Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's Mailbag

Johnny's musings on the music industry provoke comment from a real musician. And what better time to dump all over A-mei for boozing it up on the small screen?

No talent? Be a superstar!

Dear Johnny,

It was with great appreciation -- and the odd laugh out loud -- that I read your commentary on the state of Taiwan's music industry. I have long been baffled by the lack of recognition afforded to Taiwan's true cultural artists, long marginalized by the music industry and the media in lieu of talentless idols reliably rolled out by the major labels.

Needless to say, there is a profound difference between an "artist" and a "pop idol."

An artist is entirely responsible for the material presented. The pop idol, on the other hand, is typically a product of a horde of handlers that includes song writers, arrangers, music producers, studio musicians, hair stylists, choreographers, music video directors and the agents and managers who spoon-feed the media with bullshit about why these prefabricated products are important to humanity.

The idol eventually strolls into the studio and sings a lead vocal onto the hard disk of a computer, where recording engineers skillfully correct pitch, simulate vibrato and other vocal attributes inherent to capable singers, layer and process the vocal track with chorusing and other effects until the cows come home, and in the end deliver what passes as "industry-acceptable" pop music.

Don't get me wrong. I have the greatest respect for the producers and technicians who are able to craft these "silk purses from a sow's ear." They are often the only talented people on such projects -- the idol included.

What has been remarkable of late is the music industry's obsession with grooming idols into hip-hopsters. Do any of these pretty faces have any idea of the cultural origins of hip-hop? And what does this genre -- which originated largely in gang culture in the Bronx -- have to do with local culture?

It seems Taiwan's pop icons have transformed into representatives of hip-hop culture because it was profitable, which is truly ironic, as this music genre was an expression of one's life growing up amid poverty, racism, violence and drugs. That's not a suit you just throw on one day because it pays well.

What offends me most of all is the mainstream music industry duping young people into believing these idols and their product are actually something to revere, and of course, to purchase. This is an outright deception of impressionable youth.

What saddens me most in all this is how Taiwan's media overlook the true artists which abound here. Just look at the pages of the major dailies when the Golden Melody Award nominations are announced to see which categories appear in print and which do not. You're likely to notice an absence of most traditional music categories, finding instead the pop nominations in full glow even though this music has little or no relevance to Taiwanese culture.

What are the media saying? That traditional and Aboriginal music -- indeed, any genre not falling under "pop" -- are not worth recognizing, and that the industry's cookie-cutter regurgitation of culturally irrelevant, uncreative material are the only offerings to be celebrated?

I am happy to say that in my travels around Taiwan I've been blown away by the artists who do exist here, whether it be an elderly Hakka tea farmer singing in his farmhouse, an erhu player putting a new spin on Taiwanese opera music, or a young Aboriginal singer cutting loose after a few shots of rice wine.

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