Like brands, singers can also strive to appeal to the Chinese audience – with more or less success.
First, by performing concerts in China. Mariah Carey, one of the earliest popular American singer in China, just gathered around 38 000 fans only inmany less consensual singers remain “banned” in the country: Lady Gaga, Beyoncé or Katy Perry for instance would all have had issues with the Chinese Government to release their albums and organize concerts in the country.
As a matter of fact, China was closed to foreign music until the 1980’s. After decades ofrevolutionary music, influenced by the Soviet Union, China discovered “CantoPop” music, born in Hong Kong – mix of Chinese and Western music – and later “Mandopop” (Mandarin popular music) from Taiwan. Since the 1990’s Western pop music shows a growing appeal in China, romantic, melodious songs in particular – direct expression of love being somehow a “new” thing.
The song “Let it go”, from the latest Walt Disney hit cartoon “Frozen” (classic fairy tale princess story), for instance, almost knocked off the iconic love song from Celine Dion from Titanic, “My heart will go on”.
Would singers, like many brands, try to “localize” their songs to appeal to the Chinese?The song “Princess of China”, performed by Coldplay and Rihanna, in 2012, turns to be a textbook case of failed attempt to get closer to the Chinese.
Thanks to the high popularity of Rihanna and Coldplay, this song caught instant attention from the public. As for brands, awareness is key… And once released, the Chinese word “中国公主” (“Princess of China”) became top characters searched online in China, because people felt directly concerned and intrigued, but also because the title was easily translated into Chinese.
The romantic love story, historical background and melodious music were also appealing ingredients.
However, the universe of the video clip would convey a confused representation of China – mixing Chinese stereotypes with many references to other Asian countries.
First of all, the “princess of China”, embodied by Rihanna, a West Indian woman, daughter of an African and Guyanese mother, and Barbadian and Irish father, couldn’t easily claim pure “Han” blood…
All the more so, when we see her depicted as a Japanese Geisha lying down on a couch… wearing heavy make up (opposite to Chinese taste), red latex stockings and no dress.
And then later in the palace hall, performing a Thai traditional dance (“Fawn Leb” or Fingernail Dance) with her servants.
As to the “Prince”, alias British singer Chris Martin, he would soon transformed in a Japanese ninja, adding to the confusion.
In addition, we don’t escape the traditional Chinese clichés. The story takes place in the Forbidden City, overused symbol in so many advertisements for banks, cars, watches, or transportation services.
And the inevitable kung fu scene, directly inspired from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers”, that is, two of the few Chinese movies famous in the West, already mimicking Chinese action movies…
More important, the whole video seems condescending to China. Not only does the stereotyped – Asian mixed – representation of China seems disrespectful, but the entry of the Western “Prince”, alias Chris Martin, in the Forbidden City – eternal and holy symbol of China’s glory – like a modern cow boy, in sports wear and hoody (figuring the anti-hero) and later holding a sword, could seem sacrilegious and even threatening.
Last but not least, what to say about the Princess of China, dancing in a revealing dress, in the courtyard of a house called “Red flower hall” (“ 红花殿”), recalling more of a House of pleasure, rather than a Royal palace…
We can just deplore that China wouldn’t be a more challenging source of inspiration for Western creativity.
Cherry Blossoms Marketing Research & Consulting is a boutique marketing agency based in Hong Kong. Its ambition is to build a bridge between Western and Chinese culture in order to optimize brands’ marketing and communication strategy in China.