By Hans Ebert
A group of us were talking about why Hong Kong can’t produce anything even remotely creative to this track and accompanying video by Mainland China artist Jane Zhang, below with producer Timbaland.
Zhang first appeared onto the Greater China mainstream consciousness as Zhang Liangying after placing third in 2005 on a programme called Super Girl. This was one of the first in a spate of television singing competitions that were to suddenly invade television screens throughout Mainland China. Monkey see, monkey do.
As for Hong Kong’s listless approach to creativity, is it the water? The rice? The dim sum? Or simply the lack of talent, and actually knowing who and what’s creative and what’s not? Or else, is it the lack of a large enough creative community, something that the Hong Kong government has done an appalling job in nurturing ? Is it the absence of this creative community that allows in the creepy crawlies- everything from the vapid CreateHK setup and accepting over-the-hill musicians from different points West with a good yarn to sell, which is bought without back-checking the fine print- would you really know who was in Kool and The Gang or KC and the Sunshine Band?- to mediocre talent in their homeland who become legends in their own lunchtime through the lack of competition here, and, more than anything else, lethargy setting in where everyone just settles for what is usually a false sense of security and an Okay Is Good Enough attitude.
The latter is widespread no matter how many howl in protest and try to throw shade on this. The music talent that’s in Hong Kong is fine for Hong Kong, its handful of venues for ‘live” music, and the usual Canto Pop extravaganzas where it’s all about style, and interest in back stories perpetuated by the local versions of Perez Hilton as opposed to substance.
This lack of talent is there in the mindless doodling of “jizz” players in Hong Kong, the kit kat scratching of what’s passed off as scatting, and the playing-by-numbers of Hard Rock Cafe and Amazonia wannabe rock gods. And when being asked to play backup for some Canto Pop artist well past their Use By Date is seen as being the pinnacle to having reached musical legitimacy, well, it’s time to take a Valium or two and check out everything The Wrecking Crew played on and, after recovering from that shock, watch “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown”.
When humbled and with the bullshit squeezed out of you, return to Jane Zhang, singer, songwriter and producer, originally from Chengdu province in Mainland China, and now signed to Sony Music after a few years with Universal. Any bets she’ll start her own label and own all Rights to her music? If the rumour mill is anything to go by, the artist could already be worth plenty. Why are mothers always so involved in their daughters’ careers even after they’ve reached adulthood? That question is rhetorical. Look at how Kris Kardashian dominates and oversees the lucrative Kardashian brand. It’s all about the money, money, money…
It’s strange and also peculiarly funny and revealing watching the clip below from Oprah fawning over this girl during her early years and rattling off numbers which shows that she, too, was sold on China being “potentially the biggest music market in the world”.
Her guest is Simon Cowell, proof as to how long he’s gone the distance with these television singing competitions, and the really big money he’s made from them. The man’s not stupid, and his idea of putting together OneDirection is a great example of timing and marketing.
It’s like his arch enemy Simon Fuller and the timing for the launch of the Spice Girls. OneDirection or Spice Girls from a business perspective? Probably a draw. But the videos above featuring Jane Zhang demonstrate the metamorphosis of the singer to someone reinventing herself and making a radical move away from the innocent young Chinese girl on a show heavy-handedly copied from Simon Fuller’s China’s “Pop Princess” idea- an idea which never saw the light of day despite almost two years of trying to get it off the ground and discussions with way too many people by the person from the UK put in charge of the project. “Pop Princess” being ripped off shows the other pitfalls in trying to do business in Mainland China where copyright laws and MOU’s are only words, and very few can be trusted.
For Jane Zhang, China’s former Pop Princess Super Girl, it’s taken around ten years to reach where she is right now with “Dust My Shoulders Off”. It’s a huge departure to the old Mariah Carey-type mush that either she or those around her were having her record. This new track has made it onto the iTunes Top 5 most downloaded songs, and is a wonderfully creative piece of work. Why can’t Hong Kong produce something even remotely close to this? Good question.
While applauding her efforts to change and not stick to tradition, like the always interesting Yuna from Malaysia, the question is, where to now, and what next? “Dust My Shoulders Off” is certainly being raved about internationally, whereas Yuma has an impressive CV- a first single produced by Usher, being signed to Verve Records by David Foster, numerous television and film sync deals for her music, her own fashion line, and this year, a new album “Chapters” featuring, amongst others Usher.
And though “chart success” hardly matters these days as Billboard seems to have a chart for every occasion, the new album has made it onto two relatively obscure charts. What matters more is this artist- constantly evolving, not being derailed by her “Asian-ness” and collaborating with some very eclectic artists.
The point is that apart from being extremely creative talent, they’re very strong business-minded women who play according to their rules. They have done their “due diligence” on what goes in to the music business. Or put another way, the business of music, and how this can evolve into other business streams. Yuna, for example, is a truly holistic creative talent- singer, songwriter, producer and at 29, a business mogul.
Where Hong Kong goes terribly wrong, and has been going down the same road to nowhere, is in looking at the business of music first, and then trying to find someone who might fit the bill. Again, it’s style versus substance, and where it all gets lost in a dank money pit. These people truly need a lesson in Yunarism. And humility.