To craft modern (hi)story through music

Chinese rap and the main melody at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic


  • Gregoire Bienvenu Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3



Rap music, China, Covid-19, Main melody, Cultural nationalism


Almost two years after the first contaminations and while the origins of COVID-19 and its worldwide proliferation remain unclear, analysing the music released by Chinese rappers in 2020 offers a relevant angle to engage with the country’s narration of the present. In the People’s Republic of China, where any cultural production lies under a strict control of the state, rap music recently reached the mainstream, forcing its actors to quickly comply with the authorities’ directives and become representative of ‘positive energy’. After the lockdown of Wuhan on 23 January 2020, Chinese rappers were prompt to mobilize and share songs with COVID-19 as the central topic. In close alignment with the country’s rejuvenated cultural nationalism, rap music thus became a vigorous sounding box for the government’s propaganda during the crisis, enhancing the bravery of Chinese medical workers, the responsibility of the Chinese people and displaying images broadcast by national media in music videos. This article draws on the official concept of the ‘main melody’ and focuses on the texts and the illustrations of three songs retrieved from a corpus of rap songs uploaded on online platforms during the first month of the pandemic. It argues that in the first phase of the crisis, official and non-official collaborations between state actors and musicians contributed to the creation of a uniform historical narrative that bolstered the state’s propaganda in its fight against the virus. The article also points out that such cooperation has not only been beneficial for the state but has also boosted the visibility of the artists involved.

Author Biography

Gregoire Bienvenu, Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3

Grégoire Bienvenu is a doctoral student at the IRMECCEN of Sorbonne Nouvelle—Paris 3 and the ICS of Communication University of China (中国传媒大学). His PhD research mainly focuses on the intertwinement of music and ideology through the practice of Chinese rap music.


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How to Cite

Bienvenu, G. . (2021). To craft modern (hi)story through music: Chinese rap and the main melody at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Popular Music History, 14(1), 28–41.