Agricultural metal' rocks the provinces

Updated: 2012-05-17 15:17

By Mu Qian (

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The restaurant was closing for the night when we walked out of our private room and noted the waiters and waitresses were dancing for fun. No longer listless (as when they served us) they were now enjoying themselves to the beat of Most Dazzling Ethnic Trend, a song by Chinese pop duo Phoenix Legend.

This is probably the most popular song in China at the moment. Three years after its release, it still ranks number one on Baidu's chart of 500 songs. So does Phoenix Legend on the search engine's chart of singers.

Most Dazzling Ethnic Trend is the backing track for aerobic exercises all over China. It was even played at the Houston Toyota Center during the intermission of a Houston Rockets game.

Strangely, there is little media coverage of the song and the group. The elite music professionals of China appear to scorn talk about Phoenix Legend, probably out of indignation that Chinese pop music is being led by such cloddish sounds.

The pop music of the Chinese mainland has always trailed that of Hong Kong and Taiwan, who are in turn influenced by Japan and the West.

Phoenix Legend represents another direction. Blending indigenous melodies, with rap and dance beats, they have created a new fashion that has been dubbed "agricultural metal". This style may sound rustic to people in the big cities, but it is big in the provinces, where the majority of the Chinese population lives.

On the Internet there are videos of people from all over the country dancing to Most Dazzling Ethnic Trend, and it is easy to see they really enjoy the music.

At a time when the record industry is mourning the death of CDs, Phoenix Legend has made its music heard through other channels.

On the Moon, Phoenix Legend's first hit, spread widely through built-in amplifiers on low-end mobile phones, while Most Dazzling Ethnic Trend is played across the country to accompany fitness programs.

But overall, it's the Internet that has played the most important role in the dissemination of Phoenix Legend's songs, making the duo among the first generation of Chinese musicians to achieve success on the Web.

In the vast provinces, where CDs were never a main media for music, most songs are disseminated through either Internet cafes or KTVs, and what people listen to there is often quite different from what people like in Beijing and Shanghai.

If we take a look at the songs that are popular in provincial areas, there is a higher percentage of the so-called "ethnic trend". Songs like Taking a Train to Lhasa by Xu Qianya or Moonlight over the Lotus Pond by Phoenix Legend are all based on the traditional Chinese pentatonic scale, while many also feature Chinese instruments, making it easy for these songs to resonate among people who are not yet that cosmopolitan.

In terms of rhythm the "ethnic trend" songs usually have strong beats to dance to. They sometimes remind one of Hollywood East, a series of tape cassettes of remixed Western disco music that used to be popular in China in the 1980s, but "ethnic trend" songs are certainly more localized.

Those provincial hits likely better represent the situation of Chinese pop music, just like provincial areas better represent the country — compared to the few developed coastal metropolises.

Given the fact that farmers dominate the Chinese population, the popularity of "agricultural metal" is only natural. After Japan's J-Pop and South Korea's K-Pop, China's "ethnic trend" may lead to some kind of China-Pop - and this is nothing to be ashamed of.