By Jennie Wang
As Americans, most of the music played on our stereos is born and bred either in the United States or the United Kingdom. Songs in a foreign language rarely reach our radio stations, and so we often have little knowledge of the current state of popular music across the globe. A superficial consideration of Chinese music may conjure up images of women in bright red qipaos singing the nasal tunes of Peking opera, or maybe the violin-like erhu present in the Kung Fu Panda soundtrack. While these are a part of Chinese music, they reflect only one side of the coin when, on the other side, a whole new wave of modern music has washed over the post-Communist Revolution country.
Wang Feng (汪峰) has been a rock artist of great fame and renown in China since the late ’90s. Inspired by staple rock musicians like Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd, his solo albums often roam through the nature of life in the form of strong and undeniably catchy melodies fleshed out with electric guitar, drums and piano–a typical rock band ensemble. His music is smoothed down in a more soft rock style, but his voice carries all the passion and intensity
One of his most prominent songs is “Blooming Life” (怒放的生命), which became embedded in the minds of millions of Chinese people in 2005. Starting off with a typical strummed guitar pattern, the song quickly launches into a driving chorus with revving electric guitars and the thumping of a bass drum. Wang Feng’s music doesn’t mess around; he drives straight to the point and, with a powerful delivery, announces: “I want a blooming life / Just like flying in the vast sky.” The melody is as iconic as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and as easy to sing along with as AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” In short, it’s the kind of chorus that inspires a lot of bad lip-syncing and people staring at you, and it is very difficult to get out of your head. If there is ever a memorable Chinese song to get stuck in your head, it might as well be this one.
Wang Feng’s 2007 song “Beijing Beijing” (北京北京) describes life in Beijing the same way one might talk about New York or any culturally significant city. His lyrics explore life, death, and everyone in between on the streets of Beijing. A slower, quieter accompaniment helps set a somber mood. Clean licks from an electric guitar accompanied by a mellow, almost synth-like keyboard and a quieter vocal part evoke a similar feel to Coldplay in its earlier albums–a soft alternative rock. Here, he sings about an entire lifespan passing in one city, saying, “Here I’ve laughed / Here I’ve cried / Here I’ll live / And here I’ll die / Beijing / Beijing.” Just as Wang Feng can inspire a feeling of ambition and excited passion, he can also evoke wistfulness and sorrow.
Wang Feng isn’t the first rockstar to hail from China, but he’s a big character in modern Chinese culture that the West would do well to learn about, even a little. So, consider this sound advice: go to Youtube or any music-streaming app and take a listen to some of his songs. You’ll find that Chinese music may not be a world away after all.