When it comes to hip-hop in Asia, Jay Chou, Will Pan, Korean idol groups, and former EXO-M member and now rising solo star Kris (Wu Yifan) are great examples.
Kris has ascended to stardom through hip-hop, and he’s performed alongside Dr. Dre and other international stars in Times Square. His former bandmate at EXO-M, Tao (Huang Zitao) is also surging in popularity, and his song “Underground King” set off a controversy when he said, “Those who say my rap’s off beat, and those who choose to blindly attack me, shut up and listen to the music! You have no right to use my creations, go die.”
However, both Kris and Tao come from the Korean music industry and assembly line of pop stars, and hip-hop has been incredibly popular in Korea. Korean hip-hop hasn’t just deeply affected young fans in China, but it’s also hit the U.S. market; “Gangnam Style” and “It-G-Ma” are prominent examples.
Li Yu, general manager of the Youku Tudou Music Center, said, “Hip-hop was born from poverty, but it’s reach has extended far beyond its roots, and the top hits of the European and American music charts are all hip-hop songs, while in China, pop songs are still mainstream, which bore you to death.” In December 2015, Taiwanese rock musician A-Yue (Chang Chen-Yue) began organizing a concert for Chinese hip-hop.
Li Hongjie, senior music critic, said, “Those born after 1990 mostly listen to hip-hop, electronic, rock, and folk music.” He also said that, through South Korean groups like Big Bang and EXO, as well as the last three seasons of the television show “Sing My Song”, hip-hop has gained more and more acceptance in China, and Chinese children especially have come to accept and listen to it.
Youku Tudou and LeTV, two of China’s largest video platforms, launched their own hi hop variety shows, which have each exceeded expectations in popularity. The final round of Youku Tudou’s rap competition show “Listen Up” had 150 million viewers, and LeTV’s broadcast of the South Korean rap competition show “Show Me the Money 5” reached 314 million viewers; this achievement strengthened the confidence of both platforms in pursuing future hip-hop content.
In 2013, Tudou Music started building the first domestic hip-hop music platform, and the Tudou sponsored “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Hip-Hop Night” furthered their promotion of hip-hop music. In 2015 Youku Tudou organized a hip-hop tour of the Orange Live Summer Festival, and this year, in addition to the rap shows they broadcasted, Youku Tudou also co-hosted and broadcasted the Chinese Hip-Hop Awards.
One hand in Youku Tudou’s promotion of hip-hop music has been Li Yu, who says that China’s attitude towards hip-hop is “cautiously optimistic.” He also told China Music Business News that hip-hop still needs three ye ars to grow in the Chinese market, but that the next major trend should be hip-hop and EDM.
Li Yu says:
“I’ve watched Chinese Hip-hop’s growth over the past three years.”
“Youku Tudou has been promoting hip-hop music for three years, but why? Apart from the fact that I like it, we’ve also seen a change in consumer attitudes towards it, and this is cause for hope.
Those born in the 70’s and 80’s listen more to rock, especially from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but those born after 1990 listen to EDM and hip-hop. You’ll find that as consumer demographics and attitudes change, Chinese music changes with them. Since 2010, folk music has been incredibly popular. Why is this? Because after 1985, the younger generations slowly grew up, and so folk exploded.
Each genre of music represents a part of society and the circumstances of that era. When Chinese society and people were beginning to become more open-minded, rock music was the best expression of that time. As living standards rose, subtler art arose that appealed to emotion and feelings, and that’s how folk came to represent that era.
Now, you see that China’s millennial generation, born after 1990, has entered the market, so why did Korean music suddenly explode with this generation in the last few years? First, put aside the plastic surgery; what is the essence of Korean music? The answer is electronic music, dance, and hip-hop. Who are the Korean fans? They’re actually also millennials, born after 1990.
Thus, I think China’s next era of music is EDM and hip-hop.
Actually, hip-hop has already been developing in China for three years now, but I think it still needs three more years. I don’t like speaking on who supports original music, because I think the word supports actually doesn’t make sense, since I haven’t seen anyone who can support successfully. Why? Because the industry, good or not, doesn’t cooperate with our platform.
The entry level of hip-hop is relatively low, so the early hip-hop musicians are less experienced. On the other hand, every high art school requires a lot of experience – becoming a classical musician is incredibly difficult – but nonetheless, the best hip-hop and the best classical music are equal. Hip-hop is simple, but when it’s done well, becomes high art.
Chinese rock musicians write music carefully and attentively because they live meager lifestyles. Hip-hop on the other hand, has a low entry level, so you might have some musicians who aren’t well versed in music and become rappers simply because they know how to write lyrics; here, you’ll discover that their music isn’t a work of art, but rather, just their mindless doodling. Nonetheless, these cases don’t prevent you from finding good musicians.
The current standard for hip-hop music is fairly low, but I’ve still seen improvement over the last three years. In 2014, hip-hop was still at a fairly poor level, but by 2015, we found many new hip-hop groups, and it seemed to be a completely different genre, or at least a far more diverse one.
I think China has entered a golden age of culture, and from that perspective, since music is an incredibly important art form, I think the music industry will definitely improve more and more.
“Hip-hop lacks the equivalent of folk music’s Miss Dong, and hit song like that would attract huge amounts of people.”
CMBN: Have Chinese hip-hop fans been surveyed? What are they like?
Li Yu: I think hip-hop is far more popular with millenials than it is with the 80’s generation and it has tens of millions of listeners. Now, many Chinese people are listening to American and European hip-hop, as well as Korean hip-hop, so if Chinese hip-hop improves, these people might shift so that if MC Hotdog organizes a hip-hop concert in Beijing, it will be packed. So you can’t say that there isn’t major interest in the market, your music just needs time to reach the same level as that interest.
Chinese hip-hop fans probably won’t be like Korean fans, since Korean fans are die-hard fans, but hip-hop isn’t art, so they won’t spend money on it. However, all hip-hop cultural products fall within the fans’ consumer tastes, so although they won’t be die-hard fans, hip-hop will still find its own way.
Each city has its own hip-hop circles that have been fairly successful, but there’s no national hip-hop scene, so it’s difficult to produce a hip-hop idol. Really, hip-hop lacks a big hit song, just like folk music before “Miss Dong” came out; before “Miss Dong”, folk music was pretty dead, but after “Miss Dong” was released, folk music became wildly popular; this was a critical point that attracted huge amounts of people.
CMBN: How do local hip-hop circles make money?
Li Yu: Mostly through selling derivative products and merchandise like hats and clothes. However,
there are a number of more business-minded musicians emerging, so I feel good about that, but there still needs to be a creative process. After all, if you feel that music is business first, then the songs you write won’t be any good, so musicians still need to focus on content first.
CMBN: What do you think about the fact that many people have expressed interest in organizing a hip-hop festival, but don’t see it through?
Li Yu: Actually, music festivals don’t really have genre boundaries; I won’t say definitively that hip-hop songs are only hip-hop, and that folk songs are only folk, I think good music is just good music, it doesn’t necessarily have a genre label.
I think hip-hop still needs to grow, and regardless, it can’t be confined and limited to its own boundaries; I never recommend selling something by itself. First, there should be a music festival for all genres, and if that steadily improves, then I’ll be open to the idea of a hip-hop festival.
I’m inclined towards diversity. Take the Tudou Video Festival as an example. When the festival first started, the venue could only hold 10,000 people, but we fit in 30,000. At the time, we had manga, voice actors, cosplay; the music was EDM, hip hop, and rock; there was fashion for the fashion bloggers, and street culture from basketball, to graffiti, to custom cars. What we did was follow cultural trends.
CMBN: How are hip-hop performances doing now?
Li Yu: To be honest, we definitely don’t earn money from hip-hop performances right now, but the best hip-hop musicians still produce good results. We hosted local hip-hop competitions in every city, and the primary purpose was so that the rappers could have a performance opportunity. We organized these performances on our own with no sponsorships, and some rappers were well-known while others were no-names; thus, because the playing field was so uneven, we couldn’t rely on ticket sales to recoup the cost of the events.
That’s why I say to do this, you need to recognize that you have to like hip-hop music, or it won’t be any good. We’ve been involved with hip-hop for three years now, and LeTV just started this year. However, this is a good thing, since I think we at least need a platform first.
It might be that Youku Tudou and LeTV are the last ones to promote hip-hop, but if we can get the industry into good shape, then that’d still be a success.
CMBN: What do you think of the music industry’s investment trends for start-ups?
Li Yu: Investment will steadily improve. Even though the music industry is still at the elementary stage of investment, I think that within the next two years, we’ll see more and more start-ups and investment. From the investment point of view for music, I think that future artist brokerage and music platforms won’t be in a great situation, since the big companies have formed and solidified, and small companies can’t find room to grow.
Platforms are a dead end, but looking forward, there are still other opportunities. Many people have built successful EDM labels, many cities have organized innovative festivals for tourism, music, and investors. Making music, like Modern Sky Records, is certainly still possible. Thus, music start-ups don’t have to focus on the Internet, since the music industry is already too big.
translated by Evan Yi
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