20 March 2019
Di-Dar, an album by Faye Wong released 20 years ago, has recently become a sensation again among Hong Kong pop music lovers. Photo: Internet
Di-Dar, an album by Faye Wong released 20 years ago, has recently become a sensation again among Hong Kong pop music lovers. Photo: Internet

What’s really killing Cantopop

An old and almost forgotten album from the legendary and now retired diva Faye Wong has been rediscovered recently by pop music lovers in Hong Kong, creating a new sensation in the city.

Be it Gen-Xers or 40-somethings, people have rushed to vintage music stores to try to get a used copy of that album that was first released about 20 years ago.

Many teenage Cantopop fans who weren’t even born when the album was released have been trawling the Internet for critical reviews on the music title. Yes, you heard me right, people are getting crazy about a CD released 20 years ago.

Titled “Di-Dar”, the album was released in December 1995. It was Faye Wong’s ninth and last Cantopop album, and features ten songs.

Composers of the songs were from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, but almost all of the lyrics were written by Albert Leung (林夕), Wong’s long-time musical partner.

Di-Dar was often seen as a milestone and ground-breaking work in Wong’s musical career, as it represents a radical departure from her previous mainstream style.

It was after the release of Di-Dar that Wong began to part with mainstream Cantopop and move towards a more abstract, self-indulgent and psychedelic style of her own.

It is exactly this kind of unique, unparalleled, uncompromising and in-your-face attitude towards music that makes Wong a timeless legend and pioneer in Cantopop’s history, whose influence can still be felt today.  

In fact it appears Di-Dar was intended to be an experimental production. 

Wong, who was heavily involved in the production of the album, boldly introduced a strong touch of British psychedelic rock into her songs, using odd-sounding remixing, elaborate studio effects and drawing on a lot of different rare sources such as the ragga and exotic musical instruments.

That helped create a strong psychedelic, abstract and underground atmosphere to the album as a whole, something that had never been tried by other local musicians or singers before.

The album actually wowed musical critics and opened fans’ eyes to a much wider and outrageous music world back then, like a dazzling shooting star flying across the midnight sky at a time when mainstream commercial Cantopop still reigned supreme in the local market. 

One of its title songs, “Lost” (迷路), composed by C.Y. Kong with excellent lyrics written by Albert Leung, depicts how a girl was lost in her thoughts about someone she used to love.

The song was so well arranged and remixed in such a way that it produces a surreal, whimsical, mysterious and psychedelic atmosphere so extraordinary that those who are listening to it feel like they are personally getting lost in a spooky and hideous forest of deep thoughts themselves.

As Fung Lai-Chee, a seasoned local music critic has once put it, Di-Dar is arguably “the best psychedelic and avant-garde work in Cantonese pop’s history, with songs that are self-centered, ignoring market and others’ work, at the same time abstruse, obscure and mysterious…”

Though critically acclaimed, Di-Dar was not as well-received as Wong’s previous mainstream albums because it was so far ahead of its time. Despite that it still sold 1.5 million copies across Asia.

In fact it is the ambition, innovation, boldness and the eagerness demonstrated to push the musical boundaries that made the album so extraordinary, captivating and monumental.

Its surreal and futuristic style makes it so cool today even after 20 years of its release, eclipsing all the present-day Cantopop albums on the market.

And that begs the question: what has happened to our current crop of Cantopop musicians? Where have all their innovation, boldness and passion for pushing the musical frontiers gone? Why can’t they pull off something as ground-breaking and experimental as Di-Dar today?

For years people kept blaming the decline of our music industry on piracy, the Internet, skyrocketing production costs, TVB’s music franchise, etc.

However, it appears to me that what’s really killing Cantopop is the complacency and sloppiness among today’s local musicians, their obsession with short-term profits and one-hit wonders, and their lack of innovation and unwillingness to push boundaries.

There is always demand for pop music in society, and good music can always find an audience. The CD industry could be dying but the Internet has opened a lot of doors for music producers and singers to promote and sell their work.

Therefore the notion that the music industry can’t survive unless people buy CDs again is absolutely ridiculous. The CD is just a vehicle, what really matters is the content.

The ground-breaking achievement of Di-Dar and its recent resurrection perhaps can remind our present-generation musicians of what their predecessors could pull off in the heyday of Cantopop.

If musicians of the past generation could do it, why can’t our present-day songwriters and singers?

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