What constructs our Hong Kong identity varies from person to person — the cityscape, our food culture and language, to name a few. And most people from our generation would name Cantopop as what grounds their sense of belonging to this city. First appeared in the 1970s with melodies borrowed from Korean or Japanese pop rewritten with Cantonese lyrics, the genre of music then saw its prime in the ’80s and down times in the 2010s and has successfully returned to popularity in recent years. The themes of Cantonese pop music also grew from being dominated by mostly soap opera soundtracks to discussing a variety of themes, including but not limited to love, sexuality, personal growth and social change. And we thought it would be a great idea to compile some of the most important modern tracks that helped shape today’s Cantopop scene.
This song by Kay Tse first captured its audience with a sing-along melody and a poignant love story it tells. With a little more digging, we then discovered that the song is more than just that. Named after the nickname of the now gentrified Lee Tung Street in Wan Chai which used to be the hub of manufacturing wedding invitation cards, the song in fact mourns a lost piece of cultural heritage in Hong Kong.
In 2021, the acapella group C AllStar announced its comeback with this song after a 4-year hiatus, which makes the song extra meaningful to fans. Not only that, Together We Strive For A Better World is also seen as the follow-up to Tat Ming Pair’s Ten Youngsters Fighting Fires, written in 1990 as a response to the Tiananmen Massacre. Unlike the precedent production, C AllStar’s version hopes for a better world rather than self-pitying, while the city suffers from a collective post-2019 depression.
Denise Ho’s Lao Si Lai Si is important to the scene not only because it was one of the most popular songs of its time, but also because it is a rare open discussion of homosexuality in the local music scene. Written by Wyman Wong, the lyrics depicted the brewing of a relationship between two high school boys that was forced to come to an end before it even started, due to the rather unfriendly social perception towards LGBTQ+ couples.
Sharing the name with Richard LaGravenese’s romantic drama, Hins Cheung’s P.S. I Love You, written by Wing-Him Chan, however, approaches romantic relationships in a different way. P.S. I Love You is a song that touches on unconditional love that transcends life, bringing the concept of love to a moral high.
It is no exaggeration to say that most Hongkongers’ all-time favorite playlist has at least one song from Eason Chan. The Wanderer would be a very common pick. Composed by Christopher Chak, famous for his run-on lines, and elevated by Albert Leung’s lyrics, The Wanderer speaks about the confusion of adulting and fitting into society.
Released in the middle of the pandemic when most of the world suffered from mandatory quarantine, Terence Lam’s self-produced and self-written Solitude stresses the importance of prioritizing personal wellbeing, empowering the idea that having alone time is as important as enjoying the company of friends.
And there are times we feel defeated and feel like we could use some friendship. Written by local band Rubberband, Discovery is a song that gives courage to Hongkongers as we go through the thick and thin. As the lyrics suggest, it’s never time to give up even when we hit rock bottom.
Fans of indie music would not be unfamiliar with my little airport. Ever since 2004, music fans have been blessed by MLA’s calming melodies and down-to-earth lyrics inspired by the mundane activities of everyday life. Besides all those songs that respond to social changes, most people would find Who Invented Working, which criticizes Hong Kong’s overwork culture in a nonchalant way, painfully relatable.
If MLA is the OG of Hong Kong indie music, Matt Force is no doubt here to inherit the crown. The title track of the rapper’s first album, Farewell, explores death and the afterlife. His signature low voice and simple yet impactful beat has won him Song of the Year and Best Lyrical Song (Gold) in the Whats Good Music Awards 2022.