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By Steve Kelman

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Asian Grammy coming soon?

Singapore’s major newspaper, The Straits Times, ran a long story a few days ago called “Quincy Jones Looks East,” about plans to create an Asian pop music Grammy Award. (By the way, the worldwide newspaper crisis somehow doesn’t seem to have hit Singapore. The Straits Times is chock full of ads, mostly for retail outlets, travel, real estate, and some consumer branded products, bringing back memories of a thick US paper from 30 years ago.)

In a combination that is incredibly Singapore-like in its mixture of a strong government with lots of commercial participation, the government’s Media Development Authority and Economic Development Board, along with funding from a large Singapore-based event management company, have supported creation of a Singapore-based Asia Academy of Music Arts and Sciences. The Academy has named Quincy Jones, now 79 years old and himself the winner of 27 Grammies, as board chairman. One of the first activities of the Academy, scheduled for next year, is an annual music awards ceremony intended as a pan-Asian Grammy, to be called the Come Together Awards Show.

Jones has never visited Singapore, but he is quoted in the article as standing in awe of the country’s efficiency: “If there is anybody in the world that understands organization, it’s Singapore, man. I’m so impressed with the organization skills there.” The article also reports that Jones – who apparently also was an “artistic advisor” to the 2008 Beijing Olympics – is learning Chinese.

The idea of an Asian Grammy award says a lot about the rise of Asia. On the one hand, it shows a confidence about Asia’s prominence and status. On the other hand, it stands in the shadows of the US. They’ve chosen a prominent American as board chair, seemingly to give the exercise legitimacy. Beyond that, the dominant Asian pop sounds from Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan sound pretty much exactly like really soft and sugary US pop, only in a foreign language.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually really like the sound of a lot of Mandopop, pop songs in Chinese. Here are YouTube links to two of my favorites: Taiwanese Teresa Teng’s Yueliang daibiao wo de xin (The Moon Represents My Heart) – which a certain generation of mainland Chinese got to hear in the 80’s as China was opening up to the outside world -- and Singaporean Stephanie Sun’s Yu jian (Meet). The songs are very soft and emotional. I like them a lot, but then again a lot of my family and friends think I have atrocious taste in music. Asian pop artists, including those in the K-pop (Korean pop) genre, which is very popular throughout the continent, tend to be androgynous and cute, with a sort of Hello Kitty feel. (I should add there is also Asian rap and hip-hop.) Whatever else Asian pop is, it is not original or innovative music.

From the West’s perspective, the content of Asian pop and talk of an Asian Grammy award, the good news is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Posted on Mar 20, 2012 at 12:09 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Mar 23, 2012

What is this blog supposed to be about?

Thu, Mar 22, 2012

We need to develop more local music culture, China has many traditional classical thing, may be relatively low-key

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 bugeek Boston

Pop?? You have not lived until you have heard Asian Metal and Punk!! There is actually a very big scene there.

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