Sat, Jun 02, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's Mailbag

What's the right medicine for kids who are force-fed a diet of crap local music? More foreign influence, or a richer understanding of Taiwan? Or, heaven forbid, both?

On the lookout for pop

Dear Johnny,

In an attempt to learn more about Taiwanese pop music, I went to the Sony Fair 2006 concert and checked out the performances of several bands that my junior high school students are overly fond of.

It was one of the most excruciatingly painful evenings of my life. Out of the 20-odd performers, only four possessed any potential at all.

These artists were Yida Huang (黃義達), Wang Lee-hom (王力宏), Vanness Wu (吳建豪) and the band Nan Quan Mama (南拳媽媽). Instead of slipping into audio-torture-induced comas between acts, we amused ourselves by learning new Chinese characters from the marquee.

Not only were nearly all of the artists (including the four "acceptable" ones) horribly out of tune, their stage presence was also abysmal.

Most of the performers could also be classified as "Asian fashion victims." The girls were, in a sad commentary for my gender, generally much worse and much more vapid than the guys. Out of all of the female performers, only Lara (梁心頤) from Nan Quan Mama suggested she was in possession of higher level brain activity, even if her stage performance was wooden.

Indeed, I couldn't understand how or why these people have record deals. In the US the majority of them would have been booed off the stage and the remainder forcefully removed.

One of the striking things about the few artists that were okay was that they all seemed to have managed to incorporate traditional Chinese musical ideas into their own music. It also seems that their songs are usually written by the band/singer and not by a corporate conglomerate.

All of this commentary critical of Taiwan's musical talent is useless if it does not do anything to improve it. So, my question is what can be done to improve the music scene in Taiwan? Alas, I have only two ideas.

The first is to be patient and wait. It's only been a handful of years since Taiwanese pop culture was, in effect, legalized. So, like Taiwanese democracy, it's still in its infancy, and like all parents know, it takes many years before a child is capable of coherent speech, and by the time that happens you are too old to truly appreciate it.

The second is to continue to encourage Taiwanese children to study with foreigners. No, I'm not just suggesting this because it pays my salary. Although I often shudder at the number of hours many of the kids spend in various educational institutions here, sometimes I think that exposure to other ways of thinking is the only hope for them.

Some of the things I try to teach my English students (not usually on the curriculum) are creative thinking and reasoning, neither of which is something that is encouraged in the Taiwanese educational system -- and both are lacking in the entertainment industry.

This, in addition to other musical cultures and traditions, can help create an individual who will be able to evaluate his or her life and make informed decisions (this holds true for anyone, anywhere).

The introduction of these influences will, I think, over time, be the leaven needed to help Taiwanese music rise to a more mature sound.

I hope my kids will be able to enjoy it someday.

Camille Jolley

Taipei

Johnny replies: Thanks for writing; I had to cut your letter because it was very long.

I really have to say that it might not be necessary for kids to be exposed to so many "foreign" influences if they actually got up off their butts and did some real travel in Taiwan itself.

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