Sounding the Bromance

The Chopstick Brothers’ ‘Little Apple’ Music Video, Genre, Gender and the Search for Meaning in Chinese Popular Music


  • Jonathan P. J. Stock University College Cork



Chinese popular music, gender, genre, music video


This article analyses the music video of ‘Little Apple’ by Wang Taili and Xiao Yang, also known as the Chopstick Brothers, one of China’s most successful productions in 2014, and one that exemplifies certain emerging trends in Chinese popular music more generally. The music video draws on K-pop models but also on Western inspirations (biblical, historical and contemporary) and has proven hard to reduce to a single, definitive narrative or interpretation. The analysis proceeds by introducing the song and its video, in the context of the Chopstick Brothers’ wider work. Its musical structure is presented, leading to questions as to its particular retro aesthetic. This leads to a study of the emergent genre of shenqu (divine song), which is based on notions of virality, epic craziness and the earworm effect, and to which ‘Little Apple’ contributes. The final sections of the article look at the production of gendered positions within the music video— noting that it is a love song sung by one man to another—and examine the public square dance setting where this song has been so widely picked up. Finally, I suggest why it may be that ‘Little Apple’ particularly can open out a space temporarily in which participants can experience a warm sense of human collaboration.

Author Biography

Jonathan P. J. Stock, University College Cork

Jonathan P. J. Stock is Professor and Head of Music at University College Cork. A former chair of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, he is currently co-editor of Ethnomusicology Forum and an Executive Board Member of the International Council for Traditional Music. He is author of two books on music in China and a textbook on world music, as well as articles in these subject areas and English traditional music, music analysis and fieldwork methods. His next book analyses the place of music among the everyday lives of the Bunun indigenous people in Taiwan.


Beaman, C. Philip and Tim I. Williams. 2010. “Earworms (Stuck Song Syndrome): Towards a Natural History of Intrusive Thoughts”. British Journal of Psychology 101/4: 637–53.

Berlant, Lauren. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Blacking, John. 1973. How Musical is Man? Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Connor Martin, Katherine. 2013. “The History of ‘Bro’”. (accessed 25 June 2016).

Cook, Nicholas. 1993. Beethoven Symphony No. 9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dyer, Richard. 1979. “In Defence of Disco”. Gay Left 8: 20–23.

Genette, Gérard. 1997. Paratexts: The Thresholds of Interpretation, translated by Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Seuils. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1987.]

Gray, Jonathan. 2010. Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press.

Kellaris, James J. 2001. “Identifying Properties of Tunes that Get Stuck in Your Head: Toward a Theory of Cognitive Itch”. Proceedings of the Society for Consumer Psychology Winter 2001 Conference, 66–67. Scottsdale, AZ: American Psychological Society.

Li Guangming. 2001. “Onomatopoeia and Beyond: A Study of the Luogu Jing of Beijing Opera”. PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Mittler, Barbara. 2012. A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center.

Moskowitz, Marc. L. 2010. Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow: Chinese Popular Music and its Cultural Connotations. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Sargent, Diana. 2013. “American Masculinity and Homosocial Behavior in the Bromance Era”. MA thesis, Georgia State University.

Thompson, John. n.d.. “Zhong Ziqi, Qin Shi #39”, (accessed 2 November 2016).

Williamson, Victoria J., Lassi A. Liikkanen, Kelly Jakubowski and Lauren Stewart. 2014. “Sticky Tunes: How Do People React to Involuntary Musical Imagery?” Plos One 9/1: 1–9.

Wolf, Margery. 1985. Revolution Postponed: Women in Contemporary China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Xu Lanjun. 2016. “The Lure of Sadness: The Fever of Yueju and The Butterfly Lovers in the Early PRC”. Asian Theatre Journal 33/1: 104–29.



How to Cite

Stock, J. P. J. (2017). Sounding the Bromance: The Chopstick Brothers’ ‘Little Apple’ Music Video, Genre, Gender and the Search for Meaning in Chinese Popular Music. Journal of World Popular Music, 3(2), 167–196.



Asian Popular Music