““Rappers React to Covid-19”: What the Mobilisation of Chinese Rappers Teaches Us about Artistic Engagement in Times of Crisis.” China Perspectives, 2021/1, 49-53.
In China, the first recording of a charity song (gongyi gequ 公益歌曲) dates back to 1986, when a hundred young singers dressed in yellow and pink jackets sang “Let the World be Full of Love” (rang shijie chongman ai 讓世界充滿愛) in the Beijing Workers’ Stadium to celebrate the International Year of Peace. More recently, new charity songs have emerged following certain catastrophes: “Hand in hand” (shouqianshou 手牽手) in Taiwan and “Walk All the Way” (yilu tongxing 一路同行) during the SARS epidemic (2003); and “Wings in the Wind” (feng zhongdi yuyi 風中的羽翼), “The Same Dream” (tongyige mengxiang 同一個夢想), and “Promise” (chengnuo 承諾) after the Wenchuan earthquake (Sichuan, 2008). During the first weeks of the Covid-19 epidemic that became a pandemic, a not inconsiderable number of charity songs were recorded by Chinese musicians, with technological developments facilitating online artistic collaborations whilst at the same time helping them reach a wider audience thanks to streaming platforms. On the initiative of iQiyi, “Let the World be Full of Love” was revived and recorded by international singers and a hundred Chinese artists under the direction of Guo Feng. The music streaming platforms also opened sections to songs dedicated to Wuhan and the pandemic (shengyuan wuhan 聲援武漢), where amateur artists rubbed shoulders with professionals.
“To craft modern (hi)story through music: Chinese rap and the main melody at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Popular Music History, 2021, 14/1, 28-41.
Almost two years after the first contaminations and while the origins of COVID-19 and its worldwide proliferation remain unclear, analysing the music released by Chinese rappers in 2020 offers a relevant angle to engage with the country’s narration of the present. In the People’s Republic of China, where any cultural production lies under a strict control of the state, rap music recently reached the mainstream, forcing its actors to quickly comply with the authorities’ directives and become representative of ‘positive energy’. After the lockdown of Wuhan on 23 January 2020, Chinese rappers were prompt to mobilize and share songs with COVID-19 as the central topic. In close alignment with the country’s rejuvenated cultural nationalism, rap music thus became a vigorous sounding box for the government’s propaganda during the crisis, enhancing the bravery of Chinese medical workers, the responsibility of the Chinese people and displaying images broadcast by national media in music videos. This article draws on the official concept of the ‘main melody’ and focuses on the texts and the illustrations of three songs retrieved from a corpus of rap songs uploaded on online platforms during the first month of the pandemic. It argues that in the first phase of the crisis, official and non-official collaborations between state actors and musicians contributed to the creation of a uniform historical narrative that bolstered the state’s propaganda in its fight against the virus. The article also points out that such cooperation has not only been beneficial for the state but has also boosted the visibility of the artists involved.