In 1993, Wong Ka Kui (“KK”), the late lead singer of the HK rock band “Beyond”, said in an interview that “there was only entertainment circle in HK, no music scene”. This statement was commonly understood to mean:
- The music industry of HK operates along the logic of pure entertainment business, with commercial return rather than the quality of music being the primary concern of the producers of musical products and artistes.
- Singers are not purely musical performers, but also (and mainly) entertainers who are not to focus on perfecting musical performance, but on entertaining audience by, for instance, attending non-music related programs and events.
- Singers have no other belief of their own than that of pursuing commercial success.
- Pop songs are standardized with similar melody, structure and theme in order to appeal to the mass for the sole purpose of commercial return. Widening the style of music and themes are never the consideration of the producers of these songs.
In fact, this statement was recently brought to life again by the incident where a young local rock band “Rubberband” (“RB”) was found to feature in a concert called “Hong Kong Dome Festival”. RB has a repertoire of socially conscious worksand is quite widely regarded as “pro-democratic” or “anti-establishment”. However, the said concert was closely associated with the series of programs celebrating the 16th anniversary of HK’s handover to China and was suspected to be organized for the purpose of lowering the number of young participants of the “Grand March”which was held on the same date. RB’s involvement in the said concert was severely criticized for contradicting their own belief (and image) and placing monetary return on higher priority over ideology, echoing interpretation no.3 above of KK’s statement. Nevertheless, there was another incident where female artist Gigi Leung withdrew herself from a performance to be held in Malaysia in April 2013 as an apparent gesture of boycotting the Malaysian government which organized the concert and which was suspected to be involved in election-related corruption. She was then widely hailed as “politically sensitive and correct” especially in the internet community.
As far as pop songs are concerned, the late Dr. James Wong (who was a popular and influential HK lyricist) observed inter alia that with the emergence of karaoke in the 90s, melody of pop songs were reduced from an interval of 12 notes to 10 notes for the purpose of suiting the singing ability of the karaoke customers. The songs became so homogenous and displayed a complete lack of creativity in the market. The theme of the songs was so standardized as to confine itself to “lovers’ break-up”. Even genuine “heart-melting” love songs have extinguished. All these seem to confirm interpretation no.4 above of the KK’s statement. Nonetheless, local academic Chu who specializes in pop lyrics studies maintains that while the post-1997 music market shrank, the variety and quality of lyrics alone widened and improved in the past decade.
How true then is KK’s statement today in light of the conflicting observations on the artistes’ behavior and pop songs? Are there real difference between the sites of “entertainment circle” and “music scene” in HK? Can they actually be separated? The scale of conducting a thorough research touching on every aspect of the HK music industry would be massive. Hence in this paper, I would endeavor only to articulate the processes of production, consumption and regulation surrounding a pop song in the 90s and nowadays with a view to shed some light on the current validity of KK’s “enshrined” statement.
CHOW, Pok-yin Adrian (2014). How true is the famous Hong Kong popular saying “There is only entertainment circle in HK, no music scene” today? An articulation of the production, consumption and regulations of a HK pop song. Cultural Studies@Lingnan, 38. Retrieved from http://commons.ln.edu.hk/mcsln/vol38/iss1/6/