From Vancouver to Beijing, Chinese pop music betrays infinite love sickness

Too many gushing Chinese love songs leave The SinoFile desperately searching for Faye Wong on YouTube.  She wasn't afraid of boredom, being misunderstood, or loss.

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Wong's song 烟 – yan, smoke – where she repeats that she “戒不掉” (jiebudiao – can't quit) is particularly true to me now, as I try to quit smoking. The song is beautiful, as is the music video. A kind of liberated, flamenco beat in this style is relatively unheard of on Chinese radios today.


Listening to these songs as I write this post, I realize that the project of good art -- including journalism -- is to accurately depict or speak to different elements of life. I don't know that I have or haven't experienced romance in my own, so I find it absurd that Chinese songsters expect 1.3 billion people to sympathize with the singular emotion they are peddling these days. 

I started listening to Faye Wong (王菲 – Wang Fei) in high school, at a time when I was also fascinated by Albert Camus' The Pest and, more generally, existentialism. Wong appeared to embody that philosophy in the persona she had invented for herself.

I bought some of her music videos in Chinatown and watched them repeatedly. At her concerts and in her music videos, she vacillated between rolling around on the floor like a madwoman to just standing there.

She often said in interviews, she sang for her own pleasure. She had no responsibility to meet expectations for performances. “People can buy tickets or not,” I once heard her say, perhaps a little self-satisfied with the fact that they inevitably would. 

She didn't talk too much at her recent post-hiatus concerts in between songs, she told CCTV, because she "had nothing to say" and doesn't like to "没话找话 (meihua zhaohua -- speak emptily without any reason)."

Many of Wong's songs got me through the harder times of adolescence and early adulthood – if only for the lyrics she sang and the wild freedom with which she seemed to sing them. Of course, famous composers like Lin Xi had penned much of her lyrics. That didn't seem to matter. To me, it was important that these words had been sung. By anyone.

In her own right, Wong had initiated my love affair with the Chinese language by exposing me to the capacity of Chinese poesy to so accurately convey the human experience.

When I first moved to Beijing to study Chinese, I wanted to meet Faye Wong. Various friends – allegedly with good 关系 (guanxi – connections) – said they knew and would introduce me to her, but that never happened.

I went to Beijing hot spots where she was commonly spotted: Xinguantiandi Shopping Center in downtown Beijing, where they generally shut down the entire outfit for her shopping excursions – no luck. Cashbox/ Qiangui Karaoke in Chaoyang District, where she was known to sing in a private room with her friends – no luck.

I didn't need to become friends with her or talk to her. I needed to witness someone who had made life more tolerable for me with her music, and she was no longer in concert at the time.

Eventually, Faye Wong returned to the stage after nearly a decade with a few concerts in Beijing and eventually Hong Kong, where I had been working, but by the time she arrived in the SAR, I had already returned to the United States.

Still, she has produced no new songs, and the mindless clamoring over love that has marred the Chinese music scene in her absence persists.

Faye Wong (below) in a photograph from Wikipedia. In 2000 she was recognized by Guinness World Records as the Best Selling Canto-Pop Female.

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