No harm in Little Apple's global gloss

By Wang Yiqing(China Daily)
Updated: 2014-12-01 11:02:24

Little Apple, written and performed by the Chopsticks Brothers, won the AMA International Song Award and the duo performed the song at the 2014 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. [Photo/Agencies]

The latest Chinese "god song" (an Internet term to describe pop songs that spread virally through Internet) is still stirring fierce debate between those who view it as a milestone for Chinese pop music going global and those who regard it as bad for China's image.

Last week, Little Apple, written and performed by the Chopsticks Brothers, won the AMA International Song Award and the duo performed the song at the 2014 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Another Chinese pop singer, Zhang Jie, won the International Artist Award.

But while fans of these singers are hailing the awards and the performance by the Chopsticks Brothers at the AMA gala as significant, there are others who are less enthused. They have questioned the value of the awards and what effect it will have on Chinese culture's "going abroad", claiming it may leave foreign audiences with a poor impression of Chinese pop music, and even Chinese contemporary culture.

The Little Apple phenomenon, both domestically and internationally, can be more easily understood and judged if we look at it from a business perspective rather than a cultural perspective.

The professional promoters behind the duo have developed a clear strategy to promote the duo and their work, not just this particular song. Little Apple was originally released to promote the duo's film Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon.

From the very beginning a viral marketing strategy was used to promote the song, which immediately went viral on the Internet due to its repetitive rhythm, easy-to-remember lyrics, simple and funny dance and, most importantly, grassroots nature. The video accumulated more than 1 billion hits on China's major video website.

Although, the song was generally dismissed by music professionals who criticized it as musical "junk food", Little Apple's domestic popularity paved the way for promoting the duo internationally.

Musical act The Chopstick Brothers arrive at the 42nd American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California November 23, 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

Besides performing at the AMA gala, the duo has also cooperated with the popular South Korean girl group Tara on a Korean version of the song.

Also the AMA's awards are generally decided by public votes, which means they are regarded as a leading commercial indicator of US pop music market.

Mark Rafalowski, vice-president of the international department of Dick Clark Productions, the organizer of the awards, told Chinese media that the two international awards were established to explore the international market and attract more international audiences. Gong Mei, promotion director at Youku, the leading Chinese video website and a major cooperator with the Chopsticks Brothers, told the media that it was Little Apple's incredibly high number of Internet hits in China that persuaded the AMA to invite the Chopsticks Brothers to perform at the ceremony.

Like it or not, the massive domestic audience group Chopsticks Brothers has is undeniable, and that is exactly what the music business, whether at home or abroad, wants. To some extent, the two awards were more like AMA "woos" the huge Chinese market, rather than recognition of the merits of the song or the performers.

Furthermore, the commercial side of music needs to be separated from the cultural side. I still remember the first time I heard Korean pop singer Psy's worldwide hit Gangnam Style. Although I knew nothing about the singer and couldn't understand the lyrics as I don't speak Korean, I still enjoyed the catchy melody and funny dance.

The music video didn't leave me with much impression of South Korean culture, but it was fun and I enjoyed it. I have also used Crazy Frog and The Fox (What does the fox say?) as my ringtone, and I didn't relate these funny electronic songs to Swedish or Norwegian culture much. To me all these are just pop songs; they neither represent nor discredit an entire country's culture.

There is nothing wrong with being concerned about the development of domestic culture per se, but maybe we can be a little more relaxed about it. Just take it easy: we don't have to prove anything to the world. Business is business even when it's the business of culture. But the country has a thriving contemporary culture that can stand on its own two feet, and step out into the world when it wants.


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