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A Chinese Pop Primer And Mixtape

Although the mainland has evolved rich and vibrant offerings in film and television in the post-Mao era, most Chinese-language pop music still...

Although the mainland has evolved rich and vibrant offerings in film and television in the post-Mao era, most Chinese-language pop music still tends to come from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Led by Cui Jian, an important Beijing rock underground emerged in the '90s, but it's hard to call much of that music catchy, exactly, or danceable, or "poppy." And while promising indie and electronica scenes have also sprung up over the past few years (which our friends at have been excellent at spotlighting), few of the big acts that you'll hear on the radio, or see on TV will come from the mainland-and if they do, chances are they'll be studious imitators of one of the established stars.

Over at Muxtape, we've assembled a mix of songs in Cantonese and Mandarin by some of the bigger names in the Chinese pop firmament. Mainstream Chinese musical taste is often unfortunately biased in favor of the soft and melodic-the recordings of the Carpenters are much beloved on the mainland. As a result, CDs by even the most adventurous and forward thinking Chinese artists can be heavy on sappy ballads, but the best tracks deserve to be hits in any language.

Some quick notes on a few of the artists: Coco Lee and Wang Lee Hom are ringers of a sort-both grew up in the U.S., in, respectively, San Francisco and Rochester, both were in their late teens when they caught the notice of Chinese talent scouts while visiting family overseas (Lee in Hong Kong, Wang in Taiwan), and both speak English better than they do Chinese. Hong Kong's Karen Mok is one of the most consistently interesting and experimental commercial Chinese artists, and a dynamic live performer-her CD Golden Flower, produced by the Taiwanese rocker Wu Bai, stands among the best electronica/dance discs of the past decade. Vicki Zhao Wei is the only contemporary mainland artist in the compilation, and an enormous pop and film star. A pioneer of Chinese dream pop, Faye Wong has famously covered songs by the Cranberries and the Sundays, and collaborated with the Cocteau Twins. My Little Airport is a delightful Hong Kong indie band whose music is now being distributed internationally by the pop connoisseurs at the Spanish label Elefant. Chow Hsuan is a legendary singer and film star from China's jazz age, recording in the 1930s and '40s-recently, a bunch of classic recordings by Chow and other artists from the time, were compiled and remixed by the Hong Kong DJ Ian Widgery and released as "Shanghai Lounge Divas."

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