One would think I am on top of trends because I write for a blog... but remember I focus on old stories about Chinatown.
But when I saw all the news sources talking about Luis Fonsi's "Despacito being the number on video on Youtube I finally watched the music video to a song I realized I had simply absorbed from hearing other people listening to it.
But this is more than just a popular song. Let's take a look at the video.
A better person to comment on this video would have been a former contributor who was both Puerto Rican and Chinese and a footholds in both communities and also the music world. Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for her) she has moved on to a new position where she will be doing much of the same work she did with us. She isn't working for the CIA but she takes her new job as seriously as if she were. So it's going to be me analyzing instead.
In middle school I remember a classmate who was a proud Boricua, asking me about Chinese music. I talked about how great the songs of Jackie Cheung were, or Beyond, or Andy Lau. I hadn't gotten into Wu Bai or the other Taiwanese artists yet. But I vaguely remember him pausing politely after I hummed a but of Jackie Cheung's songs and then commenting, "That just sounds the same as white people's music."
In my mind I debated this for years, and my friend (who later moved to Korea for a brief teaching stint) laughed with me about this conversation later.
Although if you put Western Music and Hong Kong music together, you will see some differences, my friend was essentially correct in that the differences are not AS great as you will see between Puerto Rican and other Latino music (which I suppose is also western) and say, Anglo music. Beyond has some of that Chinese sound in SOME songs. Taiwan (also a small tropical island and can be compared and contrasted with Puerto Rico on MANY levels) has produced more music with that classical Chinese sound.
(Though "Chiense" might be an offensive term especially if you talk to my in laws)
But the beat is still a simple 4/4 with little syncopation. Ironically there is some Cantonese Opera which modern Chinese Americans tend to cover their ears when they hear it, that has more creative inspiration from Jazz and Cha Cha... but modern songs (like within the last couple years) sound pretty much like Western Pop.
"Despacito", as Luis Fonsi talks about, is very Urban and Puerto Rican and a mixture of many types of music with a strong base in a cultural soul that beats right through. So basically a) the song is great and catchy. I have heard all types of people listening to it.
It isn't the first Latino song to break through like that. But what touched me was the video, which I only just saw today. The song is a love song. And again I will note that this love song is one of longing, explicitly sexual, but not in any way melancholic. That is also a huge difference between the love songs of the Chinese/Hong Kong/Taiwanese culture, which tend to be sad, even when the guy gets the girl. You certainly cannot dance to those slow ballads. So you won't hear it in a club unless it is the techno remix, popular on the mainland, which kills the art of the song in many ways.
So there is something culturally appealing about the Puerto Rican view of life and love.
But the imagery in the video is not so much about two love birds as it is about the community in which they live. All ages are shown. And you see a Barrio, you see poverty, you see rural life, chickens.... something which exists in China but is never in modern music video (popular folk songs yes but those aren't dance hits) Chinese try to separate sexy from that rural life. Luis Fonsi puts all of it together. And you can see Cultural similarities. PR has dominoes, China has Mah Jong.
Chinese culture has many similar aspects of life shown in Fonsi's video... but you would NEVER see that stuff in a hip dance video. Fonsi's video, though well edited and professionally done with lights and probably models... really represents a community. Some may say I am naive and that I am not looking at a real street, but a set.... but I am also not looking at Yachts and fancy cars. There is something almost revolutionary about the imagery in this song that seems to be all about fun, sex, and being hip and modern.
It deserves it's crown as king of all You tube videos.
Stated simply, it's genius.
The question is where will this momentum go? Will Fonsi be able to do more for his people and for Puerto Rico because of the entire worlds obsession with this song?
And for the Boston Chinatown Blog... can we learn from this in some way? Can we showcase Chinese culture and life, the struggles as well as that spirit of how fun it can be to be in a real community, with its flaws as well as its praised qualities... and do it in a way that captures the eyes and ears of the entire world?
Food for thought.