Reupped a second time on Feb 25, 2015, here.
[Originally posted June 24, 2011.] A keen advantage of listening to "other" people's pop music is that, to the extent it's possible, doing so affords the listener at least the illusion of a far more visceral experience than listening to the music of one's own culture.
There is, alas, no such thing as a purely visceral experience--absent cultural, semiotic, etc., cues--not of anything human-made. We read, interpret, translate, bring our biases to everything. And everything is coded, even if we don't have the key, or have only part of it. There is, I'd argue, as a great a pleasure in completely misunderstanding something as there is in "getting" it--maybe even more so. Just ask the poets.
I bought the CD above--Hochiu (aka Josie Ho)'s "Hell's Kitchen"--in Manhattan's Chinatown one Saturday afternoon before straggling in to the Bowery Poetry Club to host a Segue Series reading. Once at the BPC, I spotted Franklin Bruno, a musician and music critic as well as a poet. I pulled out the CD in question, handed it to him and asked: "Okay, Franklin; you're an expert: What is this CD cover trying to tell us?"
Franklin chuckled a bit and then slowly flipped the CD cover back and forth a few times, before handing it back to me. "I'm picking up Patti Smith," he finally said.
As it turns out, despite "Hell's Kitchen"'s obvious nod to the cover of Patti Smith's "Horses," no one could be further from working-class androgynous hippy-dippy Romantic poet cum rock icon Patti Smith than Josie Ho. For one thing, Ho is the daughter of the purportedly richest man in Macau, casino tycoon Stanley Ho. The differences don't end with class background. Whereas Patti is also a poet, Josie is also a movie star. (And movie producer.) Whereas Patti's music is instantly recognizable for its shaggy, emotive intensity, Josie's music is slick, aggressive Canto rock and pop.
Look again into first Patti's eyes and then Josie's on those covers above. Patti looks soulful, vulnerable, almost frightened, even in what looks like "defiance." Josie looks something in between bored and simmering with sadistic energy. There's a way in which her cover feels as much of a nod to "A Clockwork Orange" as it is to "Horses." Take, for instance, this video, of "自衛術" ("Self-defense Art"), a song from the CD above, the only music video I'm aware of with a cake-fisting scene:
There aren't, to my knowledge, any other female pop artists who express this kind of energy (beyond the cake-fisting, I mean: the dancing with dogs in the tub, the messing with the fish, the singing to sock puppets, etc.). How, I want to know, do Hong Kongers "read" her? Is she a kind of Alex-from-Clockwork-Orange figure?