I will happily admit I am a massive fan of 80s and 90s Cantopop. I do not care if people think such songs are now outdated and cheesy or the fact I only understand 30% of the lyrics, old school Cantopop rocks.
Built upon the foundations laid by the likes of Roman Tam and Sam Hui in the 1970s, the 1980s were a golden era for Cantonese pop music in Hong Kong and East Asia. Legends and titans of the genre were forged during this period in the form of Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, Danny Chan, Alan Tam, Sally Yeh and Priscilla Chan. Bar establishing a foothold in their native Hong Kong, such stars managed to export their music and image across Asia, from South Korea to Japan, something which is the opposite way round nowadays. The film and TV industry also started to use many Cantopop songs which led to greater exposure and popularity.
The 1990s then ushered a new dawn led by the “Four Heavenly Kings”; Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Leon Lai and Aaron Kwok. Coined in 1992 by the Oriental Daily News, these four dominated the music, TV and movie industry throughout the decade. In addition a new generation of female artists were emerging in the guise of Kelly Chen, Faye Wong and Sammi Cheng. Those were the true heyday of Cantopop and I am a tiny bit jealous my parents lived through such exciting times, my mum even attended Anita Mui’s famous sell-out concert in London. It was unheard of for an East Asian musician to pack a venue as significant as the Hammersmith Apollo back then.
If you browse through my music library, you will mostly find standard indie/rock and a variety of metal sub-genres (a taste I unexpectedly picked up from my uni days).
Yet in the midst of the Finnish melodic death metal, there lie the same Cantopop tunes my parents listened to when they were in their late teens and twenties; the same tunes I heard around the house and in the car when I was growing up.
Why are they there? I do not believe it is due to nostalgia for nostalgia implies sentimentality and sadness. I don’t exactly long for the past or the “good old days” of my childhood whenever Anita Mui’s 似水流年 comes on my Spotify. Much like my fondness for Hong Kong cinema, Cantopop simply serves as a personal remainder of my heritage and identity.
Cantopop is more than just beautiful awesome music in my eyes. It has been a vehicle used to spread and promote the Cantonese language, a language with over 2000 years of history, across the world. With the language comes cultures, traditions and values. Alongside Hong Kong cinema and TV, Cantopop has resulted in Cantonese becoming of the most influential Chinese dialect to be used by various Chinese communities around the globe. It is what defines Hong Kong, my motherland. With the influence of Cantonese slowly dying, the need to preserve our cultural identity becomes more important than ever. As a second generation immigrant who is illiterate in Traditional Chinese and cannot string a full sentence in Cantonese to save his life, I still cannot deny or ignore my roots, therefore this is why I champion and listen to Cantopop.