Thursday, November 17, 2011

Crystal Band - Shui Jing Yue Fang

Many viewers of the Lao Lai Qiao Gaga video have commented on the beautiful group of women playing transparent traditional Chinese instruments. Some viewers have suggested that the performers are the internationally famous Twelve Girls Band - despite the fact that only ten young women can be seen holding the instruments. The group is, in fact, the highly original Crystal Band - in Chinese, Shui Jing Yue Fang - and the instruments they are playing are not made out of glass or plastic, but genuine crystal - and they are the only such instruments in China.

Crystal Band are from Beijing and were formed in 2008, expanding from six to ten performers as their popularity has grown. They now have a collection of crystal instruments that includes a mix of Western and Chinese instruments - including several ancient erhu and pipa, violins and a cello, a Chinese gu zheng zither, a keytar (which can be seen in this performance in the background), and even a couple of crystalline electric guitars. In keeping with their extraordinary array of instruments, the music they play strikes a balance between various styles; Chinese classical, Western classical, folk from various traditions including Irish, and the odd smattering of guitar-driven rock. Their music is fascinating listening, they have many tracks on youtube that have received far too few views, and they probably deserve an international following.

The official website for the band (in Chinese) is at and the band's organiser is Huang Zijiao.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lao Lai Qiao Gaga in the Press

Here's a summary of some of the news sites that have reviewed the Lao Lai Qiao Gaga video, many with insightful observations about the performance:

The Week: 
A Chinese choir's bizarrely 'brilliant' Lady Gaga cover

Huffington Post:
Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' Covered By Chinese Elderly Choir

MSN New Zealand News:
Watch: Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' covered by Elderly Chinese choir

Capital FM:
Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' Covered By Chinese Elderly Choir

Chinese senior citizens do Lady Gaga

Christian Science Monitor:
China's senior citizen Lady Gaga cover band and a clamp down on TV programs

Globe and Mail:
China's take on Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance': appalling or brilliant?

Chinese Senior Citizens Cover Lady Gaga‎'s Bad Romance

Take 40:
Lady Gaga Cover Band Made Up Of Chinese Senior Citizens

Elderly Chinese Choir Covers 'Bad Romance'

Perez Hilton:
Chinese Old Folks Choir Covers Lady GaGa's Bad Romance!!!

Bad Romance: China Out-Japans Japan

Old folks choir covers Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance'

Matador Nights:
Chinese seniors’ choir covers Lady Gaga 

The Next Web:
This could be the most ridiculous Lady Gaga cover you ever see

Alaska Dispatch:
China's senior citizen Lady Gaga cover band and a clamp down on TV

Yahoo Music:
Old Folks Going Gaga! Chinese Senior Citizens’ Bizarre “Bad Romance” Cover

Elderly Chinese choir covers Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance'

Beijing's City Weekend:
Watch: Old Chinese Folks Cover Lady Gaga

Mega 97.9:
Old Folks Going Gaga! Chinese Senior Citizens’ Bizarre “Bad Romance” Cover

Rocketnews 24:
Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ As Performed By a Group of Enthusiastic 70 Year Old Chinese People

Gather Entertainment:
Bizarre Interpretation of 'Bad Romance' by Elderly Chinese Choir

Artinfo International:
The Real Chinese Art World: Senior Citizens Singing Lady Gaga

VN Express (Vietnamese):
Các cụ già Trung Quốc hát nhại nhạc Lady Gaga

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Translation of the Lyrics

Many viewers of the Lao Lai Qiao Gaga video have requested a translation of the lyrics. They're a little disappointing on the face of it - old people hoping their busy kids will take notice of them for a change - but they're an interesting insight into the culture nonetheless.

Cultures have their own personalities, and to me, the personality of the Chinese culture is one that above all else shoulders burdens. Watching Chinese movies makes this abundantly clear: some of the most ludicrous Chinese comedies (for example, the masterful buffoonery of Stephen Chow) carry some weighty overtones of suffering-to-the-core; I've always come out of Chinese movies convinced that Chinese people believe deep down that the essence of being Chinese is that it's hard to be Chinese. 

This may be a subtlety that I personally believe pervades the art of modern China, but Lao Lai Qiao Gaga is certainly a case in point. Like a gloomy cloud hanging above this spontaneously joyous piece of harmless fun, the message of the video contains the distinct flavour of loneliness. But it's not a hopeless loneliness.

"Lao Lai Qiao" is a phrase that refers to old people dressing themselves up (I'm not certain if it also carries the  connotation of "mutton dressed as lamb" - correct me if I'm wrong), so the title refers to the elderly performers sprucing themselves up as Gagas - not, I'm sure, that they're thinking of classic Gaga in meat garments or otherwise odd costumes, but Gaga as an icon of modernity and youth that they hope their children can relate to. It's also a play on the term Gaga, which in the local Hunanese dialect means "Grandma".

The song is primarily in standard Chinese Mandarin with some dialectical expressions and phrases thrown in.

My Mandarin is OK, but I know nothing about Hunanese - improvements to my humble, flawed translation are welcome!

LAO LAI QIAO GAGA - "Old Folks Going Gaga"

Oh, oh oh.... beloved son...
Oh, oh, oh... 'go Gaga' & perform a song...

Lalala... 'go Gaga'
We're performing, don't [pass it off as unimportant] (? Hunanese)

Your working days are too many, you hardly ever come home
At the other end of the phone, you're always busy with no end in sight
Busy with no end
Busy, busy, busy without end.

Your old folks pass their days learning and finding ways to amuse themselves
Cut back on the little details, but HOLD on to those grand occasions
Have to HOLD on,
Hold, hold, hold, have to HOLD on.

Beloved son, watch the singing on TV
Your father and mother didn't make any mistakes, did they?

Tonight, HOLD on as you see Mum & Dad within a second GO GAGA!

If you're satisfied, please stand up and applaud
Don't make us too nervous
If you're happy, sing along with us
Give us our moment on stage (?)

Lalala... 'go Gaga'
We're performing, don't [pass it off as unimportant] (? Hunanese)

Hey, hey! The joy of being OLD!
'Gaga' can show you something: I'm so happy!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Going Gaga

People in the West are still under the short-sighted impression that China exists under the iron fist of dictatorship, an observation which is frankly distorted. Chinese life is far more vibrant than foreigners might think; in fact, one of the things that impresses me most about China is its open-mindedness of a breed that Westerners often fail to match.

During the recent Mid-Autumn Festival, I saw a video that seemed to capture that spirit. In our Chinese family home in Saigon, Vietnam, we pick up several satellite channels from the mainland, including the popular Hunan TV. I actually participated in a Hunan TV production while living in China, singing a cutesy Teresa Teng ballad with a transvestite on a Kung-fu show (another story which shall be told another time) and am quite familiar with the whacky nature of its programming; it's the home of what is arguably the most famous popular reality show in the country Supergirl (now cancelled for being "too long"), which was something of the nature of American Idol except for the fact that it was broadcast for days on end, resulting in intense, obsessive empathy with the contestants and a resulting explosion in fame for the winners. In Saigon, I regularly observe the head-shakingly odd dating shows where gloriously gorgeous and bratty Chinese super-beauties match suitors against impossible lists of preconditions for marriage. Unlike ABC's The Bachelor, successful couples often do get married, under the approval of the contestants' mothers who actually participate in the show as well.

This particular piece was part of the mid-autumn festival celebrations, and featured an assortment of senior citizens native to Hunan singing a version of a well-known Lady Gaga anthem Bad Romance. I was stunned, if only for the fact that their performance seemed incongruous with the original hit, with lyrics that would seem to preclude such a cheerful rearrangement (I want your ugly, I want your disease... I want your psycho, your vertical stick...). The Chinese version told instead of how the oldies, missing their busy children out in the workforce, were performing to "Go Gaga" to get their attention - the word "Gaga" here being a play on the word for "grandma" in their native dialect. "Going Gaga" thus not only showed off the fact that they could animate themselves to celebrate a cultural meme of the modern world - something entirely alien to their own Cultural Revolution generation - but also prick the guilty conscience of errant sons too busy to spend time with their "Gaga" old parents.

It took about a day for a video of the performance to be published online by local sites - everything on almost every Chinese channel gets ripped and put online within hours - and the piece lao lai qiao Gaga emerged on,, and for Chinese viewers. I republished the video on my youtube channel for the benefit of family and facebook friends, not expecting that it would end up attracting many thousands of Western viewers equally curious about the unusual cultural mash-up represented by the performance.

Lao Lai Qiao Gaga perhaps represents the Chinese ability to spot an opportunity for fun between contrasting opposites; the ability of Chinese people to cheer on others who have different tastes and aesthetic viewpoints to their own, and the disregard of Western preoccupations with creative license, strict market segmentation, and overly conservative notions of what constitutes fair use out of copyright.

Bizarre Chinese Old-folks Choir Covers Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"

The most bizarre cover I've ever seen. On China's most popular satellite channel Hunan TV, playing to an audience of hundreds of millions of Chinese people worldwide, a group of retired senior citizens (over)cheerfully beat out a version of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" in Changsha's local dialect, accompanied by miniskirted Chinese musicians playing glass traditional Chinese instruments.