By Sharon Chan 

In the past decade many Hongkongers have begun to appreciate the importance of a uniquely Hong Kong-based identity. A good example is the emergence of the online community known as the “Hong Kong Siu Mai Concern Group (香港燒賣關注組),” where Hongkongers from all over the world unite and share their love for the city’s iconic street food

Hong Kong boy band Mirror, in October 2022. Photo: Mirror/Facebook.
Hong Kong boy band Mirror, in October 2022. Photo: Mirror/Facebook.

The boy band Mirror emerged around the same time and soon became seen as the hope of Cantopop. To say its members are teenage heartthrobs is an understatement, but the band has also captured the hearts of many housewives – reportedly even sparking marriage disputes

Numerous companies have hired the group or its individual members as faces of their brands, and fans have funded advertising campaigns for their favourites across the world. As a Hongkonger currently living in Toronto, I recently made a trip downtown only to see the billboards of Keung To at the Eaton Centre

Back in the 1980s the city enjoyed worldwide acclaim for its film industry, and now Hongkongers want it to reclaim its position as a pop culture powerhouse. While I am happy that Mirror offered Hong Kong “ a rare burst of unity and pleasure” and is striving to gain traction overseas with the release of the English track Rumours, it remains relatively obscure in the global market compared to K-pop.

To prove my point, a quick look at any Mirror music videos will show you they are flooded with comments from Hongkongers rather than people from other parts of the world. 

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Acknowledging this in no way undermines the hard work and effort of Mirror members and their team. We must be able to identify Cantopop’s weaknesses in order to make the genre more appealing to the global market. 

Mirror members are fashionable and can sing and dance, and the band has high-quality music videos. Those are essential elements for success but more is needed.

Cantopop needs a distinctive image and sound to set it apart from its competitors. While it is tempting for Cantopop producers to replicate what is popular at the moment – in other words, Korean pop – the reason for K-pop’s massive success is its individuality.

The Koreans did not invent hip-hop but took a genre which was already popular and combined it with elements that are uniquely Korean (the iconic K-pop fashion and their colourful, well-produced music videos).

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The focus on replicating K-pop is not going to get Cantopop far, as the Korean industry itself is already over-saturated with groups almost indistinguishable from one another. Moreover, Western societies like America favour individualism. Westerners value independence, creativity, and self-expression, and if Cantopop wants to make it on the Billboard charts like K-pop does , it needs to come up with a formula that showcases Hong Kong’s individuality. 

Learning From Past Success and V-pop

If Hong Kong could once interest the world in its films, why can’t it gain global attention for its music? 

Cantopop should learn from the glory days of the movie industry. While the films all featured good plots coupled with great acting and cinematography, they also introduced a unique form of humour and kung fu/wuxia to an international audience.

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Many international fans still remember the Hong Kong films from the 80s. Given that nostalgia is on the rise, Cantopop can surely take advantage of the film industry’s former fame and incorporate elements of 80s nostalgia into its music and music videos.

Several Hong Kong artists including AGA and Lag Chun, have incorporated the trending Citypop sound into their music. While Citypop originated in Japan, the cyberpunk, neon light aesthetics commonly associated with the genre today were inspired by none other than Hong Kong. Moreover, nostalgia in pop culture is currently on the rise as people, according to one author, are “reaching for a time of comfort in the unsettled world we live​​ in right now”.

In addition to the lessons of past success, Cantopop can also learn from the increasingly popular Vietnamese Pop (V-pop). In 2022, Vietnamese singer Hoàng Thùy Linh released a track entitled See Tình which instantly became a viral hit.

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People across the world took part in the song’s dance challenge on TikTok, and with 54 million views, the song’s music video is a perfect combination of cute and catchy lyrics, disco-pop, and colourful portrayals of Vietnam’s cuisine and water culture

The Power of Consumers

The roots of K-pop were in the 1950s, and it took decades of experimentation to become the pop music giant it is today. Since Cantopop has only recently started targeting the international market, it will need time to find its distinctive image and sound. 

While my article has mainly been a critique of Cantopop producers, we consumers have more power than we realise in changing the image and sound of the genre. Hongkongers should show extra support for artists and bands with individualistic qualities.

Mirror fans should also realise that even criticism can be a form of support. If we truly want them to become a global success, we should not shy away from constructive comment.

Sharon Chan is a Hong Kong Canadian who is currently a humanities student at the University of Toronto. She is passionate about arts and culture and has previously contributed to her university’s student newspaper. She aspires to be a full-time journalist.

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