Sounding a critical note


It is a troubling time for Hong Kong: Freedom of speech is under attack with the disappearance of five people associated with a publisher selling politically sensitive books, and the prospects of freedom of expression online are uncertain as the Legislative Council is still debating the controversial Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014, which could heavily restrict the satirical use of songs, images, video and other media. 

But Monday night also marked the the first – and maybe the last – live awards ceremony for parody songs in Hong Kong, broadcast for more than 2 hours by the Hong Kong-based website TVMost (毛記電視), the video arm of youth magazine 100 Most (100毛).

After the awards show was announced on November 2, the whole of TVMost, including its owners and staff, took full advantage of social medial to promote it. Facebook proved a particularly effective channel for promotion given that TVMost itself has over 215,000 followers, while 100 Most has almost 700,000 (though there may be some may overlap).

Roy Tsui (林日曦), one of the two media outlets’ owners, mentioned on Facebook that businesses had refused to sponsor the ceremony, having either never heard of TVMost or dismissed it as too obscure to get approved by upper management. After a long and fruitless search for a title sponsor and facing a huge financial loss, the site finally found one a sponsor in the oil company Shell.

The ceremony gave out 10 song awards to parody songs it had previously released online, ranging from a song about the court ruling that convicted a young woman of assaulting a police officer with her breast to the night’s top-rated song about Hong Kong public broadcasting station ATV's continued existence despite its viewership approaching zero.

New parody songs also debuted that focused on more recent events in the city. A group of primary school children sang a series of songs complaining about the Hong Kong’s competitive education system and the controversial Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), which has hugely increased their workload as schools give additional classes and numerous exercises to primary-school students to prepare for standardized tests, leaving no time to play or relax.

The critical tone of the ceremony was a marked contrast with government campaigns meant to depict the city in a positive light, such as “Hong Kong: Our Home” and “Appreciate Hong Kong”. Top officials in Hong Kong seem to believe that being shown cleaning streets or paying for low-income families to go to Ocean Park will make residents more appreciative and “united”. That may be true in some cases, but Monday’s broadcast took another angle that showed how addressing Hong Kong’s problems in a funny yet critical way can truly touch the people who care about the city and will stick with it in times good and bad.

Two songs in particular addressed serious social issues. The first was performed by singer Denise Ho, who has long been an active proponent for the city’s LGBT and democratic movements. The song, “How To Make Scrap Metal” (廢鐵是怎樣煉成的), was dedicated to the so-called “useless youth” (廢青) of Hong Kong—those who have been labelled as lazy, often pro-democratic troublemakers. The lyrics is written from the perspective of a useless youth struggling to be who they are in a society that judges people by their wealth.

Ho sang, “I want to be as wealthy as [Empress Dowager] Cixi, but if it means I have to cheaply sell my soul, it’s not OK” (我都想可以富裕到仿似慈禧; 賤賣我那顆心就唔OK).

The last song of the ceremony, a rendition of a 2004 Cantonese hip-hop hit “Hong Kong Place” (香港地), was performed by Gregory Charles Rivers (河國榮) who came to Hong Kong from Australia almost 30 years ago. The new version was all about “being Hong Kong”. Yes, Hong Kong is changing, the song goes; we have seen worrying trends in the city—but “live or die, we are in Hong Kong” (由自己 生與死 也在香港地). 

Author: Francesca Chiu (@chiu_francesca)

Editor: Hudson Lockett (@KangHexin)