By Mandy Yim and Emilie Lui
Sunny Lam has been creating music videos with political themes since 2014 — but now, he says, he will steer clear of phrases such as “Free Hong Kong, revolution now” or come up with different terminology.
Lam has more than 70,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel but is fearful of possible consequences under the national security law, especially because of its ambiguities,
“The government interprets everything,” Lam says. “Once the government says you are violating the law, then you are.”
Having published two songs about the Prince Edward incident on his channel, Lam worries about being arrested. “I thought about giving up [producing political songs] in August,” he says. “With the introduction of the law, the government may say I am spreading rumours through my songs about the 831 incident.”
On August 31 last year, riot police entered Prince Edward MTR station to arrest people after receiving reports that protesters had assaulted members of the public and damaged station property. Video footage showed police pepper-spraying protesters inside a train carriage and ordering them to kneel against a wall with their hands on their heads.
The event generated unsubstantiated claims of deaths, which have been strongly denied by police and government officials.
Lam says some netizens he has worked with share his fear. “Some netizens wrote lyrics for some of my songs about Hong Kong. They told me they would stop doing it because of the law,” he says.
People around Lam, especially his parents, have urged him to stop producing his music to avoid violating the law. “I used the phrase ‘black cops’ many times in most of my songs. I may soon be arrested.”
Despite his fears, Lam says he will keep producing new songs and post them on his YouTube channel. “I am scared, but I won’t stop doing it,” he says. “I am still passionate about music creation.”
Lam believes that creating songs about current issues can foster public awareness. “Some people may not care about politics. Some may find news boring. Music can repackage news by adding different styles to it, such as a sense of humour,” he says.
But he predicts a smaller audience as people discuss political issues less openly under the law. “I’ve never thought the situation would become like this. In the past, I thought this only happens in China. Now, Hong Kong is the same.”
Another music producer, Fong King-lok, shares Lam’s sentiments. “I did not expect the law to come so soon,” Fong says. “[Despite the law], we will continue to create music and sing our minds.”
Fong, an executive committee member of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, has been making music for more than 20 years. He wrote a Cantonese song with his friends about how ordinary people resist the government, and the team published the music video on YouTube in May.
Fong says his team cares about Hong Kong. “We want to entertain ourselves and voice our thoughts and resonate with people through music,” he says. “Music can help everyone express their thoughts. It is not just an idea. It can be watched, listened to and shared with others. As a creator, this is the greatest joy,” he adds.
Yet he lost creative motivation after the security law was introduced on June 30. “Frankly speaking, the law makes me feel discouraged. I lose the will to express my opinion,” he says, describing the lack of tolerance and respect for different opinions in the city as suffocating.
Similarly to Lam, Fong says the law’s vagueness creates fear. “What is sedition? What is subversion? Does singing a song mean sedition? Is national security that easy to be interfered with?” he says.
“Our team is not a group of young frontline protesters. We are relatively moderate. Even so, we have worries,” Fong says.
“I have lived [in Hong Kong] for more than 40 years and I have never seen a situation like this before.”
But Fong vows to keep on making music. “We will not change the theme of our music. All the productions we do are related to society,” he says. “Any change may cause a lot of ripples but may also bring a lot of hope.”
Fong believes the most beautiful music is made during the toughest times. “I don’t believe music creation will die,” he adds.
Heartgrey, a three-time Chinese Beatbox Champion who represented Hong Kong at the 2012 Beatbox Battle World Championship, has also produced music about political affairs in Hong Kong. He says it is important for music creators to survive even if they have to adapt. “Music creators can use less explicit words in their lyrics,” he says.
Last year, Heartgrey produced a song titled “Under Mountain” with his friends to express their feelings about the anti-extradition bill movement. The song was first performed in the King Maker II Final Competition on ViuTV and became a hit.
Heartgrey thinks music can be a source of emotional support for Hongkongers. “Music creators are able to influence the public emotionally by playing guitar and composing songs.”
“So everyone can walk hand in hand with an optimistic vibe,” he says. “Given the tense atmosphere, music creators should make greater efforts to send out our ray of sunshine.”
Heartgrey says the security law can even have a positive impact. He believes that the quality of lyrics will improve because composers will express themselves more indirectly.
“We shouldn’t clash with the law directly,” he says. “And we have to stay alive. Don’t just bury ourselves into politics.”