The New Hip-Hop  Generation of China

The New Hip-Hop Generation of China

Yehan Wang (University of York, UK)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3323-9.ch005

Abstract

In 2017, an online reality show single-handedly ignited China's passion for hip hop, garnering more than 2.5 billion views and ensuring stardom for its contestants. Prior to this, Chinese hip-hop culture was only an “underground culture”; a small number of people sang in subway stations, not in mainstream media or culture. Based on research into the concept of “post-subculture” and the Birmingham school's theory of youth subcultures, this research takes the TV music show The Rap of China as an exemplary case study and explores how media companies make use of power emerging from fandom to “break the rules” of the traditions of mainstream culture in China. Through online observations of hip-hop songs and artists as well as interviews of hip-hop fans, this research explores the identities constructed in the age of consumerism and how new hip-hop generation fans perceive hip-hop culture.
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Introduction

China was the most prominent emergent economic force of the 1990s (from the perspective of the second decade of the 20th century). As such, it has begun to recognize and replicate the latest global cultural production and marketing trends at an astonishing pace. Certain “new media outputs” including online literature, web TV series, hip-hop music, and e-sports have become a familiar aspect of daily life. With the rise of digital media, specifically, the web 2.0 environment, the everyday interactions people have with media today have changed (Dwyer, 2010). As those interactions continue to change, research is required to bridge the divide in academic study between investigations into popular culture industries and research into popular culture fandom. Media companies can no longer be meaningfully studied in the absence of an understanding of how they relate to their consumers. By the same token, consumers, audiences, fan communities and users, can no longer be fully understood without a better understanding of the economic and technological contexts within which they operate. Therefore, academic research into fan creativity, online communities, and participatory culture has become central to a range of different, yet related, disciplines.

The case study chosen for this research is the Rap of China (RoC). RoC is a Chinese reality rap competition show produced by iQiyi. The RoC became a major cultural sensation in China quite suddenly and this revealed as much about the state of China's entertainment industry as about its socio-political environment. The RoC was broadcast on the iQIYI online website, which brought with its substantial benefits for the young media company. The RoC garnered a record of 3.5 billion views and achieved profits of £15 million. This feat was calculated by online viewers to comprise the core base of RoC's market. Tao (2017) foresaw that in the near future in which China’s post-1990s generation will dominate decisions made in cultural productions.

Hip-hop music is a type of street culture which subsequently developed into a means by which hip-hop artists could critically comment on society, which included the problems of drug abuse in slums, violent law enforcement, social injustice, and racial discrimination. Such a critical form of music is clearly inconsistent with traditional Chinese culture (Fung, 2007). The appeal of hip-hop lies in its lyrics, as well as the motivation behind those lyrics which differs from “soft” and “graceful” traditional Chinese music. Also, hip-hop is a form of music that evokes a potent political force which is considered controversial to the Chinese government, which typically prefers to promote traditional mainstream culture (Lin, 2008).

Nevertheless, the identity of current Chinese hip-hop fans is different from that of its proponents in the New York of the 1970s (both in terms of the level of education and upbringing). According to a survey by the China Internet Network Information Centre (2018), Chinese hip-hop fans are well-educated young people and often come from wealthy families. The current hip-hop fans in China are a young generation with dreams and professional aspirations, they do not like the narratives conveyed in reality music shows which tend to focus on emotional appeals. In contrast, they prefer lyrics along the lines of: “I'm the best,” “I want to be rich,” and “I want to be famous.” “Keeping it real,” as hip-hop artists like to say, is what most of the post-90s fans deeply care about. A beneficiary of RoC, such as the Chinese rapper GAI, spent more energy transforming his image from an underground rapper to a more widely accepted performer in order to promote his commercial value. Other rappers were busy mingling with popular celebrities and raising their profiles. This was the case of VAVA, a female Chinese rapper who participated in the RoC. With the genre itself becoming popular with China’s youth in a country changing at a fast pace, VAVA represented an image of an empowering female artist. It is iQIYI's strategy to package VAVA as a powerful female rapper and attempted to embrace the “power” of female fans. Therefore, from an industry rather than an artistic perspective, this is the expression that hip-hop music transcending moralism. This can be seen as a sign of hip hop finally entering China's mainstream culture.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Subculture Fans: Subculturalists are a collective who consider themselves as part of a community. Subculturalists have an innate sense of connection and relationship with other members of their subculture. Subculturalists often feel a deep subcultural sense of belonging that transcends geographic boundaries because they are able to associate subcultures as a large part of their identity, even referring to each other as “families.”

Underground Culture: Underground culture is a cultural means of self-expression. However, that culture has not been accepted and recognized by the mainstream culture. The popularity of RoC has given rise to the definition of “underground culture.” When a certain culture is not recognized by the public and is only accepted by a small group of people, then this small group becomes a relatively closed group, which is deemed to be the underground group.

Consumer Culture: Consumer culture can be broadly defined as social status, values and activities and are centered on the consumption of goods and services. In other words, much of what a person does, what they value, and how they are defined in consumer culture has to do with their spending. From an economic perspective, popular culture is viewed as a set of capitalist production processes driven by the motive of profit and selling to consumers.

Pan-Moralism: A critical method that uses ethics as the value standard to judge all social phenomena. In the process of criticizing, regulation is replaced by ethical judgment and moral admonishment, which hides dislocation or the lack of an institution. In this social environment, all kinds of social problems are often attributed to the moral realm of people, to selfish, material desire, cowardice, attributed to the loss of sacrifice and dedication spirit. Those who do not follow social morality will be criticized by morality.

“Keep It Real”: The word “real” has several meanings in hip-hop culture. Literally, it can be “be yourself” or “follow your heart,” which shows authenticity in personality or attitude. Broadly, in the spirit of hip-hop culture “keep it real” is about expressing yourself. It became the best weapon used by hip-hop artists to reflect reality or criticize society's issues.

Depolitication: Alessandro Russo argued that the cultural revolution in China was a highly politicized period that ended with “depoliticization.” It is a process in which factionalism and violence undermined political debate and diversity within politics. “De-politicization” is applied in China, but also applied to global politics. “De-politicization” is a political mode that transforms political debate into a power struggle.

Censorship in the People's Republic of China (PRC): Censorship in the People's Republic of China (PRC) is implemented or mandated by the PRC ruling party, the Communist Party of China (CPC). The government censors content mainly for political reasons, but also to maintain its control over the population. The Chinese government asserts that it has the legal right to control the content of the internet within their territory and that their censorship rules do not infringe on the citizen's right to free speech. The government maintains censorship over all media capable of reaching a wide audience. This includes television, print media, radio, film, theater, text messaging, instant messaging, video games, literature, and the Internet. The content of censorship is historical, political, moral, cultural, religious, and military.

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