Article by Matt Taylor
Graphics by Allison Sun
Editor's Note: Following on from our 'Songs of Defiance' piece on LGBTIQ Mandopop, the recent Hong Kong protests caught our attention and made us think about the Cantopop canon in a new light. If 'Songs of Defiance' define the spirit of musical and societal interactions in Taiwan, 'Songs of Survival' truly represent Hong Kong's brand of fighting spirit.
The word ‘Cantopop’ is one that immediately brings to mind legends such as Sam Hui 許冠傑, Anita Mui 梅艳芳, and Jacky Cheung張學友. A symbol of Hong Kong’s reputation as the cultural powerhouse of the Chinese-speaking world in the 1980s; these artists and many more were the embodiment of a cultural and economic golden age with their soaring ballads, irresistible dance numbers, and elaborate over-the-top performances. By the 1990s however, the rise of China as a potential market and the impending handover of Hong Kong to the Beijing government seemed to have set the industry on a seemingly irreversible decline.
As such, it makes sense that contemporary iterations of Cantopop are also inherently political - an intrinsic barrier to the Mainland’s Mandarin-language culture homogenization efforts. In a fight to keep alive Hong Kong’s uniqueness and autonomy as a nation; people are clinging to Cantopop in a last-ditch survival effort to express their identity and be heard.
Especially given the recent protests surrounding a controversial extradition bill, Cantopop is emerging more and more as a critical mouthpiece for the people of Hong Kong. Here we look at the ways Hong Kongers are using the Cantopop canon to make their voices heard.
Author: Jocelle Koh
Graphic Design: Allison Sun
With an unmistakable perm and effortlessly jazzy vocals, 9m88 has been both a breath of fresh air and a dark horse on the Mandarin music scene ever since her ever-growing presence and laidback sound was featured on rapper Leo Wang’s song ‘Weekends With You’ in 2016. Note the use of the word ‘feature’ rather than ‘debut’ – for all the success that the fashion and musically-forward artist has garnered over the years (performing at Clockenflap; collaborating with contemporary greats such as Sodagreen’s Wu Qing Feng, OZI, Ma Nien-Hsien; appearing on Marie Claire, Vogue, the list goes on…) the singer-songwriter has yet to debut with a full body of work.
Seeing all the hints being dropped on her social medias though, we feel that a great deal of long-awaited original work might be coming our way very soon! Yet before it does, we wanted to unpack the phenomenon of 9m88 and her ascent to visibility through the tactic of collaboration.
Given the increasing saturation of the market and therefore need to stand out, defining success in a pop musical collaboration setting has also become even more stringent and multifaceted. Does the song capture a good mix of the artists’ respective sounds? Does it have potential to create visibility that will translate to new engaged audiences? Does the positioning of the artists fit together? Was the cost required to collaborate worth the visibility? How does one define their expectations for ‘visibility’? And so the list goes on and on and on… In short, executing collaborations is easy enough, but creating a successful and effective collaboration is no walk in the park
9m88: The Perfect Collaboration Partner
And yet, 9m88 seems to be the queen of this delicate balancing act of collaboration. In a chicken-and-egg cycle, her high-quality brand attracts the right kinds of partners, and through intimate collaboration she skilfully and painstakingly renegotiates the final product (music and visuals) to work very much in her favour. For stakeholders, her presence on a project is both lucrative and quality-approved; and on the creative side of things her indomitable uniqueness AND musical versatility make her the perfect collaboration partner.
So how exactly did 9m88 leverage the art of artist collaboration to navigate her way upstream in such a competitive and saturated industry? We break down several of her notable collaboration projects to date in an effort to crack the code.