Macao and Hong Kong share a similar culture. Aside from the tradition and customs, one thing seems to be exactly the same – our pop-songs culture. A few non-local friends have asked me about pop-culture in Macao, or what songs I listened to growing up. After thinking for a short while, I answer that Macao does not have our own music industry, so we grow up listening to Hong Kong’s pop songs. Therefore, pop stars in Hong Kong are that the ones who we “worship” too, growing up in Macao. That reminds me of the height of Hong Kong’s pop music industry in the 90s and early 2000s.
There are not many popstars nowadays because there are too many young singers. In the 90s, though there were many entertainers, true “stars” were few, and almost every one of my friends and acquaintances was a fan of only one of the four or five pop stars around. Although people my age remember the most famous ones such as Andy Lau, Jacky Cheong, Leon Lai or Aaron Kuok, the real pop-king of all time was Leslie Cheung, who started in the 80s and was sitting on the throne of stars until early 2000. I believe anyone living in Macao or Hong Kong during that time would have heard his name, and April of this year was when we missed him the most.
Winning Hong Kong’s equivalent of the Academy Award for best actor, and Hong Kong’s equivalent of the Grammy Award for best singer in the same year, in addition to being one of the few Hong Kong actors who had won movie awards worldwide, Cheung’s talent was unquestionable. But he died young, committing suicide on 1st April 2003, following a long battle with depression. I still remember that most people thought it was an April fools’ joke until it was reported on the news.
My commemoration of Cheung came late this year because he was outshone by a bigger star, Jesus, when Easter Sunday fell on April 1 this year. But listening to the old pop songs which I grew up listening to over the last couple of weeks got me thinking as to whether there was link between our pop music culture and depression. A recent survey of popular songs in Macao and Hong Kong seemed to really express only two themes, of two extremes, romantic sweet love or self-torturing, unrequited love.
There are songs with themes like ‘I fall for you alone’, ‘I love you for who you are’ and ‘Love you more everyday’, giving teenagers a feeling that love is sweet and romantic and involves someone singing such a song to us. However, if sweet romance is not what we get, there is only the other extreme: “songs which focus on showing how one suffers from love,” with lyrics like “now it’s my heart bleeding but you will feel the pain soon… one day the one you love most will stab you in your heart…”. The songs we grew up with seem to make us believe that either our love life is perfect, or else there has to be serious drama, and there are more cases of the latter than the former.
One can argue that there are songs of love and un-requited love in almost every culture, but there are also many songs that are about greater love, or hope, or just everyday life. However, that 90s pop music culture here, at least songs I grew up with, had very few songs about anything aside from self-torture in one’s love life. Perhaps that is why more people are suffering from depression in Macao and Hong Kong. But is it the songs that shaped our culture, or our culture that shaped the songs?