Hong Kong people have a feeling that the music industry is losing its top talent to China.
They understand that money is driving the brain drain. There’s more of it to be made across the border.
But is Hong Kong’s music business really that bad?
There’s no right or wrong answer but what’s indisputable is that Hong Kong artists owe their first success to local fans.
Any recognition they receive overseas, China included, began right here.
Some have gone on to greater fame — Joey Yung and Eason Chan are just two examples — but quite a few are only making a name for themselves in Hong Kong.
It’s very likely they will be heading north when the time comes. In the meantime, it’s so far so good for Hong Kong music fans.
Then there are those who are trying to make a comeback after being away for a while.
The latest is Andy Hui, a 30-year veteran whose career took off in the 1980s and 1990s.
He is well known for his romance with popular singer Sammi Cheng but he is a heavyweight in his own right comparable with Jacky Cheung and Eason Chan.
Hui has been low-profile in recent years.
Hui picked the mainland for his return to the spotlight after recently being unveiled as a contestant in Star of China, a singing contest in which he is competing with eight other topnotch singers.
In Saturday’s show, Hui sang Jacky Cheung’s canto pop classic How Did I Miss You, leaving the audience transfixed and fellow Hong Kong artist Sandy Lam visibly impressed.
Not Cui Jian, a Chinese rock star.
Lam’s fellow judge questioned why there were no younger singers from Hong Kong, and more pointedly, why the choice of an “old song”.
“Some would agree the song represents Hong Kong, but I absolutely disagree,” Cui said.
Cui went on to say he couldn’t understand anything about the song.
Hui’s fans pushed back against Cui’s comments on social media, saying canto pop is a major part of the Chinese pop culture.
They said Cui himself couldn’t hold a note better than Hong Kong rock band Beyond, canto pop’s perennial flavor of the month.
For his part, Hui was deferential.
“I agree with what Cui had to say. There’s still room for me to improve in the future,” he said.
Many Hong Kong people felt sorry for Hui for not standing up to Cui. They considered Cui’s remarks insulting.
Arguably, Cui does not represent Chinese thinking about an important aspect of Hong Kong culture.
But Hui’s tepid reaction spoke volumes about the state of the local music industry.
If it’s not growing enough to nurture Hong Kong talent and keep them home, why throw obstacles in the road to the mainland?
That might sound unfair, even preposterous, but it does show the extent to which China has made inroads in every aspect of Hong Kong life.
That said, not all Hong Kong artists are afraid of the bugbear next door.
Denise Ho stood up to China by lending her star power to last year’s democracy protests.
Since then, she has grown her career on the back of her loyal followers, without support from the industry’s movers and shakers who usually dance to Beijing’s beat.
Ho’s Reimagine Hong Kong concert earlier this year was a huge success, especially among younger fans.
She later wrote in a newspaper op-ed that canto pop will survive as long as there’s one singer left in Hong Kong.
By contrast, G.E.M Tang, a young Hong Kong singer who rose to international stardom after a breakout performance in a Chinese talent show, has been criticized for pandering to mainland fans by intentionally singing off key.
Hong Kong music fans think she is a disgrace to canto pop.
By all accounts, G.E.M. is successful in China but can she hack it in Hong Kong as she used to?
When a Hong Kong company recently tried to promote her latest album on social media, her local fans deleted the music app from their smartphones.
Then again, G.E.M. may have decided to forsake her Hong Kong fans for the Chinese market.
Cui Jian’s Nothing to My Name (1989)
Andy Hui’s performance in China (Nov. 29, 2015)
Denise Ho’s Reimagine Hong Kong concert (2015)
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