A song called Wild Wolf Disco (《野狼Disco》) is spreading like wildfire in China. This Dongbei-accented rap song first went viral on Tik Tok because of a very distinctive fan choreography. Shortly after taking over Tik Tok, the song hit the charts. On Sep. 19th, Wild Wolf Disco Hit No.4 on TME’s Yo! Bang chart, right after songs of big shots Jay Chou, Cai Xunkun, and Joker Xue. On NetEase Music’s Hottest 200 chart, the song hit No.2.
The song has mobilized an incredible amount of participation from fans. On Tik Tok, On Kuaishou (快手, another social media video app similar to Tik Tok), fans created more than 349,000 videos based on the song. Covers of the song were also used more than 300,000 times. On Tik Tok, more than 512,000 people created fan videos of the song.
The hook part of the lyrics of Wild Wolf Disco says: “Draw a dragon on the left, draw a rainbow on right.” The dance move of drawing a dragon in the air with your left hand and drawing a rainbow with your left hand became a favorite for all age groups from college students to square dancing retirees. Celebrities like Show Lo, Wong Cho-lam, and Chengcheng Fan also posted their version of the dance on social media, making the song even bigger hit than it already is.
The song was first performed on stage in the popular rap survival show The Rap of China season 3 by rapper Gem (老舅). It didn’t even make it into the actual show and was posted on Iqiyi’s website as a blooper video. Now, the song became the most searched single from this season of the show.
For many people, this song brought their young and reckless years back.
A netizen commented online: “That’s the disco of the end of the century, disco dance hall, night clubs. It’s not EDM, not indie rock, just old good disco. There were the classic Cantonese songs, the Dongbei-accented horrible Cantonese, and the disco lights. They were my childhood. That’s what rapper Gem is all about.”
Whether Wild Wolf Disco has any artistic merit has been a topic of constant debate. There is no question that the song sounds trashy. But some people argue that the way Gem put together trashy elements is original and therefore artistic.
Rapper Gem frequently incorporates elements of Vaporwave in his songs. And that got him the nickname “Dongbei Vaporwave”. Wild Wolf Disco pays tribute to the golden age of Hongkongnese music 20 years ago by sampling musical motif from one of the most popular disco songs in the 90s in China called Wild Wolf King’s Disco (《野狼王的的士高》).
Why is Wild Wolf Disco spreading like wildfire while other songs in our digital age were never given any attention? In Joel Beckerman and Tyler Gray’s book Sonic Boom: how sound transforms the way we think, feel and buy, the authors indicated that very popular songs usually contain shared experiences across a large number of people while somehow sounding new and refreshing. When a song tells the same culturally significant story as the lyrics and the visual elements associated with the song, its effect on people multiplies.
Wild Wolf Disco reminds Xennials of everything associated with their youth: the pagers, Aaron Kwok, leather jacket, and buying gigantic cellphones and learning Cantonese songs to look “cool” but despite all the effort still rejected by girls. Dongbei has been in slow but steady economic decline for decades, and most young people were forced to leave in search of opportunities. In their hearts, the prosperity of the 90s Dongbei would always be their dearest memories. And that’s why the song gained such popularity.
Rapper Gem was born on July the 20th, 1986 in Changchun. He fell in love with rapping in high school after hearing the song College Study Room(《大学自习室》). So he formed a rap duo with his buddy rapper Lotus. In 2005, three hip hop groups in Changchun, including Gem’s group decided to produce a hip hop album together, so they merged and became a larger hip hop group Our People (吾人族). They were the first rappers in Dongbei. In 2008, Our People got an invitation to appear on TV show Day Day Up (《天天向上》) as representatives of young rappers in the country. With mainstream media exposure under their belt, Our People founded a record label called Our People Media. In 2011, Our People Media released its first studio album. But at the time of its release, China was going through a folk mania. Everyone was listening to folk songs and no one was interested in hip hop. Without positive feedback from the market, Gem returned to a normal life. He found a regular job, got married and had kids.
Later, he moved to Chengdu when Sichuanese rapping started to gain popularity across China. By interacting with famous rapper groups such as the Triple H (红花会) in Xi’an and the Higher Brothers in Sichuan, Gem realized the market has changed dramatically. The majority of people became less interested in the fancy, the fashionable, the new and the exotic cultures, but what’s close to the people and their everyday life. He gave himself a more approachable new name “old uncle”.
In his most difficult times, Gem seriously considered becoming a Hanmai (喊麦) artist. Hanmai is a Chinese rapping method where the rapper yell lyrics of a song rhythmically. Many people don’t consider Hanmai as a musical genre and think it’s a disgrace of hip hop and music in general. But Gem thought Hanmai must be connecting with its audiences on an emotional level to enjoy the popularity it has.
In early 2017, Gem missed the deadline to join Rap of China season 1. In October 2017, Gem released his album Your Old Uncle (《你的老舅》), which includes Wild Wolf Disco. In 2018, he was eliminated very early in Rap of China season 2. In 2019, he performed the song on season 3. He failed to proceed into the next round. But two months later, this song blew up on the internet.
Viral Gimmick Songs
In 2001, a song called Dongbeiese People Loves to Help Others (《东北人都是活雷锋》)became the first viral gimmick song in China’s modern history. In the 18 years that follow, every couple of years a new gimmick song goes viral. The media we access and spread these songs went from PC to ringtones, to mobile devices, but the shift in technology didn’t stop viral gimmick songs from surfacing.
In recent years, most viral gimmick songs went first gained traction on short video social media apps, accompanied by easy-to-learn choreography. No matter how much some people hate their catchy melody, brain-washing choreography, and stupid lyrics, viral gimmick songs emotionally resonate with a large group of people. And asking the question “what emotional needs do these songs satisfy?” would be a good place to start to understand this phenomenon.
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