Discover China: Chinese songs you simply can't miss!
Music taste can certainly be divisive! Whether you like the latest pop hits, or you're more interested in indie gems, it can often be hard to break out of your comfort zone and discover new music. We get it, we are people of habit. However, today, I want to make a case for Chinese music, and show you that Chinese music is certainly worth your time! In a marketplace that is full of talented Korean groups and dazzling Western icons, Chinese music tends to get overlooked. But, Chinese music definitely has a lot to offer, and there are a lot of both pop hits AND hidden gems to be found. If you are feeling curious, and want to discover some new music, then this article is for you! And if you're staunchly tied to your own music taste, and won't have anyone change your mind, then still, continue reading. At least next time, you can show off to your Chinese friends with your superior music knowledge, right?
1. JJ Lin’s “Practice Love” - 林俊杰 《修炼爱情》
JJ Lin has always been a big name in the Chinese music world. A Singaporean native, JJ has made it big in both mainland China and Taiwan, with masses of fans attending his concerts yearly no matter where he performs. He is famous for his unique voice, one which is capable of all sorts of music, and one which will leave you in awe time and time again. The above offering is more akin to your typical Chinese hit - a slow, touching love song, but with that special JJ Lin charm. ‘Practice Love’ is a relatively new song from the singer’s 13-year career, but racking up over 40 million views, it’s certainly a video to watch!
The unique style of the video is accompanied by a moving song, but what makes this video particularly ‘must-see’ is that it is based on the true story of the SilkAir Flight 185, an airplane crash from 1997 that shook Singapore. JJ Lin tells the story of his close friend who was a victim of the crash and plays with our heart strings as he looks back at the mistakes he made. If that doesn't get the tears flowing, then at least you can enjoy the impressive visuals that this video offers!
2. G.E.M.’s “Bubble” - 邓紫棋《泡沫》
G.E.M. is a young Hong Kong singer that recently shot to fame in Mainland China after appearing on the immensely popular singing show ‘I’m A Singer’ (我是歌手). Her amazing vocal talent caught the attention of viewers, allowing this single from 2012 to rocket to fame in 2014. During my time living in China, you could hear this song in nearly all malls and restaurants, demonstrating what a smash hit it became. Before this, she was immensely popular back in Hong Kong for being a raw talent that was capable of both catchy pop hits and intense ballads. Starting her career at just 17, she is a young face in the Chinese music scene.
The video itself is a one-shot video, which is delicately filmed. G.E.M. sings of the fragility of love, likening romance to a bubble, and captures listeners with her delicate visuals and strong melody. Her unique style was a talking a point amongst people, with her striking hairstyle being one step ahead of the trend. This is definitely one song that, once you have heard it, won’t leave your head anytime soon!
3. Wanting’s “You Exist In My Song” - 曲婉婷 《我的歌声里》
Wanting Qu is a unique singer on this list in that she is signed to a Canadian record label, and climbed to fame without even being in China. After moving to Canada at the age of 16 to study, she eventually found her way to Vancouver to start a music career. Combining both musical talents with her intellect, Wanting Qu is gaining popularity not only in the Chinese-speaking world, but back in Canada too. Her record-breaking single “You Exist In My Song” and cemented this song as a go-to karaoke tune. Unfortunately for Wanting, she hasn’t again managed to reach the heights of this single, but with her talent, we expect it won’t be long.
The video and song a traditional love song affair, but the song's infectious melody is what brought it to fame. Being a firm favourite not only with Chinese speakers, but also with Chinese learners, this song is one that you should definitely sing at karaoke in China. Even if you can’t quite make those high notes, you can at least have fun trying!
4. A-Lin’s “Give Me A Reason To Forget” - 黄丽玲 《给我一个理由忘记》
A-Lin is fast becoming the Queen of Chinese love songs, and for good reason! Not only is she representing aboriginal Taiwanese, she is also triple-threat star – talented, beautiful, and a mother! Much like G.E.M., A-Lin’s fame sky-rocketed with her appearance on ‘I’m A Singer’, as people discovered her raw talent and powerfully emotional songs. Her music has the special ability to capture the raw emotion of love that many of us have felt at one time in our lives. After an already strong career in Taiwan, she is set to start an equally strong one in Mainland China.
The song and music video tell the story of a woman struggling to come to terms with her break-up. The video tells a relatable story to anyone who has ever suffered a rough break-up, and the moving melody will hook you as you listen. The song demonstrates the raw talent of Chinese singers and the beauty of Chinese in music.
5. Jolin Tsai’s “PLAY” - 蔡依林 《PLAY我呸》
Jolin Tsai is the Chinese-speaking world’s answer to a pop hit sensation, proving that Chinese music is not about slow melodies and tragic tales. Jolin has enjoyed a strong 17-year career, and at 35 years old, she is still rivalling the latest pop singers with her music and style. Aside from her powerful performance, she wows crowds with her impressive vocal talent. Her multi-talents have even lent her recognition in the cut-throat world of Korean pop music, as she received a lot of attention and support after appearing on a popular Korean music show this year. People have heralded her as an icon that can promote Chinese music around the world.
PLAY is a creative and amusing music video, accompanied by a strong pop track. The video is a playful jab at modern society, parodying various aspects of modern life, from celebrity culture to hipster lifestyle, meaning that there are elements in this video that everyone can find funny. The video is also an elaborate parody of the hit video game series ‘The Sims’, highlighting the creative thought that went into it, and it is definitely worth watching at least for the spectacle and performance.
6. Hebe Tien’s “Little Happiness” - 田馥甄 《小幸运》
Hebe is well-known as being a member of the hit Taiwanese trio S.H.E., and she has found success branching off in her solo works. Her most recent hit was the theme song for the popular Taiwanese film ‘Our Times’ (《我的少女时代》), with both the immense popularity of the film, the singer and the catchy love song contributing to this hit’s surging success. Whilst this song is still relatively new, it is growing and growing in popularity, not even with fans of the film.
The song and video are a light love song singing of high-school romance. The song is accompanied by footage of the film, really giving the song a feeling of youthfulness and the charm of days gone by. As an accompaniment to this fantastic film, ‘Little Happiness’ is the perfect song to relay the innocent feelings of young love.
7. Mayday’s “Cheers” - 五月天 《干杯》
Mayday is proof of the versatility of Chinese, showing the world that Chinese music is suited for all genres. Mayday has been there and tried it! This hugely popular band from Taiwan are a strong favourite with Chinese people, as their music is both evocative and catchy, becoming the kind of music that you want to sing together with your friends.
‘Cheers’ is a bitter-sweet song about the ups and downs of life. The video shows the moving story of someone’s life, with both grace and the signature Mayday humour. The song is both happy and also moving, as you look towards the future whilst appreciating what things have already passed you, as Mayday tell you to raise your glasses and ‘cheers’ with the people you love.
Mayday’s popularity has allowed them to perform the globe over, including here in London! Propeller TV was lucky enough to interview this influential and popular band, and you can find this episode on our YouTube;
This is only a very small selection of what Chinese music has to offer. Chinese truly is a language capable of carrying so many different emotions and styles, and it is evident by the vast array of music you can find. Whilst Chinese music might not have the polished production values of Korean pop music, or be as instantly recognisable as Western music is, I really believe that everyone can find something to like in Chinese music. I hope that from this brief look at Chinese music, you yourself might have found something new, and that you might at least appreciate the versatility and beauty of the Chinese language. If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about China, don't forget to follow us on social media. Every week we offer something new so you can truly 'Discover China'!