Culture Vulture

Music awards still have their place

Music awards are a means of learning about great music and finding good unknown voices

Are music awards still relevant?

It is a question that pops up from time to time given how many there are out there. Publications give out awards, radio stations give out awards, websites give out awards and even soft drinks give out awards. That is taking the pop in sodapop a little too liberally.

It is practically suspect if a singer or album does not end up with some kind of accolade or other.

With Taiwan's Golden Melody Awards hitting a milestone 25th edition, it is a good time to take stock of the awards show even as it takes stock of the Chinese music offerings in a given year.

And the quick answer to the question is: Yes.

While there is a deluge of awards out there, there will always be room for an industry-wide exercise conducted by a respected panel. The Golden Melody Awards, Golden Bell Awards for television productions and the Golden Horse Awards for movies are considered Taiwan's three major annual awards. But their influence extends to all of the Mandarin-speaking world, particularly the music and film awards.

While the Golden Melody Awards have been christened the Grammys of Chinese music, it is probably fair to say that the former has greater cache in comparison as the Grammys have been pilloried for being out of touch and irrelevant.

On the other hand, the Taiwanese award has tried to straddle mainstream relevance and music credibility. Four of Mandopop king Jay Chou's albums have won for Best Mandarin Album, namely Jay (in 2001), Fantasy (in 2002), Ye Hui Mei (in 2004) and The Era (in 2011). But you also have feted indie singersongwriter Sandee Chan's Then We All Wept In Silence taking the top honour in 2005.

It helps to have the judging panel helmed by respected figures such as this year's Ni Chung-hua, a veteran who was responsible for bringing musicians such as rocker Wu Bai, singer-songwriter Chang Chen-yue and producer Lin Wei-che into the business.

And a credible award can also highlight changing trends in music.

A milestone year for the Golden Melody Awards could well be a watershed for pop music from China. One of the biggest surprises from the nominations this year is that the two frontrunners are both from China. The works of Li Ronghao and Li Jian are both in the running for five awards each.

Li Ronghao's debut record Model is up for key awards Best Mandarin Album, Best Mandarin Male Singer, Best Newcomer and Best Album Producer and the title track is nominated for Best Lyricist for Hong Kong's Chow Yiu Fai. Meanwhile, Li Jian's Classic is in the running for Best Mandarin Album, Best Album Producer and three tracks have been nominated for Best Arrangement by Wang Zhiyi and Zhao Zhao.

In media reports, Ni has said that the awards will not be restricted to Taiwan and that the greatest consideration should be musicality regardless of where it is from and regardless of market response. And the stellar showing of China pop makes it clear that it is a force that cannot be ignored.

Just last year, the five nominees for Best Mandarin Album were all from Taiwan and Hong Kong. This year, works from China take up two of the five spots, thanks to Li Ronghao and Li Jian.

China is already a major market in Mandopop and artists have been flocking there to promote their albums and tour extensively. The flow of China pop outwards has been more of a trickle, but it was always only a matter of time before it makes bigger inroads into Mandopop as a whole.

True, a few of the big names in Mandopop have been born in China, including Faye Wong from Beijing. But they found success after moving to Hong Kong or Taiwan, in the case of Della Ding Dang.

Stars big at home in China, such as Han Hong, Lao Lang and Li Yuchun, have not enjoyed the same degree of success outside of it. Reasons bandied about have ranged from less slick packaging to differing tastes. But with convergence and greater interaction over time, there will be fewer obstacles to music from China getting a warm reception regionally.

Ni adds that the nomination list needs to be broad enough and not restricted to a few genres or a few people, otherwise, the awards will be acknowledged by a shrinking group.

Hip-hop's growing visibility and acceptance is also reflected in this year's nominations. Soft Lipa's Renovate is up for Best Mandarin Album, Best Male Singer and Best Album Producer while rapper Dog-G is up for Best Lyricist for 100 Points.

It prompted Dog-G to remark: "Compared to when I first started out with MC HotDog, it feels that hip-hop has now taken root in Taiwan."

They were dabbling in hip-hop in the early noughties and MC HotDog had won Best Album with Wake Up in 2007.

There is also the personal satisfaction factor to consider.

As a music reviewer, I get to see how my picks stack up. Chang Chen-yue's Ayal Komod, Tizzy Bac's Fragile, Wakin Chau's Jiang Hu, The Rhapsody and Soft Lipa's Renovate were among my favourites over the past year. It is always gratifying to have one's choices affirmed by others.

Of course, when one does not see eye to eye with the nominees or rails over egregious omissions, it must be because the jury fails to recognise quality even when it stares them in the face.

Ultimately, an awards event is also another means of learning about the good music available out there and discovering voices that might have slipped under the radar. So before the results are unveiled on June 28, no prizes for guessing which China artists will be on my playlist.

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