By Hans Ebert
There is a Chinese laundry list of things wrong with Hong Kong, but instead of regurgitating it all again, let’s just say that this city has been horribly mismanaged going back to its colonial days, and everything has only come to a head now. To blame everything on Chief Executive CY Leung would be naive and too easy. This has been a historical problem brought on by nobody minding the store, but, instead, working on fulfilling personal agendas. But getting away from the tedious subject of politics, let’s look at why Hong Kong is so void and bereft of creativity.
Maybe, just maybe, greater creativity can heal this city and give it some form of inspired rebirth and shake off its lethargy mixed with cynicism, confusion and anger. Guess the same can apply to the entire world- a world adrift with no direction of home and blindly following trending hashtags, especially about feuding celebrities. And dipping into an uninspiring palette of bland emotional colours or living vicariously online does nothing to bring about real change through real world creativity.
Right now, many of us revisit the past for respite. But let’s not live in the past. This is another crutch. It’s like romanticising about a former lover when love left decades ago and love doesn’t live here anymore. It’s Dylan’s My Back Pages and how, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”. But seeing the truth and not looking back without any regrets or guilt can be hugely liberating. It’s a rebirth. It’s a way of looking at everything with new eyes and regaining that missing sense of purpose and inspiration.
For Hong Kong, the Eighties were probably its most creative years. There was a generation of young, driven entrepreneurs creating a new nightlife where there wasn’t one before. Television was in its infancy and could only improve. The fledgling advertising industry had its visionaries and they were creating award winning work that was of an international standard. Singer-songwriter Sam Hui had created what was dubbed Canto- Rock, something intrinsically Hong Kong, something truly original.
Where and why did it go so horribly wrong? Age catches up with everyone, and it’s sad to see Sam Hui today as a semi-reclusive character who’s wheeled out for concerts that, like concerts by other Canto-Pop artists, do not veer from formulaic shtick where the hairstylist is the real star of the show, and insincerity gushes out.
Ageism has no place in creativity, especially in music, but it’s embarrassing to have fortysomethings in Hong Kong described as “young”, and their music simply being rehashes of everything that has come before. There’s been absolutely no improvement. And after almost two decades of trying by people with all the right intentions, the local “indie” scene comprises some oldsters getting together at venues like the Fringe Club while the younger of the species trash about with outta tune guitars at gigs in industrial buildings believing they’re part of some neo-Punk movement without ever having being students of music- students so they could understand what the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Velvet Underground and, later, the Clash etc did, and how music must evolve to stay relevant and credible.
It can’t be more of the same like the meandering fluff peddled by overrated Jazzsters who would be laughed offstage even in once staid “Swingabore” that has a more vibrant nightlife, music scene, and recordings that are at least contemporary and not part of yesterday’s papers. Those Hong Kong recording studio gurus who believe they know it all are being bitch-slapped by their counterparts in Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, but just can’t see it because they have the blinkers and ear muffs on. The world has changed, people. And if Trump wins, it will change beyond recognition. It will be more than a combover.
Why is Hong Kong trailing behind many other cities when it comes to creativity? No mentors, and the generation before only being about money, panic, and getting the hell outta here before 1997.
This was the environment under which many in Hong Kong grew up, and the mindset of their parents is their inheritance. This is why trying to find even ONE- and YOUNG singer- able to sing a song by even someone as average as Sigala, is mission impossible. Sorry, but fortysomething is not exactly young, and trying to work with Filipino copycat musicians and studio guys still stuck in the Eighties only drives one to foreign shores to get anything truly creative- and new- done. Sounding “like” whatever that’s trending has already trended.
It’s like all the restaurants, bars and clubs in this city that keep opening and closing faster than a hooker’s legs. Copying more of the same when customers are spoilt for choice is a sure-fire way of eventually seeing one’s business go tits up. But this keeps happening again and again and again. Don’t people ever learn from mistakes?
Again, without being a student of whatever business- creative business- one enters, there’s no knowledge of how to be unique and what’s a cheap knock-off.
Look at today’s Hong Kong advertising industry. So many with big titles, but how many can match the creativity of Mike Chu, James Wong or Richard Cheung?
The Peter Principle has a permanent home in Hong Kong, where incompetence is promoted along with mediocrity. It’s why there are so many in “marketing” roles when they know that they’ve been given these titles by those above them who are more senior graduates of the School Of The Peter Principle. Mediocrity attracts and protects mediocrity and around and around we go in circle game.
So how can this circle be broken? It’s probably too late for this generation as it’s lost in the torrent bits and clutter of social media where priorities have been pushed so far into the background that they’re forever lost to Kimye and Tay Tay and Hiddleswift.
A herd mentality has taken over and its spread around the world like The Day Of The Locusts with extremely few understanding how to use social media creatively. Social media houses in Hong Kong? Please. Again, they’re followers with a hashtag for company. They’re hapless click bait for those who know the art of calculated manipulation.
Forget about the government coming to the aid of the creative community. We’ve seen how CreateHK promised so much and continues to deliver so little- all on the back of taxpayers’ money.
Does anyone know what this government organisation does? Didn’t think so, but it’s been plodding along for almost six years with no one asking the hard questions. After all, WE are their bosses. Where’s OUR money going? To pay the head of CreateHK who has no accountability? And you wonder why Hong Kong is pissed off? Drag him in kicking and screaming for some Straight Talk, Michael Chugani. Shout at him.
Forget the music scene. There’s been some talk about local singer GEM and her management doing things their own way and differently to the oldsters in Hong Kong and looking at marketing their artist as a global artist. Fine. But where’s it heading and will she get anywhere other than being another Coco Lee or Karen Mok? Remember all the hype about the all-Asian girl group called Blush? Where are they now? Where’s Jon Nierman who launched the group to much fanfare? GEM and Blush? What’s the difference?
But creativity is all-encompassing. It’s more than music and it’s no longer looking at the products from Goods Of Desire (g.o.d) and thinking this is the benchmark for creativity. It was. Ten years ago.
Meanwhile, PMQ opened and was touted to be the new home for independent creativity and small businesses. In a nanu second, PMQ has become a confusing mélange of upmarket shopping malls and mediocre restaurants inside a haphazardly designed venue where none of the pieces fit. Again, someone has messed up- but we roll over and accept another screw up.
Of course, the easiest way is to plod along and scream that Hong Kong’s finished and the city’s Can Do spirit No Can Do Anymore. But as with anything, ONE flash of creative brilliance can cause and inspire a chain reaction. It can be an app, it can be a song, it can be something bigger than Pokemon Go, or it can be something as weirdly different as this CD cover by singer Joyce Cheng.
This is brave creativity from someone who was shamed by the media about her weight, transformed herself and is now giving her knockers the two finger salute.
Again, she has a famous mother, and through strong local media connections got noticed quicker than the average bear, Boo Boo. This is refreshing, but it’s still very local. And a teeny step for HongKongkind.
Once known as “Asia’s world city”, where’s there anything to legitimise this claim? Watching starved tribes from the boonies of the New Territories- aren’t they old by now?- come into the big city and attack the international buffet tables in five-star hotels?
No, if there’s a creative community in Hong Kong, they’re not marketing themselves very well. One cannot be shy and “underground”, and complain that your genius is not being recognised.
As mentioned, all that’s needed is one home run that can be seen and heard around the world. Making it in Hong Kong is a start, but it’s not big enough. It’s the small fish in a big pond syndrome and which usually only breeds tadpoles like NOWTV and so many of Richard Li’s portfolio of Fawlty Towers projects.
Think bigger, think Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and capture the attention of someone like Jack Ma or Bill Gates. Have THEM come to YOU. Then we’re cooking with gas.