One of Hong Kong’s appeals is its busy streetscapes, which accommodate aesthetics from East to West and also record the vibrant everyday life of the city’s people. Cantopop songs over the years have taken inspiration from various neighborhoods of Hong Kong to give birth to many of the generation’s most emblematic hits. This week, we are hand-picking eight tracks, each paying homage to a different neighborhood, to add to your city-roaming playlist.
Queen’s Road East by Lo Ta-yu is easily one of the most famous Cantopop songs there ever was. Produced in 1991 in response to the anxiety experienced by most Hongkongers at the time towards the impending Handover to China, the track takes Queen’s Road East, a major passageway that connects Wan Chai to Admiralty, also the symbol of British rule and the thriving economy that follows, as a metaphor for the transition. It remains symbolic even in recent years, which speaks for the city’s discontent post-2019, as the city experiences yet another emigration wave after the Handover in 1997.
Loyal readers of The Loop HK would have come across Wedding Card Street in Important Cantopop Songs You Should Know. Now populated by restaurants and cafés, Lee Tung Street was also known to the locals as “Wedding Card Street” for the printing shops and other wedding-related businesses that stood there for decades to welcome new couples before gentrification. Behind the poignant love story told by the 2000’s hit is also a farewell to the lost piece of cultural heritage.
Nathan Road would be the Kowloon Peninsula’s equivalent of Queen’s Road. Named after the 13th governor of Hong Kong under British rule, Sir Matthew Nathan, the main road connects Tsim Sha Tsui on the southside all the way through Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, to Prince Edward. Taking the name of one of the city’s signature main roads, Ken Hung’s song makes use of Nathan Road’s busy streetscape during rush hours to metaphorize the directionlessness of the protagonist portrayed by the song as he tries to retrace a lost love.
Besides the occasional use of Chinglish and a mellow vocal, My Little Airport’s lyrics respond to a time where incorporating visual elements unique to streets in Hong Kong is no doubt what appeals to a whole generation of bedroom pop fans in the +852. Released in 2014, Let’s Sleep on Connaught Road Central Tonight is the duo’s way to show support for the 2014 social movement, an extension of the Occupy Central movement that happened in the same year. Documenting the protest via lyrics that illustrate occupied areas in Central and Mong Kok, the track remains a mainstay in many Hongkongers’ playlists to bring listeners back in time to revisit the event that helped shape the city today.
Like many other Cantopop artists, My Little Airport also sees streets of Hong Kong as a great metaphor for urban love stories. A neighborhood developed in early Hong Kong, the community is dense with schools and tong lau, and is where the ex-couple portrayed in the lyrics reminisces about a lost relationship while roaming through Sycamore Street.
With her unique interpretation of urban love stories, singer-songwriter Serrini rose swiftly to fame with Blondie Ling From Yau Tsim Mong. The title of the track might scream “MK” (short for Mongkok, and a stereotyped descriptor for certain youths who hail from that area) for most Cantonese-speaking audiences. Following Ling, a club hostess in the Yau Tsim Mong district, the track employs an urban dictionary local to Hong Kong youths in its lyrics as Ling’s hopeless love story unfolds.
Labeled as a “low-income neighborhood”, Sham Shui Po is nonetheless one of the most vibrant districts in Hong Kong, nurturing a big part of the city’s urban culture. Raised in the area, rapper Novel Fergus translates his experiences into lyrics that call out social problems such as drug abuse and social immobility in the hood, into the 2020 hit track Sham Shui Po. Besides awing the Cantopop fans by introducing the rapper himself to the music scene, Sham Shui Po has also been recognized by Whatsgood Music Awards as Best Song Of The Year.
And we can’t miss Lan Kwai Fong, where most of Hong Kong’s nightlife happens, when exploring the city. Rappers JB, Akiko and DAVYJUICE think the same. Besides the addictive beat that sets the tone of the track, the verses in Lok Fong bring the audiences along with the rappers bar-hopping on a weekend night in LKF.