I was channel surfing today when I came across a Chinese music station. I live in Xiamen so we don't have the plethora of programming that Shanghai or Guangzhou enjoys, and this station was not a local broadcast, but it's content was surprising nonetheless. I almost choked on my beer as I watched a music video by Swedish heavy metal heavyweights Soilwork. And immediately following was a video from Leave's Eyes, another currently hot European metal export. Western music videos are by no means uncommon on Chinese TV but watching back to back videos from bands that fall into "melodic death metal" and "gothic metal" categories, as opposed to Backstreets Boys or Michael Jackson, was quite a treat.
It got me wistfully wishing for a surging interest in Western heavy metal bands, which would make yours truly quite the happy camper. My personal tastes lean more towards the death metal/hardcore/scorched earth styles of metal and I know that China is too upbeat for those styles to take root, but bands like Soilwork and Leave's Eyes, while maintaining respectable levels of brutality, are more melodic and uplifting in their sound and message so as not to alienate mainstream audiences. After all, Japan is metal-crazy, though their particular flavors lack the venom and hatred that characterizes most Western metal acts, and I find this preferable actually. Japan's intense social pressures makes heavy metal the perfect antidote to go ape-nuts and release the pressure of the daily grind, which is much healthier than snarling about disemboweling clergy members and other such topical gems you find in Western heavy metal albums. China lacks the disenfranchised youth of the West and while social pressures are certainly substantial, I feel that China's entertainment constitution is too weak (i.e., meek) to stomach thundering riffs and wild-haired metal war gods bellowing anthems of the apocalypse.
Yet there is still hope. The youth are becoming more exposed to greater varieties of Western music and the same prejudices about metal that exist in the West are absent here in China. I remember seeing one Chinese program about Chinese pop music that featured intro graphics accompanied by a Rammstein ditty. And there is also a growing fascination with the "bad boy" image and mystique while is brazen exemplified in heavy metal music.
I'm not expecting China to embrace heavy metal as the West has- in fact, I would be even more pleased if Chinese metal acts gained at least some airplay and popularity. I know that most large cities in China are host to an abundance of local metal acts (of which I have never had the chance to witness...it's been more than four years since my last metal concert...*sniff*) but these bands are severely underground. I know that S.H.E. and Elva won't get knocked off the top of the charts any time soon but a mouthful of metal helps to offset the continuous taste of bubble gum pop we're all forced in ingest here.
One interesting note: with the recent trend in tongue-in-cheek gothic/punk fashion sweeping the stores comes a tidal wave of heavy metal T-shirts. At my university, I often see Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Slipknot and others proudly brandished, though the wearer has no idea who his attire represents. And curiously is the proliferation of the Affliction logo. Affliction is an old school death metal band with a far smaller following than the other bands I just mentioned but for some reason, I see their name almost daily, on T-shirts, bags, even halter tops. Go figure.