Chinese Big Time Concert, Not An Ounce Of Sex

One of the luxury car brands my student handles – BMW.

Once again, one of my students proved to be the catalyst for a new Shanghai experience which this time was to be a big-time concert. ‘Book’ (yes, he fancies himself as some piece of literary totty!) was one of my lower-level language students and we hit off instantly when I found out he worked for PR company.

Back in the UK, this was an area I used to flex my creative muscles for and I got even more interested when he told me his PR company was one of the major players when it came to the Chinese entertainment industry. Often our one-to-one sessions would start off with him telling me the latest campaign they were doing which would involve anything from a big name star to top fashion brands and even luxury cars. (He recently did a ten-day tour of Thailand with BMW.)

So on Friday, he interrupted my business English class to tell me he had something important to give me. I glanced back at the four suited and booted power-dressed people in the classroom and momentarily excused myself. Hovering outside by the door, he scavenged inside his back pack and pulled out two ticket sleeves. The cover had photos of, what looked like, glammed-up Chinese stars. In his low-level broken English, he said “You come to concert and become my guest!”

With our tickets to see some of the best in Chinese pop music.

He then pointed at the posed shots and waited for my reaction. Did I know who they were? No. But in China, ‘saving face’ is the number one aspect when it comes to any type of relationship and so, I had to ‘style-it-out’ (as they say in London). “Oh wow, all of these people will be performing in Shanghai? That’s amazing…” I trailed off. Thankfully the conversation was prevented from going further as I still had a class on ‘effective customer service’ paused inside. Excusing myself, I said I would be there ready to party with him.

Truth be told, I was genuinely excited. I have never been to a large-scale concert in China and what better way to initiate myself then by doing so with some mainland talent. Actually, after slyly consulting with another Shanghainese friend, it turned out that half the artists were from Taiwan. Having written the names on a scrap piece of paper, Lezil and I proceeded to then quickly bring up their music videos online on youku. At least then, we’d have an idea of each artist’s style and perhaps remember the odd chorus line so we can fake a sing-a-long.

Inside the fast-filling 10,000 seater Shanghai Indoor Stadium.

I am a huge K-Pop fan (that goes well beyond the Gangnam Styles of this world) but I can’t say that Chinese Pop has ever grabbed me. It’s way more ballad-driven as opposed to their Korean counterparts who pump out infectious dance beats and slick dance routines. The concert was held at Shanghai Indoor Stadium – one of a few large capacity venues in the city. Book had warned us to arrive in good time as the place was going to be teeming with fans. And he wasn’t wrong. The 10,000 seater place was near full as we got to our second row balcony seats. We had a great bird’s eye view of the entire stadium and stage. Multi-coloured metre-long glow sticks lit up the place as the main lights were dimmed promptly at the advertised start time of 7:30pm.

First up was Zhang Liang Ying, a female singer from China’s panda region – Chengdu in Sichuan province.

Singer Zhang Liang Ying receives a bouquet of flowers from a fan.

She had an incredible vocal range that was not unlike some of Mariah Carey’s top earth-shattering notes. The stage looked dauntingly big as all performers sang to backing track but the huge LED screen backdrop provided a good-fill in with accompanying music videos shown. Each artist had their time slots of four songs on stage which was just right to keep a couple of unacquainted foreigners like us, captivated.

Every act was warmly received which included the likes of Chinese rock veteran Di Ke Niu Zai and another female powerhouse vocalist Ding Dang who was from mainland China’s Zhejiang province but established her career in Taiwan. She shot to fame as having run away from home at 18 with just a bag of clothes to seek fame in singing. Now she has five albums under her belt and is a Far Eastern megastar. A bit like Shanghai’s metro, the night ran like clockwork. There were no sound issues, each track started on time and the momentum kept going.

Ballet dancers add a touch of decency to the performances.

I was surprised how involved I was in the performances despite the sterile backdrop of using pre-recorded music. All vocalists showed an unbeatably high standard of live delivery especially over the number of slower songs. The other thing that struck me over the two and a half hour presentation was that there was not an ounce of sex. And by this I mean, all the ladies were stylishly dressed, strongly showing their obvious femininity but not once was any type of flesh scantily displayed. Had this been a Rihanna or Lady Gaga Show, fish net tights, next-to-nothing pants and see-through bras would have been the norm from the outset. Not to mention the over sexualised performances.

Here, there was not even as much a hip gyration. Even the fellas held it down in their fashionable slim-fit suits and family-friendly presentations. It was an eye-opener.

Lezil and I with a bird’s eye view of the concert.

That’s not to say that China doesn’t have its fair share of artists who will let rip with no inhibitions. But it never goes to the extremes as seen in the west. (At least not at tonight’s event.) And part of that, is down to the government’s control on aspects of public artistic expression. For example, lyrics are vetted before they are performed and show concepts have to be approved beforehand. But also, culturally, it wouldn’t have felt right to see a strip show on stage with grandparents and young children sitting in the audience, as was the case that evening.

It was a ‘U-Rating’ all the way. Throughout the show a number of lucky fans were chosen to go on stage and present each performer with a bouquet of flowers. Again, this was done with the utmost humility and tasteful eagerness which, for me, had a lot do with cultural influences. China maybe more open than ever but certain entrenched formalities still stand strong, like showing public respect. For us, this could have quite easily have been a tanked evening of bland unknown pop songs. Instead it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of first-time heard pop songs and I have to say, it has turned my attention to some of the musical talents China has to offer. Time to diversify my music collection further.

Book and I.

Glow sticks out in force!