History of Cantopop

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History of Cantopop and its musical influences

General information

Author Wiki Users
English title History of Cantopop
Publication Music-China.org
Date of publication

Entities mentioned

In this article, especially the following entities (bands, artists, cities, articles, etc.) are being called out:

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Cantopop, History


Cantopop is came up in the 1960s and is still active today (2013).

1920s: Shanghai origins

Western-influenced music first came to the Republic of China in the 1920s, specifically to Shanghai.[1] Artists like Zhou Xuan (周璇) acted in films and recorded popular songs, and was possibly the first Chinese pop star.

In 1949 when the People's Republic of China was established by the Communist Party, one of the first actions taken by the government was to denounce pop music as pornography.[1] Beginning in the 1950s, massive waves of immigrants fled Shanghai to destinations like North Point in Hong Kong.[2] As a result, many first generation Cantopop artists and composers hail from Shanghai.[1]

1960s: Cultural acceptance

By the 1960s, Cantonese music in Hong Kong was still limited largely to traditional Cantonese opera and comic renditions of western music. Tang Kee-chan (鄧寄塵), Cheng Kuan-min (鄭君綿), and Tam Ping-man (譚炳文) were among the earliest artists releasing Cantonese records.

The baby boomer generation at the time preferred British and American exports, as well as Mandarin music. Western culture was at the time equated with education and sophistication,[3] and Elvis, Johnny Mathis and The Beatles were popular.[1]

Conversely, those who preferred Cantonese music were considered old-fashioned or uneducated. Cheng Kum-cheung and Chan Chai-chung (陳齊頌) were two popular Cantonese singers who specifically targeted the younger generation. Connie Chan Po-chu is generally considered to be Hong Kong's first teen idol, mostly due to her career longevity. Josephine Siao is also another artist of the era.

1970s: Rise of television and the modern industry

Roman Tam, the godfather of Cantopop[4]

Local bands mimicked British and American bands. Two types of local Cantonese music appeared in the market nearly concurrently in 1973: one type cashed in on the popularity of TVB's drama series based on the more traditional lyrical styles. The other was more western style music largely from Polydor Hong Kong. Notable singers from the era include Liza Wang and Paula Tsui.

Soap operas were needed to fill TV air time, and popular Cantonese songs became TV theme songs.[1] Around 1971, Sandra Lang, a minor singer who had never sung Cantopop before, was invited to sing the first Cantonese TV theme song "The Yuanfen of a Wedding that Cries and Laughs" (啼笑姻緣). This song was a collaboration between songwriters Yip Siu-dak (葉紹德) and the legendary Joseph Koo. It was ground-breaking and topped local charts.[1] Other groups that profited from TV promotion included the Four Golden Flowers.

Samuel Hui, the lead singer of the band Lotus formed in the late 1960s, signed onto Polydor in 1972. The song that made him famous was the theme song to the movie Games Gamblers Play, also starring Hui.

The star of TV theme tunes was Roman Tam. Three of the most famous TV soap opera singers were Jenny Tseng, Liza Wang and Adam Cheng.[1] The Wynners and George Lam also amassed a big fan base with their new style. Samuel Hui continued to dominate the charts and won the Centennial Best Sales Award in the first and second IFPI Gold Disc Presentations twice in a row in 1977 and 1978. Polydor became PolyGram in 1978.

1980s: Beginning of the Golden Age

During the 1980s, Cantopop soared to great heights with artists, producers and record companies working in harmony. Cantopop stars such as Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Alan Tam, Sally Yeh, Priscilla Chan, Sandy Lam, and Danny Chan quickly became household names. The industry used Cantopop songs in TV dramas and movies, with some of the biggest soundtracks coming from films such as A Better Tomorrow. Sponsors and record companies became comfortable with the idea of lucrative contracts and million-dollar signings. There are also Japanese songs with Cantonese lyrics.

The most successful Chinese female recording artist, "Queen of Mandarin songs" Teresa Teng also crossed over to Cantopop. She achieved commercial success with her original Cantonese Hits under the Polygram Label in the early 1980s. Jenny Tseng was a notable addition from Macau.

As Cantopop gained large followings in Chinese communities worldwide, Hong Kong entrepreneurs' ingenious use of the then new Laserdisc technology prompted yet another explosion in the market.

The Four Heavenly Kings in a tribute to Leslie Cheung (2003)

1990s: Four Heavenly Kings era

In the early 1990s, the Cantopop stars Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung, Samuel Hui, Priscilla Chan, the songwriter Joseph Koo, and others either retired or lessened their activity. Chan left Hong Kong to pursue her studies at Syracuse University while the rest left Hong Kong amid the uncertainty surrounding the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

During the late 1990s, the "Four Heavenly Kings" (四大天王), namely Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Leon Lai dominated music, and coverage in magazines, TV, advertisements and cinema.[5][6]

New talents such as Beyond, Sandy Lam, Sally Yeh and Faye Wong emerged as contenders. Shirley Kwan also made her mark with 難得有情人.

The sovereignty handover created a culturally challenging atmosphere for the industry. Establishment of Basic Law and language ordinances made the adoption of Mandarin official.[7]

Twins at the height of the group's popularity


At the turn of the century, Cantonese was still dominant in the domain of C-pop.[8] The deaths of stars Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui in 2003 rocked the industry. A transitional phase also took place with many overseas-raised Chinese artists such as Nicholas Tse and Coco Lee gaining recognition. As a result Cantopop is no longer restricted to Hong Kong, but has become part of a larger Pan-Chinese music movement.

In 2005 Cantopop began a new upswing. Major companies that drove much of the HK segment included Gold Typhoon Music Entertainment (EMI, Gold Label), Universal Music Group, East Asia Entertainment and Amusic and Emperor Entertainment Group. Some of the most successful performers of the era include Joey Yung, Twins, Eason Chan, Miriam Yeung, Leo Ku, Janice Vidal. The new era also saw an explosion of bands such as at17, Soler, Sunboy'z, Hotcha, Mr. and Rubberband. Many artists later ended up going solo such as Stephy Tang, Kary Ng, Kenny Kwan and Renee Li. The decade has also been dubbed a People's singer era (親民歌星), as most performers promote frequently in public. This is as opposed to the 1990s and previous era Big-card singers (大牌歌星), who were impossible to approach.[9]

A number of incidents also took place. The largest was the Edison Chen photo scandal involving Edison Chen and high-profile female celebrities like Gillian Chung, Bobo Chan and Cecilia Cheung caught in sexual acts with explicit photos uploaded online. The scandal garnered the attention of international media including CNN[10] and MSNBC.[11] and The Guardian.[12] The scandal raised a number of questions regarding legal issues and netizen's online rights that went far beyond the usual music discussion. Other events include the street fight between Gary Chaw and Justin Lo.[13] As well as Jill Vidal and Kelvin Kwan drug-trafficking to Japan.[14]


The first major award of the decade 09 JSG award was a highly controversial one with the on-going HKRIA tax case. The case was reportedly solved in early 2012 though. In January 2012, the 11 JSG award was again controversial since one of the biggest awards, Record of the Year, was handed to Raymond Lam with his unpopular song “Chok”. Some of the successful performers of the era are G.E.M., Ivana Wong, Sugar Club, Mag Lam, Alfred Hui, C AllStar and Khalil Fong.

Further information


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Broughton, Simon. Ellingham, Mark. Trillo, Richard. [2000] (2000) World Music: The Rough Guide. Rough Guides Publishing Company. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  2. Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island, Jason Wordie
  3. Wiltshire, Trea. [First published 1987] (republished & reduced 2003). Old Hong Kong - Volume One. Central, Hong Kong: Text Form Asia books Ltd. ISBN Volume One 962-7283-59-2
  4. HKVPradio. "HKVPradio." Roman Tam, the Godfather of Cantopop. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  5. Xinhuanet.com. "Xinhuanet.com." 四大天王. Retrieved on 2010-12-27.
  6. 163.com. "163.com." 四大天王. Retrieved on 2010-12-27.
  7. "Action Plan to Raise Language Standards in Hong Kong", Standing Committee on Language Education and Research. Retrieved on 2007-02-25.
  8. Donald, Stephanie. Keane, Michael. Hong, Yin. [2002] (2002). Media in China: Consumption, Content and Crisis. Routledge Mass media policy. ISBN 0-7007-1614-9. pg 113
  9. 星星同學會 episode 3
  10. "Celebrity Sex Scandal". CNN (2008-02-05). Retrieved on 2008-02-11.
  11. "Sex scandal rocks Hong Kong". Msnbc (2008-02-14). Retrieved on 2008-02-15.
  12. Watts, Jonathan (2008-02-13). "China riveted by stolen sex photos of Hong Kong stars". The Guardian. Retrieved on 2008-02-15.
  13. Orientaldaily.on.cc. "Orientaldaily.on.cc." 側田曹格肉搏街頭. Retrieved on 2010-01-02.
  14. "Prison break as Wei Si admits heroin charge". The Standard (24 April 2009).

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