By Hans Ebert
Just as there’s a very thin line between cool and uncool, so there is between hip and unhip. For example, seeing unknown musicians wear shades indoors has always made me cringe. If they’re blind, that’s one thing. If Bob Dylan, definitely. But wearing shades, even if one is very average Hong Kong actor-singer-model Michael Wong, isn’t exactly going to make some unknown or never-been musician be taken seriously.
On this subject, a group out of Singapore had won me over. Their recordings were and are extremely good, they’re a high priority act for their record label, and they even had a name producer credited on one of their records. Let’s just call them The Sleepy Hollows.
Apparently, The Sleepy Hollows were in Hong Kong about a week ago. Fortunately, I missed them as the feedback from friends was that they were arrogant and, basically, full of shit. And this was from them just saying, Hello at a certain venue for some unknown Hong Kong television show.
Knowing the Singapore music industry from my days with Universal Music and that Titanic known as EMI, I decided to go onto YouTube and watch some of their interviews. Gone were the heavily air-brushed photos and kinda clever music videos. In their place were two guys and two girls afflicted with the same disease that has afflicted many musicians out of Singapore- pretentiousness, and just plain corniness. It’s like many of those awful television series that are trotted out of Singapore starting with the first few seasons of Singapore Idol. Good grief! Talk about pretentiousness! Talk about thin skins where criticism of the programme and its judges meant being threatened by the broadcaster Mediacorp that it would ban screening our music videos. Please, girls.
Not they will care, because they seem to have their heads up their asses, but getting back to The Sleepy Hollows from Singapore, the group has lost this fan forever, and one seriously doubts that they will ever “travel” outside of Singapore. They seem destined to be big fish in the Lion City.
Perhaps this corniness- this inability to know hip from unhip- is also what’s afflicting the Hong Kong Canto-pop scene with its Hello Kitty wannabe K-Pop bunnies trying to be hip. And those are just the boys. What works for K-Pop, stays with K-Pop, kids. There’s then the pretentiousness of trying to be what you’re not, especially in that online world, and being an embarrassment to one’s nationality. Rich Chigga? Please.
On a more global level, speaking to a senior executive with one of the major social media platforms about its future, well, it’s looking rather bleak. For all their supposed “forward thinking”, those musicians thinking that the numbers-driven game that is “social media” is going to somehow catapult their careers, rein it in. With all the cyber bullying going on, and the very negative aspects of ‘live’ streaming, and the alarming ways this is now being used, governments are going to be finally forced into creating some much-needed online laws.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, sometimes even the President of the United States must stand naked.
The times they are-a-changing again and nothing and no one in that online world are what they seem. Maybe we’re finally getting back to some form of normality and not some delusional world, where alternative reality has hijacked and is masquerading as reality. For those in Hong Kong trying to have a presence on social media, one wonders if they have ever thought that they could be barking up the wrong tree by not looking at what works- and is allowed to work- in Mainland China?
Another thing: Just maybe if recording and publishing rights issues can ever be understood by the parties concerned, the music industry can become a business again without unknown musicians believing depending on the kindness of strangers- and where we might have someone like Jack White making music with Hendrix and Miles and Bowie and Prince.
Right now, it’s a jungle of clutter out there. No one who is not Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles etc really know what to do about seeing any type of return on investment for producing music.
Touring on the back of a record, sync deals, having an original picked up by Beyoncé or Taylor Swift are lovely dreams to have, but how long must wait for these dreams to be realised? And, especially if in Hong Kong, isn’t the future all about heading North and across the border as opposed to heading West where even home grown talent are going nowhere?
We’re living in very strange times. Apart from wondering how Trump ended up in the White House and with his little hands on that red button, the music world is a mess. The return of American Idol won’t help.
With its voting system, its audience, winners handed over to music companies fail time and time again as they’re nothing and going nowhere once their time on television is over.
American Idol and all these television shows that create “internet sensations” are more of this “content” that’s “shared”, where the artist is here today and gone tomorrow.
Longevity, this has always been the present and future for any musician. Maybe, just maybe, apart from those having their last stab at stardom with another dose of déjà-vu, there are those business-oriented musicians who don’t buy into hype, are focused, and armed with strong roller decks to get somewhere other than social media fame. This hardly pays the rent.