing a lot of marching s ongs with revolutionary slogans.

Then popular music moved on to romantic tunes like those of Teresa Teng from Taiwan. I had hardly become familiar with these, however, when I began to tune my ears to American songs like Top Of the World by the Carpenters and Country Road by John Denver.

Pop music on the Chinese mainland began to flourish in the 1980s, expressing a whole range of emotions seldom mentioned in the revolutionary songs of the "cultural revolution" years. Progressive artists like Cui Jian ventured even further into rock and other avant - garde forms.

Embracing a world of variety

In the 1990s, the artists who attracted young listeners were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, including such superstars as Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung.

Once it was possible to classify popular music and culture by decade or country of origin. Now, that is all but impossible. Film stars from Japan, South Korea and China frequently work together, while songs, especially Chinese songs, compete for market share across Asia.

The world of popular culture has become both more global and more diversified. No single star or band or style of music can dominate the way the Beatles once did in the West or the songs of the former Soviet Union did in China.

You never know what you'll hear. My adviser from Stanford University once told me she was surprised to hear American rock music when walking the streets of Italy, the home of classical opera. But last week when I visited Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, and Zagreb, capital of Croatia, the music I heard coming out of bars or coffee shops sounded more local than anything else.

The relentless evolution of pop music has led to the success of such stars as Angela Chang and Zhang Liangying. I'm sorry to say it also explains my ignorance.

E-mail: lixing@chinadaily.com.cn