To craft modern (hi)story through music

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

Authors

  • Gregoire Bienvenu Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.19821

Keywords:

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

Abstract

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.

References

Amar, N. 2018. ‘Do you Freestyle? The Roots of Censorship in Chinese Hip-Hop’. China Perspectives 18/1-2: 113–19. https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.7888

Baling Fashion Original. 2020. (Living Dead’s Chengdu Xiaoli Pissy Real Name Profile. Push Patriotism Development to the End). 22 August. https://www.520730.com/yulequan/zongyi/691937.html (accessed 17 March 2021).

Baranovitch, N. 2003. China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender and Politics, 1978–1997. Berkeley: University of California Press.

BBC News 2020a. ‘China COVID-19: How State Media and Censorship Took on Coronavirus’. 29 December. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55355401 (accessed 15 March 2021).

BBC News. 2020b. ‘Time-lapse Shows Wuhan Hospital “Built in 10 Days”’. 2 March. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-china-51348299 (accessed 12 February 2020).

Booth, W., K. Adam and P. Rolfe. 2020. ‘In Fight Against Coronavirus, the World Gives Medical Heroes a Standing Ovation’. The Washington Post, 26 March. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/clap-for-carers/2020/03/26/3d05eb9c-6f66-11ea-a156-0048b62cdb51_story.html (accessed 15 March 2021).

CGTN. 2020. ‘Stranger Leaves 500 Face Masks for Police Station in East China’. 28 January. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwp0ZHhzutE (accessed 29 January 2020).

Chen, Z., and C. Y. Wang. 2020. ‘The Discipline of Happiness: The Foucauldian Use of the “Positive Energy” Discourse in China’s Ideological Works’. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 48/2: 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1868102619899409.

Davis, K. 2018. ‘Diss-missed: China’s Top Takedown Tracks of 2018’. Sixth Tone, 30 December. https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1003405/diss-missed-chinas-top-takedown-tracks-of-2018 (accessed 5 January 2019).

De Kloet, J. 2005. ‘Cultural Synchronization—Hip Hop with Chinese Characteristics?’ Communication for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, Rome, 25–29 July. http://dx.doi.org/10.24989/mj.v30i2-3.294. https://doi.org/10.24989/mj.v30i2-3.294

The Economist. 2020. ‘Will the Wuhan Virus Become a Pandemic?’ 1 February. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/01/30/will-the-wuhan-virus-become-a-pandemic (accessed 3 February 2020).

Fan S. 2017. ‘Meet CD Rev: China’s “Reddest” Rap Crew’. RADII, 6 December. https://radiichina.com/meet-cd-rev-chinas-reddest-rap-crew/ (accessed 15 May 2018).

Fan, S. 2020a. ‘Chinese Rap Wrap: Hip Hop Reacts to the Coronavirus’. RADII, 4 February. https://radiichina.com/chinese-rap-coronavirus-wild-wolf-disco/ (accessed 5 February 2020).

Fan, S. 2020b. ‘Chinese Rap Wrap: Higher Brother’s Masiwei Drops Loved Up Solo Album’. RADII, 5 March. https://radiichina.com/chinese-rap-masiwei-prince-charming/ (accessed 7 March 2020).

Flew, T., M. Ryan and C. Su. 2019. ‘Culture, Communication and Hybridity: The Case of The Rap of China’. Journal of Multicultural Discourses 14/2: 93–106. https://doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2019.1621322

Fung, A. 2006. ‘“Think Globally, Act Locally”: China’s Rendezvous with MTV’. Global Media and Communication 2/1: 71–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/1742766506061818

Fung, A. 2007. ‘Western Style, Chinese Pop: Jay Chou’s Rap and Hip-Hop in China’. Asian Music 39/1: 69–80. https://doi.org/10.1353/amu.2007.0047

Gao, Z. 2015. ‘When Nationalism Goes to the Market: The Case of Chinese Patriotic Songs’. Journal of Macromarketing 35/4: 473–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276146715573079

Gow, J. 1994. ‘Political Themes in Popular Music Videos: MTV’s “Top 200, Ever”’. Popular Music and Society 18/4: 77–89.

HIPHOP (Shuochang Hipa). 2020. (Heroes in white clothes, this song hopes you can come back safely). 6 February. https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/CUyUGIHFIb3wZoyTvUG6Gw (accessed 7 February 2020).

Ho, W.-C. 2006. ‘Social Change and Nationalism in China’s Popular Songs’. Social History 31/4: 435–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/03071020600944876

Ho, W.-C. 2018. Culture, Music Education, and the Chinese Dream in Mainland China. Singapore: Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-7533-9

Ho, W.-C., and W.-W. Law. 2012. ‘The Cultural Politics of Introducing Popular Music into China’s Music Education’. Popular Music and Society 35/3: 399–425. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2011.567916

Jiang, A. 2020. ‘China’s Traditional Spring Festival TV Gala Chases Younger Viewers with “Rap of China” Crossover’. RADII, 16 January. https://radiichina.com/lay-zhang-wild-wolf-disco-spring-festival-gala/ (accessed 18 January 2020).

Lams, L. 2018. ‘Examining Strategic Narratives in Chinese Official Discourse under Xi Jinping’. Journal of Chinese Political Science 23: 387–411. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-018-9529-8

Lee, G. 1996. Troubadours, Trumpeters, Troubled Makers: Lyricism, Nationalism, and Hybridity in China and Its Others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Li, J. 2020. ‘China is Being Accused of Mistreating Coronavirus Nurses for Propaganda’. Quartz, 18 February. https://qz.com/1804040/chinas-coverage-of-coronavirus-nurses-provokes-backlash/ (accessed 18 March 2021).

Li, Y. 2019. ‘Rising Creativity and the Enduring Main Melody: Trends in China’s 2019 Film Market’. The Asia Dialogue, 16 December. https://theasiadialogue.com/2019/12/16/rising-creativity-and-the-enduring-main-melody-trends-in-chinas-2019-film-market/

(accessed 20 March 2021).

Liu, J. 2014. ‘Alternative Voices and Local Youth Identity in Chinese Local-Language Rap Music’. East Asia Culture Critique 22/1: 263–92. https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2383840

Liu, Y.-L. 2019. ‘Why Chinese Rappers Don’t Fight the Power’. BBC Music, 6 November. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20191106-why-chinese-rappers-dont-fight-the-power (accessed 7 December 2019).

Liu, Z. 2019. ‘Rapper GAI, Style and Hegemony in China: Examining a Transformation from Jianghu Liu to Xinhua Liu’. International Communication Research Journal 54/2: 2–16.

Luo, M., and W. Ming. 2020. ‘From Underground to Mainstream and Then What? Empowerment and Censorship in China’s Hip-hop Music’. Critical Arts 34/6: 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/02560046.2020.1830141

Ma, W. 2014. ‘Chinese Main Melody TV Drama: Hollywoodization and Ideological Persuasion’. Television & New Media 15/6: 523–37. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476412471436

Quackenbush, C., and A. Chen. 2018. ‘“Tasteless, Vulgar and Obscene”: China Just Banned Hip-Hop Culture and Tattoos from Television’. Time, 22 January. https://time.com/5112061/china-hip-hop-ban-tattoos-television/ (accessed 20 May 2019).

Steen, A. 2013. ‘China Pop Love, Patriotism and the State in China’s Music Sphere’. Temp—Tiddskrift for Historie 3/6: 115–38. https://tidsskrift.dk/temp/article/view/24371

Strachan, R. 2004. ‘Editor’s Introduction’. Popular Music History 1/1: 5–8. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v1i1.5

Sullivan, J., and Y. Zhao. 2019. ‘Rappers as Knights-Errant: Classic Allusions in the Mainstreaming of Chinese Rap’. Popular Music and Society 44/3: 274–91. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1704476

Wang, A. X. 2015. ‘China’s Government has a Bizarre Official Rap Song, Featuring President Xi Jinping’. Quartz, 31 December. https://qz.com/584095/chinas-government-has-an-official-bizarre-rap-song-featuring-president-xi-jinping/ (accessed 8 March 2021).

Wang, Q. 2013. ‘Red Songs and the Main Melody: Cultural Nationalism and Political Propaganda in Chinese Popular Music’. Perfect Beat 13/2: 127–46. https://doi.org/10.1558/prbt.v13i2.127

Wang, X. 2012. ‘“I am not a qualified dialect rapper”: Constructing Hip-hop Authenticity in China’. Sociolinguistic Studies 6/2: 333–72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/sols.v6i2.333. https://doi.org/10.1558/sols.v6i2.333

World Health Organization. 2020. Situation Report 18—February 7th, 2020. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports

Wright, A. 2019. ‘How Chinese Rappers are Selling Out Hip Hop by Slamming Hong Kong Protesters and Supporting Police’. South China Morning Post, 21 August. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/entertainment/article/3023712/how-chinese-rappers-are-selling-out-hip-hop-slamming-hong (accessed 25 August 2019).

Xiao, Y. 2010. ‘“Hip-hop is my knife, rap is my sword”: Hip-hop, Cultural (Re)production, and the Question of Authenticity and Authorship in Contemporary China’. In Three Asias: Japan, S. Korea, China. Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres, ed. T. Tatsumi, J. Kim and Z. Zhen, 269–98. Vashon Island, WA: Paradoxa.

Xie, Y. 2020. ‘The Patriotism and the Heroism Embedded in the Subtitles of Chinese-English Movies: The Mission of “Main Melody” Films’. International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies 8/3: 34–38. https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijclts.v.8n.3p.34

Yu, H. 2013. ‘Visual Spectacular, Revolutionary Epic, and Personal Voice: The Narration of History in Chinese Main Melody Films’. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 25/2: 166–218. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43492536

Zhang, A. 2019. ‘Online Battle for Authenticity Keep it “Skr”’. Georgetown Journal of Asian Affairs 5: 73–93.

Zhao, Y. 2020. ‘1.4b People Lead China’s Victory over COVID-19’. Global Times, 7 September. https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1200184.shtml (accessed 15 September 2021).

Zhao, Y., and Z. Lin. 2020. ‘“Jianghu flow”: Examining Cultural Resonance in the Rap of China’. Continuum 34/4: 601–614. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2020.1757039

Published

2021-12-08

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. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.19821