The debasement of pop music

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The other night, I heard a professional singer recording for a music show. He was really good but I couldn't help but wonder if he was singing a song or singing a vocal exercise. The vocal range of the song was extreme with rapid movement between real voice and falsetto notes.

Popular music in Hong Kong has lost any sense of feel. In an effort to differentiate themselves, singers have moved to songs making heavy use of falsetto. First there was one singer, then another and then another. Even Jacky Cheung was persuaded to follow suit. The apparent opinion is that if you can't sing falsetto, then you're not a professional singer.

Listen to the Hong Kong pop charts today and you can't help but get the feeling that all the music came from the same computer program. It's monotonous and boring, and it's therefore no wonder that the singing program 名曲滿天星 on TVB Sunday nights m.c.'d by Miss Wong 汪明荃 is getting such high ratings. It's the only place in 'broadcast' town where you can hear real music sung by real singers.

Unfortunately, this is just one symptom of today's society of mass production, mass distribution and unjustly elevated corporate profits, and it's happening in all fields of life, not just music. People are being conditioned to accept lower quality product while thinking that it's better and sometimes even paying more for it.

What used to be solid wood tables is now cheap particle wood with thin laminate. What used to be metallic cups and bowls that lasted for years without wear and tear are now plastic cups and bowls that scratch, bend, melt, fade and may even indirectly cause the extinction of mankind via lower sperm counts caused by the man-made oestrogen used to make most of today's cheap plastics. Where we used to have a huge variety of tasty fruit and vegetables to choose from, we now; thanks to huge supermarket chain profiteering; only have access to a small variety of food which supposedly looks perfect but tastes like cardboard (except in Europe where they insist on only buying food that tastes good regardless of how it looks). Yet we are told that the standard of living is improving, and that we're better off than we've ever been before.

There's not much we can do about it, except perhaps to wherever possible refuse to buy product of lesser quality. Unfortunately, people in general are weak and easily moulded to do the bidding of the corporates so I have no idea where this will all end except to help the rich get richer while the poor continue to get poorer.

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26 Responses to “The debasement of pop music”
  1. Jenniva says:

    Hmm...What you said make sense. But i'm sure there are still some talented singers with good vocal out there. I thought Janice wei[Under leon lai] is pretty good, her voice.

  2. rachael says:

    falsetto is just another expression of range, but i think carrying emotion in a song is more important. having said that, i think eason chan can do both very well. or perhaps he is the culprit you choose not to name?

    if falsetto is rampant in hk, then at least they haven't gotten to the dreadful noodling in western r&b songs.

    i think people have laways been prepared to accept something lesser in quality if it's easier to access, but it takes real effort to look for things higher in quality but less well distributed. franchises are recognisable and familiar, with a standardised product. makes it all too easy.

    unfortunately we can only do so much ourselves in this regard with our choice of purchases (or sometimes, our choice not to consume at all).

  3. John says:

    it's interesting how popular music in the east and west differ. in the east, female voices that are more sweet, sharp and "chicken" voiced are popular (joey yung, miriam yeung, sammi cheng) whilst in comparison, the west prefers the more stronger female voices. and i think the same can be said for the males.

    this really hit me when i watched american and australian idols, where contestants who made it to say the final 4 had very similar sounding voices. listen to kelly clarkson and you will see what i mean. in hk, you won't find an artist that's doing well with a voice in that style. makes me wonder if someone like leo ku, eason chan or hacken lee would have a voice that's good enough for the idol shows.

  4. Arthur Heng says:

    Change is good

  5. sapphire says:

    >>He was really good but I couldn't help but wonder if he was singing a song or singing a vocal exercise.>>

    It’s very interesting to know who he was, because not too many singers with such superb performance nowadays. Could it be Mr. Warren Mok, a local tenor / popera singer? I know he appeared on 亞姐的 “名曲 “ lately. He’s truly a master-grade performer.

    We can’t deny that big chain supermarkets offer competitive pricing than those small private sectors. But at the same time they carried a lot of products with their own name and some middle-of-the-road brand names to limit our choices. (Just like “No frill” from Wellcome Supermarket in HK.) Their own brand name normally has a wide range of varieties from frozen poultry, cooking oil and even toilet papers, which dominated most of the shelves at eye-catching level. For instance, there are only several brand names of olive oil in local chain supermarkets. Surprisingly, I found almost 20 brand names of olive oil, which imported from Italy and Greece in a local mid-size Italian supermarket. (A private sector runs by an Italian family.)
    If you’re fussy about your choices, of course, you have to pay a little bit more for the unique products.

  6. MY says:

    You're right, Greg. Quality is sacrificed for quanity in almost everything these days, including employees. The place I work at decided to get rid of an old timer who still had 10 more years before retiring and decided to higher 6 cheaper with no experience replacements. After one year they still cannot catch up and produce the same quality and quantity of work that the old timer was able to do. Sadly management still has not figured out what went wrong...*sigh*

  7. Tonia says:

    只覺現在的流行曲是合20歲左右的年青人聽, 往往幾個月後連 fans 他們都唔會記得如何唱或歌詞內容...

  8. Marge says:

    Hong Kong's pop industry is that the "pop: popular" reflects the completely commercial nature of the music (if you can call it music) that's being made. The trend of the few singers who are appearing comeback concerts that sell out shows how the people are crying out for good music and good voices in the Hong Kong music industry. The industry here basically consists of very few songwriters and a whole-star-factory-load of pretend singers who make a very bad effort of their profession. I look forward to seeing the day when the most important selection criteria for pop singers is a beautiful voice, and not just a pretty face and a stick figure body. Dump the "twins"... Give me a Hong Kong "destiny's child" any day- real women who are beautiful and also have a voice that'll blow you away.

  9. 路人a says:

    妤認同你的想法,明明係''lower quality''但吾知點解d人會讚和接受.....可能佢地無去認識過d有水準的音樂同歌手,的確係香港可以話無一個係識唱歌,但唱片公司就好識包裝同搞卓頭,係咁的音樂文化下長大下,佢地根本就無想過乜係high quality 啦, 個個都話識得唱假音唱高音再加d誇張的感情就係識唱歌.......佢地有無想過首歌需吾需要咁去表達,d感情要如何才可表達歌曲的神x!!!係吾係都咁唱,搞郅首首歌都差吾多....

    有時都覺得好無奈,因為咁的風氣係香港越來越多,對d真係識音樂識唱歌的人來講同對於對聴歌有要求的朋友來講係件壞事!!

  10. firthette says:

    i totally agree with all the above comments....and thats why i have hardly listened to hong kong pop music lately.... the industry just lacks decent voices... its truly like a sweatshop.... half the new singers i hardly know..if not all the new singers... and 99% can't sing.... they just hope they can be as famous as the twins. its not about making music...its just about making money.... of this past half a year, i would say only 側田 can sing.... and you can see he is passionate about his music.

    my friend recommended me to a great parody song by 林海峰 Jan Lamb, 流行曲....very very funny

  11. 河國榮 says:

    林海峰 is a very smart guy. we saw his stand-up comedy show and it was great. he's one cluey chap.

  12. wen says:

    Greg, that was a very Orwellian-1984ish post to me :)

  13. 河國榮 says:

    Wen, my generation ;-) had to study 1984 in secondary school. in what ways do you think my post was 1984ish?

  14. wen says:

    I think this succinctly sums it up: "[y]et we are told that the standard of living is improving, and that we're better off than we've ever been before".

    in a sense, greg, I think it's true. Recently, it costed me to the same to buy new printer rather than get my 1.5 yr-old broken one.

    And what do you mean by your generation? You've barely aged... to take the words of Alan Tam, you look 25 every year. ;)

  15. CantoKid says:

    I agree 110% with what you said! HK Pop is total crap now.. Everyone copy each other, and only sell CD becuase their image is cute or good looking. Then they charge too high price for this crap. That is why people pirate music. It's only worth what the pirate sells it for. If the record company sold for the same price, everyone will buy the legal one.

  16. wei says:

    well...i would recommend u Hacken Lee's latest album (Concert Hall)where he collaborates with 4 top notch musicians in a live recording setting. It is a fairly decent attempt at a crossover between classical music and pop music, and the record company invested alot in ensuring that the sound quality is of high standards. It may not the best, but to me, its a good start for hk pop music, in terms of quality performance.

  17. Kli says:

    所以大家請買李克勤的新碟 - 中西樂真樂器crossover + 現場演奏/錄音,編曲和一般canto pop大為不同,很有趣。

    但真係有首歌大玩假音... 而且係麻麻地的假音。

  18. Jason says:

    I feel the same way about falsetto. When you listen to a song or a performance you would expecting a person to use their own natural talents without the help of any equipment to enhance their voices or to change the pitch of their voices. If you look at America these days there are a lot of singers that use these techniques in their songs.

    I don't think its just Hong Kong. I feel its the same in the United States as well. I grew up in an era where the popularity of different genres changes every few years. I remember when everyone listened and switched between dance, funk, rock, and metal. In order to stay popular singers have changed their genres. Look at Mariah Carey, and Britney Spears as examples of what I am saying.

  19. JanDoe says:

    I totally agree with you all. i was wondering how come Andy Lau is still a pop singer? Man! He's old, His songs were suck! He thinks he's cuite!
    HK: besides 側田, 林一峰 is good. Unfortunately, rarely people like Folk song nowadays. He doesn't come from a BIG company.
    US & other countries: I prefer;Beyonce Knowles,who is hot and have very good voice MARY J. BLIGE, Crai David, Josh Groban, Mario Frangoulis, James Blunt, Ken Hirai平井堅. These people can sing really.

  20. Alfred Wong says:

    For me I am quite fond of the songs by 關正傑 and 葉振棠。And I am 19 (gosh). Or classical music and others...

    The impression of modern canton-pop to me, is that they are without humanity... so un-human, so fake, so commercial.

    By the way, I believe one can still get good stuff aside from those mass produced rubbish. Just need to know the way tho.

  21. Jack says:

    Well, Alfred, if you have to blame the 'down fall' of Cantopop, you should have blamed it on the audiance... Producers are just following the rules of the number's game. Who are the ones that sells, they will produce more and more of the same sh*t again and again. It's true, it's commercial, but c'est la vie.

    It is quite simple, first they will just clone the image with some successful singers... Haven't you heard of all those '2nd Eason Chan', 'Copycat Sammi Cheng' and 'Clones of Jacky Cheung'...etc? Then get them a song with catchy lyric that easy to sing along at karaokes. Second song will be something a bit more difficult in order to show off their 'talent' - falsetto note is a catch because it relatively easier to learn and not a lot of general public and do that. That pattern goes on and on and here you come - a new Super Star! Please take all nowadays 'Divas' as excemple - Joey Yung, Mirame Yeung, Sammi Cheng... etc.

    And if you just change the ratio of 'Karaoke songs' to 'difficult songs' a bit, then you can get yourself a 'Teen idol' or a 'Serious singer'. Perfect example for each category is Nicolar Tse and Justin respectively.

    As someone suggests earlier on that the 'perfect voice' in Cantopop is those with 'Sweet, tender and angelic' voice, so even the those with a strong voice have to 'weaken' the voice to follow the trends.

    Take Janice Vidal for example - knowing her personally, I know that she has such a strong and deep voice (I think it's from her Filepino heritage) but when I listent to her CD - it is just different! Thin, weak and high pitch. She said that it's what the producer advise because that is what the audiences like to listen. They said they don't need another Maria Cadero at the moment. They said that Janice might have the chance to do what she likes WHEN she become famous, but for the first few CDs, she have to play it safe. I sincerely hope that she can make it to the top, then, we really might have a chance to experience some good music.

  22. Jack says:

    Oh, forgot to share my music preference as everyone here did:

    I just love pop music! I find heavy metal is too noisy, hip-pop /rap is too confusing, Dance /tehno is only good for drugs and classical is just too classic for me. And pop is just easy-going, relaxing and you don't need to thing too much! Of all the varieties of pop I will just list a few:

    Cantopop: Hacken Lee and Leo Koo
    I am your everyday Joe in Cantopop department. I do like sweet and tender voice (maybe because the tone of Cantonese is rough enough)

    Japanese pop: Mr. Children
    Again, very tacky choice, just because the melody is easy to remember and a lot of their songs are the title of TV series.

    International pop: Enrique Iglesias, Savage Garden (Darren Hayes), Ricky Martin, Will Young, Barratt Waugh and Michael Learns To Rock
    They all have a sexy voice and you just want to dance along with their songs, be it up-beat or ballet.

    Popera: Alessendro Safina, Josh Groban, Mario Frangoulis and Il Divo
    That's what I call angelic yet powerful voice, very comforting.

    Okay, I admitt that I only picked the pretty faces, but isn't that one of the essential element of Pop culture?

  23. Feeman says:

    I fully agree that HK POP has lost all sense of feel. Back in the mid-ninties, the music was soulful with strong melodies sung by *actual* singers. Nowdays, it seems like anybody who acts can sing. Everything sounds the same, it's pretty sad.

    By the way, this is very interesting how when I queried for "different as night and day tvb" on Google, your site appeared! I think this is the first time I've ever seen a celebrity blog. And yes, your Cantonese is extremely proficient, always impressed whenever I see you on one of the shows =)

  24. Ning says:

    Hi, I am trying to invite Ms. Janice Vidal for a Charity Ball at Conrad Hotel on June 10 or June 17 for the Philippine Association of Hong Kong. Yearly, we have such event and last June 2005, we had Ms. Teresa Carpio as guest. If you could possibly help me email the details of her agent who we could contact for such event. Thanks!

  25. PO BONG says:

    As a Hong Konger in Australia now, I miss the good old days of Hong Kong especially in the days of the Four Kings of HK POP Music in the 90's. But most of the singers in Hong Kong nowadays are really embrassing. At one point from 2003-05, I did like Twins, but I gave up on them becasue the two just have no improvements at all and cheating fans money and heart by cliaming that they will break up when having a concert. (The 2004 and 06 one) I now support the new singers in 05 like Justin, Wei Lan and even the best singer from cookies kary. I think that one of the reasons for the debasement of HK POP Music is Twins company EEG and it's Villian boss Mr Yeung, why don't mention taht in your article? ( Although the ICAC tried to nail him in 2003 on Pop Music corruption but failed) Lastly I wish you a good year and I hope you can write an article on the bad effects of Twins on HK Music and it's image. ( Twins went to Australia neraly a year ago to held a concert but wasn't well regarded by Australians)

  26. Colly Tsui says:

    Why don't you not mention anything about Lesile Cheung,I known you are his fans and Lesile cheung's fans want to known more about his thing in the past and they also want to see any picture you taken with Lesile Cheung.