Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Weibo Fever #19: Is the Hong Kong Music Industry Truly "Dead"??

Not sure how many people read the news today, but looks like there is a pretty big ‘controversy’ brewing on Weibo right now and since I haven’t blogged about the HK music industry in quite some time, I figured this would be a good ‘relevant’ topic to write about…

First, here’s the ‘gist’ of what happened….

Food connoisseur (and former actor as well as entertainment reporter) Benny Li (李純恩) wrote an opinion piece for a local magazine entitled “The Death of the HK Music Industry”.  In his editorial piece, Benny states his opinion that the ‘death’ of the HK music industry is due to the lack of musical talent in HK currently, with majority of the blame being placed on songwriters (specifically lyricists) for their ‘messy’ lyrics that in many cases, boil down to ‘nonsensical jibberish’.  He claims that many songwriters nowadays lack the ability to write lyrics that truly resonate on an emotional level with music fans – unlike past songwriters who actually wrote songs that were meaningful and had the ability to move people.

After Benny Li reposted his opinion piece on Weibo, HK lyricist Wyman Wong (黄偉文) replied to his post with a ‘scathing’ post of his own, pretty much scolding Benny for what he wrote and also insisting that Benny doesn’t know what he is talking about.  Based on his response, looks like Wyman took personal offense to Benny’s post and even went so far as to ‘infer’ that Benny was referring specifically to him….even Benny asked Wyman on Weibo ‘Wyman, was I referring to you specifically in my post?’ to which Wyman replied ‘What do you think?’ (um, ok, to be fair, Wyman’s name wasn’t even mentioned in Benny’s post – as an ‘outsider’ reading the article, I actually felt that he was speaking more in a general sense rather than targeting anyone in particular).  

Well, the ‘controversial’ part is that almost immediately after Wyman’s response, many HK lyricists as well as singers such as Anthony Wong, Hacken Lee, Kay Tse, Richie Ren, etc. responded to the issue on Weibo – pretty much all of them expressed similar sentiments as Wyman and insisted that the HK music industry is ‘not dead’.

Honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is.  Benny Li was just expressing his personal opinion of the HK music industry – true or not, it’s his opinion based on his experience.  Therefore, to me, Wyman overreacted – not sure why he would take offense to Benny’s post or why he felt that Benny was referring specifically to him (based on Wyman’s response on weibo, sounds to me like he harbors a personal dislike of Benny and so took this opportunity to chastise him??).

Besides, it’s not like what Benny said is false – he actually does have quite a few valid points in his post…and come on, I’m sure anyone who isn’t blind can see that the HK music industry has deteriorated greatly from what it was in the past.  Sure, saying that the music industry is ‘dead’ might be a bit too exaggerated, since there are still some truly great talents left in the industry – but let’s face it, the music industry isn’t exactly ‘flourishing’ either.

Personally, the part that I find disappointing is how so many people within the music industry are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ to defend Wyman and bash Benny – that just shows me that a lot of industry people are still in ‘denial’ mode about the state of the music industry….I mean, if people within the music industry refuse to even acknowledge the problem, then how much hope is there that things will get better?

Of course, I can also see why the music industry people would respond the way they did – after all, they don’t want the younger generation and others still active in the music industry to feel disheartened or discouraged from making music.  BUT STILL….it goes back to my original point – I’m not faulting anyone for trying to be positive and optimistic, but there comes a point when we have to face reality….besides, the below is Benny's personal opinion -- if his opinion doesn't matter and he doesn't know what he's talking about, then why should anyone feel 'discouraged' by what he said?


Anyway, below is Benny Li’s editorial piece in Chinese (didn’t get a chance to translate it yet, so my apologies to those who aren’t able to read it…if I get a chance later on, I’ll translate it and re-post it back up):

Edit:  Here's the translation of Benny's editorial:

HK Headline Editorial:  The ‘Death’ of the HK Music Industry
Written by:  Benny Li

While eating dinner at a restaurant, a charity fundraising program started airing on the restaurant’s television set.  The program featured performances from many of the HK music industry’s newbie singers and as they were singing, the lyrics to their songs were displayed on the screen as well.  Reading the lyrics to some of their songs, nine out of 10 were ‘unintelligible’ – I couldn’t identify a single song whose lyrics were clear and coherent.  And to think that those singers tried to sing those songs with as much emotion as they could muster.

When it comes to a song, the melody is what attracts people to it and the lyrics are what moves people emotionally – in this world, there is not a single ‘classic’ where only the melody is nice to listen to but the lyrics are unintelligible.  The reason why the HK music industry is ‘dead’ now is because lyrics are ‘dead’.  If lyrics are ‘dead’, then they can no longer move people emotionally and without this trait, a song naturally ‘dies’ as well.  In today’s HK music industry, the lyrics to many ‘works’ can’t even fulfill the ‘basic’ requirement of being coherent and intelligible – most of the lyrics don’t even flow and in many cases, are merely sounds mixed in with musical notes.  With these songs, it’s hard enough for the singers to even remember the lyrics, let alone expecting them to resonate with and move audiences.  Given this problem, how is it possible for these ‘works’ to continue to be passed down to future generations?

The HK music industry was once a thriving, flourishing industry that had a significant impact on the Chinese community all over the world.  So many classic hits were passed down from one generation to the next and continued to remain strong even as the years passed, to the point that even people who didn’t understand Cantonese could still sing the songs.  The reason for this is because the lyrics to many of those songs resonated with the masses and therefore were able to touch people’s hearts.

Today, the music industry is very different.  Even in Taiwan and Mainland China, there are many great memorable songs, yet the younger generation of HK singers don’t seem to have very many songs that people actually remember.  Why?  Well, one of the main reasons is that people don’t even know what in the world these singers are singing because the lyrics are ‘messy’ and pointless – when we look at the lyrics to a lot of these songs, they are merely a bunch of Chinese characters strung together haphazardly.

The weird thing is that many of the HK songwriters nowadays seem to be ‘illiterate’ and don’t know how to write.  If not, how else can we explain why our music industry produces so many such ‘unintelligible’ songs?  This is what I call a ‘self-inflicted calamity’ and as the saying goes, ‘when we bring calamities upon ourselves, no one can save us from it!’  With the HK music industry being ‘dead’ to this point – all I can say is:  serves us right!

And below is Wyman’s response on Weibo:


Translation:  Wyman Wong’s response:  Facts speak louder than words!  Mr. Li is the same person who also claims that ‘after Peter Lai (黎彼得), there are no good lyricists in HK’ – the type of person who makes such outrageous statements!  So does this mean that I’m just blindly writing jibberish songs in order to cheat royalty fees or is he [Benny] trying to cheat writer’s fees with his nonsensical barking?  I’ll let you guys be the judge.


What are your thoughts on this issue?


  1. I'm standing on Wyman's side because the guy did say there aren't any good musical talent and "lyricists" in TODAYS' music industry. That meant he's bashing Lin Xi, Wyman, and all the current HK music industry people and singer-songwriters. This Benny Li guy whoever he is, went way over board on his so called "opinion". He acts like he's representing the entire population of HK when he's not even part of the younger generation. Further more I believe one of the main reasons why HK music has also been so bad is due to TVB's monopoly, lack of music variety shows, Music awards not representing the actual quality music/singer-songwriters, music not being available overseas mostly HK iTunes, politics etc. Also they caught on the digital age a bit late. Only recently in these two years did I see more HK music commonly posted on HK iTunes yet it's still not available in US for download?! While I can download my favorite Thailand singer's song from iTunes in US? Something seriously wrong there.

    1. @sport3888: Here's the same response I posted in AF...

      I don't know...the way I see it, it sounded more like a 'general' sense in that Benny was saying many of the younger generation's songs in today's music industry are 'jibberish' and the lyrics are incoherent. He never once used the word 'all', so depending on the way you read it, there are room for exceptions.

      To be honest, I don't consider Wyman and Lin Xi as 'current' lyricists -- to me, they fall into the category of 'veteran' lyricists from the previous generation who still happen to be active in today's music industry. I think this is probably the way Benny sees it too (after all, he's been in the industry close to 30 years as well), which is probably why he was surprised at Wyman's reaction, since he wasn't referring to Wyman or Lin Xi at all (based on what Benny wrote, it was pretty clear (to me at least) that he was referring to the younger generation in general). This is also why I feel that Wyman overreacted a bit -- since he's not considered a 'younger generation' lyricist, I really didn't understand why he reacted the way he did (and the way he responded -- bringing Peter Lai into the discussion -- made it seem to me that he had previous riff with Benny).

      Like I said in my blog post, I don't necessarily fault Wyman or the other industry people for reacting the way they did, I just feel that this issue was blown way out of proportion and didn't need to get as big as it did. Sure, some of the things Benny said may be exaggerated (and I definitely agree with you that the 'death' of the music industry is attributed to more than just bad lyrics), but at the end of the day, Benny's post was just an 'editorial' -- his personal opinion of the music industry from the eyes of a non-music person.

  2. It could also be a language barrier issue because many people only listen to the language they understand. I have a friend who only listens to Mandarin and English because that's what she understand including Sammi's and Denise Ho's Mandarin songs even though they have Cantonese songs. Not everyone like me would listen to so many variety of music from various countries. Lets just say Cantonese might very well become a language like Taiwanese where it's spoken locally and there will be some awards for it but the main language will become Mandarin. Maybe only then will the HK music industry flourish again. Promotion and the push for more international acknowledge is severely lacking for Cantonese music as well. Seriously if a successful Thai movie likes Yes or No can allow the main female leads to go around China singing the themesongs and promoting then there's no excuse why HK singers can't go on more China Variety shows to promote.

  3. @llwy12 - A belated happy mid-Autumn festival greeting to you and all your readers! Anyway, about this article, or better yet, statement, it definitely had the potential to rifle some feathers. But I honestly think that Wyman and co. took his comments too personally. Like you, I wouldn't even consider Wyman or Albert to be this generation's singer-songwriters. I think he was just trying to point out the fact that there are some meaningless lyrics with uncatchy tunes floating around. Of course, he went a little bit overboard with the whole 'death' thing. What I think he meant to say was, "with the way things are going now, it might as well be dead".

    @sport3888 - Just an FYI, I'd be considered part of the younger generation but I agree with some of the things Benny and you are saying. Even though he wasn't doing any name dropping, I'm thinking he was talking about 'singer-songwriters' like Deal, who wrote 'Chok' for Raymond Lam (yes, it was ridiculously stupid).

    I wouldn't entirely blame it on the digital age or language barriers. Yes, I think it has something to do with with it but it isn't the root of the problem. Youtube is still a much more popular platform than iTunes is and people are discovering music off that. Music is a language in its own right. Orchestral music has no lyrics. You also don't necessarily have to understand the lyrics for something to stay in your head. A lot of people listen to Kpop these days and they have absolutely no idea what the Korean lyrics mean. South Korea has nailed it with the online distribution channels for their entertainment though.

    The success of 'Yes or No' wasn't really just based on the themesongs. It was partially to do with the movie itself, highlighting the current but controversial issue of female homosexuality. Now it would be nice if HK could actually push their entertainment out. But there just simply isn't that much to promote anymore. The industry is weaker than ever. I do vouch for maybe a separate category for Cantonese songs in singing competitions and shows, however.

    The lack of music variety shows and crappy music award shows all bundles back down to the BIg 4 dilemma. Even TVB's monopoly has to do with it. Obviously, a lot of the good artists would be signed to one of the major record labels and wouldn't be allowed to sing or appear on TVB, though. I said it once, and I'll say it again: lack of talent. Not 'no talent'. They just seem to be looking for it in the wrong places - looking internally, rather than externally.

    1. @TAQ: Long time no talk! Happy belated Mooncake Festival to you as well! Not sure if you or your family ‘celebrate’ the occasion, but in case you do, hope you had a great time!
      Anyway, back to the ‘article’….

      Thanks for your comment! Glad to see that your view was similar to mine – you definitely put our perspective on this issue into words way better than I did, especially with the example you gave of RL’s song. I probably should have given a few examples in my post as well but since I stopped paying close attention to the HK music industry over a decade ago and rarely listen to the younger/current generation’s music (with a few exceptions of course), I probably would not have been able to come up with good examples even if I tried…LOL.

      The funny thing is that in the few days after I wrote my post, I kept seeing and hearing many examples on TV of exactly what Benny was referring to…during the commercial breaks for some of the programs I was watching, TVB kept airing a bunch of MVs from newbie singers whom I had never heard of and they were all singing the types of songs that Benny described – songs whose lyrics were ‘unintelligible’ and at certain points during the song, all I heard was either jarring music or a jumbling together of words and sounds that were barely coherent. Coincidentally, even my mom couldn’t help commenting how ‘weird’ the current generation’s tastes in music are (granted, my mom is an ‘old-timer’ when it comes to the HK entertainment industry and a lot of the singers she likes most of today’s generation probably never even heard of – however, she has always been accepting of ‘different’ types of music provided it’s not too outlandish or outrageous).

    2. @TAQ (continued): Of course, as I said earlier, I don’t agree with everything Benny said and I absolutely do feel that he ‘exaggerated’ certain points, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of what he said actually isn’t too far from the truth. The downward spiral that the HK music industry has taken over the past 15 years or so has truly taken its toll and the industry is definitely in dire need of a ‘revival’ – the unfortunate piece is that I don’t think a ‘revival’ will ever happen given the current state of the entertainment industry and the ‘sensitive’ position HK as a whole is in culturally, politically, economically, socially, etc….even if I’m wrong and a revival does end up happening, I doubt that it will happen in my lifetime (yes, a bit pessimistic on my part, but can’t help it…).

      Definitely agree with you about the HK music / entertainment industry being ‘weaker than ever’ as well as your points on the lack of music variety shows and also the ‘crappy’ music award shows. These have been ‘sore points’ in the industry for many years, but due to the lack of new talent to emerge in the past decade and a half, these ‘inadequacies’ became even more emphasized in recent years. Of course, TVB’s monopoly doesn’t help things one bit – in fact, I feel that TVB actually made things worse over the past decade (especially with all those ‘actors/actresses turned singers’ they pushed into the music industry, most of whom can’t sing to save their lives)! Oh and don’t even get me started on all the ‘crap’ that has been going on with the various record companies in HK and the horribly selfish way that they operate…

      One thing that I forgot to mention in my post is this – sure, Benny was referring primarily to the younger / current generation of artists, with his primary target being singers-songwriters who write songs with meaningless lyrics, but the ironic thing is that almost every industry person who ‘spoke out’ on the issue (whether via Weibo or other means) was from the previous generations (mostly 80s and 90s). I actually have yet to see any of the ‘current’ generation that Benny was referring to speak out on the matter -- including the folks at TVB, since it’s pretty obvious that the ‘charity fundraising show’ Benny was referring to in his editorial was one of the recent TVB shows that had just aired (I ‘think’ the show he was referring to was either the Community Chest charity show or the Yan Chai Hospital one…I remember reading about the ‘musical guest’ list for one of the recent TVB charity shows and thinking to myself that I’m not even going to bother watching the show, since almost all the performers were ‘newbies’ that I didn’t know…). Instead of having all the ‘music veterans’ once again come to the HK music industry’s defense, why not have the younger/current generation (especially those whom Benny ‘alluded’ to in his post) defend themselves? After all, the ‘veterans’ can’t continue to ‘clean up’ after the younger generation forever….

  4. I agreed to what Benny said - to a point... He forgotten to mentioned about the composers and the singers. There is not a lot of tunes that are not as memorable as those in the golden days. How many tunes that came out today that you think will be a classic 5 years later?

    Next is the quality of the singers... HK singers - how many can truly knows how to sing? Vocally and / or emotionally.

    The current popular ones, right now in HK are still those that have been in the industry for over 10 years...

    1. @fangorn: Exactly! There are indeed many reasons why the music industry is in the state that it's in currently.

      I also agree with Benny's overall sentiment that there are huge problems in the music industry and that the lack of talent in the younger / current generation is a huge contributing factor, but the part that I don't agree with (and where I feel he went wrong) is his claim that the music industry is 'dead' because of crappy lyricists who write incoherent me, that's a bit too limiting. I think his editorial would have been better received if he had rephrased it to say that the music industry has deteriorated to the point that it 'might as well be dead' and also list out other reasons for why this might be so instead of putting all the blame on the lyricists...or perhaps still acknowledge that there are many reasons for the downfall, but he will only be focusing on a 1 or 2 in his post.

      You know, the interesting thing far, almost all of the comments I've read from industry people with regard to this subject are in support of the music industry and refute Benny's claims, while majority of the comments I've read from 'ordinary' people (netizens, audiences, friends, etc. not in the industry) support Benny's position (albeit to a certain extent). I guess in a sense I shouldn't be surprised, since music industry people are going to defend the industry no matter what...but to me, it just goes to show that 'the downfall of the music industry' is still a very sensitive subject and most industry people would still rather take a 'head in the sand' approach rather than face the 'ugly monster' head on....that's the part that I feel disappointed over....

  5. Sorry for replying to an old post! But I was just catching up to your blog so, here's my two cents: If Benny Li was indeed speaking about the general state of the HK music industry, that it is declining and not what it used to be, then I would agree with him. But that's not what he did, I got the sense (especially reading it in Chinese) that he was specifically 'attacking' HK lyricists and lyrics that are currently being used in today's music so I don't think Wyman is overreacting when he takes personal offense to Li's statement. As both Lin Xi and Wyman are *very much* active in today's HK music industry and -let's face it- the two still dominate in the lyrics department (Lin Xi has at least 59 songs on his name this year alone). So even though they are both technically from the 'previous generation' they are still responsible for a lot of so-called 'gibberish' lyrics of current songs that Benny Li is talking about. To say things like 'there are no good lyricists after Peter Lai' is simply not true and indeed outrageous. Besides Lin Xi and Wyman, there are also talents like Riley Lam and Siu Hak (who both don't get enough credits in my opinion) now currently active.

    So while I don't disagree that the HK music industry is not what it used to be, I honestly think that Li's statement is offensive, dismissive and quite ignorant of quality lyrics and lyricists.

    1. @Anonymous: Now that I think about it more, I'm starting to feel you guys are right. While I do agree about the downhill state of the music industry in general and agree that today's songs in general can't compare to the classics of yesteryear, I disagree with that statement about Peter Lai and about all of today's lyrics being rubbish.....there were definitely many great lyricists after Peter Lai and many great songs as well....

      I sort of think that Benny was speaking in the heat of the moment and didn't really mean to offend....I'm thinking now in hindsight that Benny should have been more specific with what he wrote and not make it so that the assumption is that all lyricists are like that...

  6. Just admit it. HK Music has died for long time at least several years.

    Wynman and the other song writers are not from this generate his comments don't count.