Top of the Mandopops


by Ernie Diaz


You can run, but you can’t hide from pop music hits. Pity the expat who thinks he might find sanctuary in China. Even if you struggle to the summit of Huangshan, you’ll be sharing the view with a coed playing “Superstar” on her cell phone. Back in the city, tinny boutique speakers drive away customers lacking the sap-factor to appreciate “Take Me to Your Heart”. Parks, malls, and cake shops all conspire to keep you up-to-date with the hottest lukewarm Mandopop.

Truly more power to those of you who enjoy Chinese pop music. If you sing along to the music at the hair salon with your fifty-kilo stylist, the following five acts are old news to you. If you’ve never heard of them, the reasons to learn a bit more are threefold:

1. To put a face to a nuisance. Haven’t you ever wished you could just see the guy upstairs who gets his drill out every time you get a chance to relax at home?

2. To delight the secretarial pool at your office with an offhand reference. (If you’re over forty, this will also serve to diminish the pop star’s relevance, however incrementally.)

3. To score cross-cultural karma in the realization that humankind embraces mediocrity, as long as it’s commoditized and current.

Jay Chou

Western Analogue: Prince

A pop rarity who actually composes his own music and lyrics, Jay is the go-to guy for less inspired performers, penning hits such as Jolin Tsai’s “Prague Square”. Fusing not just Chinese and Western music, but also rock, pop, and R&B genres, he is capable of leaving the fluff at home and delving into subjects like war and urbanization. A four-time World Music Award winner, Jay turned his obligatory stab at acting into Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards, for his turn in Curse of the Golden Flower. All this in an androgynously pretty package, and its little wonder he’s Prince of this Mandopop generation.

Sample Hit: Blue and White Porcelain/ Qing Hua Ci

Sample Lyrics:

On white porcelain an outline of blue flowers,

with a stroke from dark to light.

Peonies depicted on the surface look like you

the moment you got made-up.

The slow-rising streams from burned incense

drift through the window, telling me your worries.

I’ve been painting on the rice paper, but from now on I give up.

Comparable Western Lyrics:

That little boy painted flowers
In neat rows of green and red
And when the teacher asked him why
This is what he said.. and he said

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen.

– Harry Chapin, Flowers are Red


Jolin Tsai

Western Analogue: Christina Aguilera

The last thing you’d expect underneath a classic slim-princess exterior is a brainiac, but that Ms Tsai is, with only one ugly memory of ranking below top three in her class. She forsook the books and landed her first contract at eighteen, after winning an MTV sing-off with “Greatest Love of All”. By 2006 her stardom, largely built on the appeal of a wholesome beauty singing love ballads, was fading. She switched from Sony to the EMI label and remade herself as a sexy, dance-oriented chanteuse. Those who caught her pre-Olympic concert at Beijing Worker’s Stadium got a show that included flying rings and pole dancing.

Sample Hit: Dancing Diva

Sample Lyrics:

Go around and jump with my eyes closed.

Lost in the hubbub,

can’t see whether you’re deeply attracted.

No matter if it’s winter or summer,

I never stop.

Time’s lost in a sandglass,

which I’ve worn down.

Comparable Western Lyrics:

Oh can’t you see me standing here,
I’ve got my back against the record machine
I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.
Oh can’t you see what I mean ?

Might as well jump. Jump !
Might as well jump.

– Van Halen, Jump

The Flowers/ Hua Er Yue Dui

Western Analogue: Blink-182

The flowers used to stir a soupcon of punk feel into their pop offerings, enough to seem edgy to those who didn’t know better. Success has come at the price of unbridled derision from the underground Beijing punk scene, where the Flowers got their start ten years ago. They console themselves with legions of groupies and the fact that they introduced punk, however watered down, to mainstream Chinese audiences. In their sixth album, the Flowers dispensed with distinguishing themselves as anything other than pop icons, serving up a sugary heap of upbeat dance-pop.

Sample Hit: Xi Shua Shua

Sample Lyrics:

Xi Shua Shua, Xi Shua Shua, Xi Shua Shua

Xi Shua Shua, Xi Shua Shua

Xi Shua Shua, Xi Shua Shua, Xi Shua Shua

Xi Shua Shua, Xi Shua Shua

Comparable Western Lyrics:

Doo dadoo dadoo

Doo doo doo doo

dadoo dadoo

Doo dadoo doooooo

– Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side


Western Analogue: Pussycat Dolls

“Blah blah ai ni, you are my superstar.” S.H.E. are the offenders who cooked up that diabolically catchy half-English hook. But don’t blame them – that’s like blaming the studio hacks for the cereal jingle stuck in your head for days at a time. S.H.E., a female trio sporting an acronym for their first names, were hand-picked and molded by Taiwanese corporate music interests for one reason only – profit. That they’ve delivered, with eleven hit albums, ticketing records, soundtracks, and Coke endorsements. Their saving individualistic grace is that, like the Pussycat Dolls, they rely more on their wild and goofy charisma to come across to fans, rather than the vacuous dancing model approach of similar girl groups.

Sample Hit: Don’t Wanna Grow Up/ Bu Xiang Zhang Da

Sample Lyrics:

I don’t don’t don’t wanna grow up.

There’re no flowers in the world then.

I don’t don’t don’t wanna grow up.

I’d rather be stupid and silly forever.

I don’t don’t don’t wanna grow up.

I’ll lose him then.

My beloved boy who also loves me

Has become different.

Comparable Western Lyrics:

I don’t wanna grow up;

I’m a Toys R Us kid.

They got the best for so much less

You’ll really flip your lid!

From bikes to trains to video games

It’s the biggest toy store there is!

I don’t wanna grow up ‘cause maybe if I did,

I wouldn’t be a Toys R Us kid.

-Toys R Us

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9 Responses to Top of the Mandopops

  1. Anonymous says:

    The star you talk about is no longer modern. Our China has much more international stars. These stars are all 4 years old. You foreigners never understand our china, even our music you cant understand. So sad you come to our country and all you do is criticize our great achievements. Even we have modern international stars but you foreigners just criticize, make them look stupid. But it is you look stupid, criticize out great stars, your foreign stars go crazy and cut off all hair. Because they have no traditional culture. So sad you are, go back to your own country.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey, i like Jay Chou, S.H.E. and Cyndi Wang. China has some absolutely great music. You have to spend the time and listen to it. China is a big country with a great amount of talent. Embrace the future boys…embrace the future…

  3. Ernie says:

    Point taken, Anonymous.Who are we to enjoy artists that play from the heart, on their own instruments? Androgyny, hip-hoppity dance moves – the young fry like it, so it must be superior. After all, what do we know about rebellion and nonconformity? We voted for Eisenhower!

  4. Ernie says:


  5. Anonymous says:

    WOW….so SUGOI

  6. Hey, i like Jay Chou, S.H.E. and Cyndi Wang.

  7. It all seems very unpretentious at least.

  8. For some reason this appeals to me.

  9. Ernie says:

    For some reason your lame break-up book doesn't appeal to me.

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