A high-profile award for Beijing's Chopstick Brothers draws the ire of some Chinese music fans, who say the duo's song is mediocre and represents poorly the country's pop culture. Chen Nan reports.
A war of words has erupted over the Chopstick Brothers, after the Chinese pop duo performed at the American Music Awards last month in Los Angeles - and won the international song award for their hit, Little Apple.
The Beijing-based duo, which comprises 34-year-old film director Xiao Yang and 45-year-old songwriter Wang Taili, was the first such Chinese act to be performed at the show and won an award there. However, the Chinese audiences watching from the other side of the world weren't cheering the duo's US debut.
Some netizens say the song is "nonsense" and their performance at the AMA was shameful. Some music critics frowned on the song for its "low artistic value", saying it should not represent China's pop music scene.
"Since not a single Chinese pop song has gained as much international popularity as Gangnam Style (Korean song), many songwriters and record companies in China have rushed to copy the success," Chinese music critic Hao Fang says in an earlier interview. "That's why we have so many low-quality songs, which just have repeating beats but no creative content."
The pop duo's lip-syncing and the fact that they received the award backstage (and their performance was only filmed during the gala's commercial break, not live) also stirred anger and controversy. Rumours even flew that the award was paid for by Youku Tudou, China's leading video portal and the pop duo's promoter.
"Of all the awkwardness of their performance at AMA, I think lip-syncing was the worst and their singing couldn't match the music," music critic Liang Huan says in an interview with Sina.com, one of China's biggest portals. "But thinking positively, Chinese pop music has at least received some attention in the West."
Lu Fanxi, vice-director of Youku Tudou Inc, tells China Daily that the lip-syncing was done to guarantee the performance quality, but he denied the rumour about paying for the award.
Lu says that the team had promoted the song on Facebook and YouTube before bringing it to the United States, hoping to make an English version of Little Apple.
"The tight schedule didn't allow us to finish the English version of Little Apple," says Lu, who attended the AMA gala. "Despite the language barrier, the interactions of the Chopstick Brothers and the US audiences were very good." He notes that the duo was well-received when performing with flash mobs at University of Southern California and UCLA before the AMA gala.
Little Apple was the theme song from the duo's movie, Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon. The low-budget film earned 200 million yuan (S$42.4 million) at the domestic box office. Since Little Apple was released on May 29, the song has generated more than 280,000 cover versions and the video has been viewed more than 900 million times on Youku, one of China's largest video websites.
The number proves the large fan base of Little Apple in China. Hu Guozhen, a 58-year-old Beijing native, is one of them. She dances to the song every morning and evening at the public square nearby her house along with more than 20 female retirees of similar age.
"I like the rhythm, which is full of energy, and we learned it quickly. I also like the lyrics because it's funny," says Hu, who also downloaded the song as her phone ringtone.
Mark Rafalowski, vice-president of the International Division of Dick Clark Productions, which held the AMA, denies any bribes were paid. He told Sohu.com, one of China's leading portals, that "inviting Chinese singers to the awards is the first step in promoting the AMA abroad".
"We hope to reach to the young audiences in China so we did research in Beijing and Shanghai in June this year to find out the popular artists," says Rafalowski.
Chinese singer Zhang Jie, who rose to fame in 2004 after winning a popular reality show, My Show, was also invited to perform at the AMA and won the international artist award.
The two members of the Chopstick Brothers met in 2005 and established themselves via the Internet after releasing their short film, Old Boys, in 2010, which is about two old friends deciding to pursue their musical dreams upon the death of their idol, Michael Jackson.
"I don't understand why some audiences in China doubt and even mock them," says their promoter, Lu. "China has such a big music market and it needs variety and any style of music should be respected."