Article by Matt Taylor
Cover Art by Allison Sun
Music, politics and protest in Taiwan are intrinsically linked. From the rumblings of Taiwanese identity in the campus folk music of the 1960s to the emotionally charged Island Sunrise 島嶼天光 written for the 2014 Sunflower Movement and even the long-running environmental conservation efforts instigated on the island, a rich and diverse musical history has always provided support; spreading the story of the underprivileged, and documenting their hopes and struggles.
Similarly, there is a wealth of music that has been produced to support LGBT people that for many years has bolstered the island's image as one that is progressive and supportive of same-sex love. The canon of music representing the Taiwanese LGBT movement is as diverse as those who create it; spanning genre, gender and sexual orientation.
On 24 November 2018 however, Taiwan citizens rallied together to support several referendums spearheaded by conservative Christian groups. Up to 75% of Taiwanese voters not only voted to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, but also expressed desire to roll-back LGBT education in schools.
The LGBT community has been reeling from the realisation that Taiwan is not the beacon of progressiveness that they thought it was. In light of this, how can we now view the previously mentioned musical canon which has bolstered this image both at home and abroad?
This article is not a commentary on the referendum results. Instead, we aim to take a look at the diverse collection of Taiwanese music which was created to support the LGBT movement and take a look at how these songs' meanings are re-framed or deepened in a changing social and political climate.
By Jocelle Koh & Matt Taylor
In an overwhelmingly positive and progressive move, Taiwan announced in February 2018 that it would be moving full speed towards a blanket ban on single-use plastic drinking straws, takeaway beverage cups, plastic bags and disposable utensils by 2030, one of the farthest reaching bans on plastic in the world. Originally promoted by the government since the early 1990s due to worries about diseases and cross-contamination, single use utensils and plastic bags soon became a huge problem, producing over 160,000 tonnes plastic waste annually. As a result, there have been consistent efforts by the government to become more environmentally conscious since 2000. Although this may seem an unwieldy task for residents outside Taiwan, locals have already had a culture of environmental friendliness going for years; something which has been reflected in their music scene in a big way.
And when we say ‘big’, we don’t mean a huge gaggle of artists releasing songs about loving the earth in one spurt because it was trendy before petering off to a dying trickle. We mean a consistent and encouraging history of artists within the Taiwanese independent and mainstream scenes who have expressed their concern at the state of the environment, and used their influence and visibility to keep the cause going. From Luo Ta-Yu in 1984 to Wang Leehom in 2007, and the aptly titled ‘Quit Plastic Poison’ by the Sheng Xiang band in 2016, here’s a crash course on how Taiwanese music’s authenticity and outspoken nature has lent itself perfectly to the island’s journey to greater environmental wellbeing.
Luo Ta-yu - Super Citizen 超級市民 (1984
It’s impossible to overstate how influential veteran singer Luo Ta-yu 羅大佑 has been on the development of popular Chinese language music. Since his initial contribution to the campus folk movement (校園民歌運動) of the 1970s, Luo has deservedly been credited with not only broadening the horizons of Chinese music sonically, but also setting a new model for lyricism in Mandarin.