With a whopping 1.35 billion people, China’s current population constitutes approximately 20% of the world’s overall population. This fact along with the country’s skyrocketing middle class is developing China as a huge consumer market for luxuries like entertainment. But what about their production in terms of arts like music? A market this large must mean that they are pioneering lots of global pop trends, too, right? When it comes to music China does indeed produce a lot of work, but young Chinese listeners just can’t seem to resist the catchy tunes being pumped out of the US music industry.
Pop, pop, & more pop!
The popular music app, Shazam, has a “China Top 100” (https://www.shazam.com/charts/top-100/china) list that shows China’s most frequently looked up songs in the past few weeks – and it will surprise you how similar these charts look to US Top 50 pop radio playlists and probably your favorite playlist, too. Familiar US radio names like The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna make up vast majority of this list. Although many Chinese do not speak English fluently, many can also sing you an entire English pop song with ease. More pop-like hip-hop and R&B is also quickly gaining momentum and finding its way to the ears of millions of Chinese youths, as can be seen with The Weeknd’s recent popularity in China.
But you can’t overlook Chinese homegrown pop music, it is extremely popular also. The genre of Chinese pop is jam packed with obvious influences from Western pop, as well as Korean and Japanese K-POP.
In order to combat pirated CD printing and downloading issues, the Chinese music industry actually jumped onboard the concept of music streaming long before the US did, such as QQ Music, Kuguo, Kuwo, and Baidu’s Ting. Google in China actually launched a licensed, high-resolution music downloading platform in 2009 that was swiftly shut down in 2012. The service did not gain enough popularity, which can largely be attributed to Google not being able to compete with Baidu, China’s extremely popular search engine, and pirating music.
Genre Limitations in Domestic Music
If you had to categorize China’s popular music into two general groups, those would most certainly be: national anthems and pop songs about love. Since the Cultural Revolution in particular, China has been all about anthems of national pride. From a non-Chinese perspective these songs can be (mis)interpreted at times as just strange or even arrogant, but I like to relate them to the classic American country songs that sing about a blind love for ‘Merica. Nationalist songs have their time and place in all cultures, they often just take different forms and some forms are more popular than others.
Government censorship and limitations undoubtedly play a large role in the fact that China’s popular domestic songs are either about love or China itself. There has been a surge of more angst-y hip-hop and rock, but these songs are often seen by government as a bit too outspoken and potentially threatening either politically or emotionally. Essentially, if the topic is not love or nationalism, a song can easily be seen by the government as not appropriate. For this reason, Chinese hip-hop in particular remains underground. Its development has remained steady nonetheless, so it will be interesting to see if it is able to break into the mainstream for future Chinese generations.
What’s the deal with Karaoke or “KTV”?
A must-do if you travel to China, whether on business or with a good guide or a Chinese friend, is KTV karaoke. In a nutshell, karaoke in China is a glamorous, private room with a TV, lots of Tsingtao beer, and unabashed belting of Chinese or international pop hits and classics. Karaoke is extremely popular all over the country and is a very common outing for a celebration or weekend night out.
Check out the following for more on China's hottest music trends: https://www.shazam.com/charts/top-100/china