Andy is Typing …’s new single Promise is a simple love song perfectly executed with the band’s usual alt-rock, slightly techno style. It’s nothing special. The narrator of the song presumably had just broken up or something and sings about how he “doesn’t want to give up” and how now that they’re no longer together “I love you so much more”. By the end he realizes that the relationship is over and so the whole song is some bittersweet rock ballad. It’s nothing particularly new. The melodies and harmonies, like the lyrics, aren’t particularly complex either. There is a four piece rock band, but there is also a healthy dose of post-production techno additions which elevates but doesn’t fundamentally change its core. However, Promise promises nothing particularly new or special, or rather, it doesn’t try to be anything fancy or new or particularly artistic. This is in stark contrast to their early singles which had harmonica solos of all things.
But while there’s nothing special, there is something unique.
In Cantopop musicology, we find it difficult to actually define what Cantopop is. Some music academics argue that Cantopop is in itself not actually Cantonese but instead a music genre that linguistically and culturally reflects Hong Kong during the mid 20th Century. And there’s a point to that argument. Think back to what your parents and grandparents listened to – English, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese. (Often all sung by the same person with varying degrees of linguistic proficiency…) Now think also of what the songs were like and what they talked about. Essentially nothing. Wet, honey-dripping love ballads; songs reminiscing on the past and so on. Love ballad. Occasionally there might be a song about working together. Love ballad. Building the future or the like. Love ballad. Simple, catchy, well written, love ballads.
So anyway, why this tangent? Aside from wanting to sound smarter than I am, I think the reason I love this song so much is because it’s a modern version of the classic Cantopop ballads. Cantopop, of course, continues to exist and thrive, but Promise has a uniquely classic feel to it that I find missing in an ever-quickening race to for Hong Kong’s music scene to either innovate itself into becoming South Korea, or to stick to their tried-and-tested-nostalgic guns and make the 80s great again (Anita the movie, anyone?) Promise does neither of these, it takes the old formula and updates it for a modern Hong Kong inhabited by modern Hong Kongers.
Case and point – references in the lyrics: narrator says he’ll ‘take a trip to Tokyo, Japan / following you wherever you go’ then ‘from Olympic station to Choi Ming Court / taking you home everyday’. Some sappy love song lines about traveling the world with the girl you broke up with, nothing special. Until you take it in context – Tokyo is no longer an exotic location for most young Hong Kongers. It’s a weekend get-away, offhandedly mentioned in conversations but still somewhere considered very romantic. Olympic station, Choi Ming Court and later Admiralty station and the North Face store in Pacific Place are incredibly specific references (the North Face store being the most oddly specific), letting the listener travel around Hong Kong but not only the old or new, or rich or poor, but just be in Hong Kong. These places simply did not exist in the golden age of Cantopop. The MTR was not built. International brands like North Face were not part of everyday parlance. Hong Kong did not yet get an Olympic gold. Choi Ming Court may or may not have existed, the history lesson ends here. There’s also just an incredible amount of skill and playfulness in Promise’s trilingual lyrics which lyricist, composer and lead vox JKY seamlessly transits and rhymes between Cantonese, Mandarin and English – Lines like我會祝福你 – Wish you the best – (Mandarin pinyin: Wǒ huì zhùfú nǐ) rhyming with “next station’s Admiralty” really reflects the cosmopolitan, international Hong Kong where being people just know how to mix languages.
Anyway, the point is that there’s a warmth in how familiar, yet modern Promise is.
Well, I guess there is something special about this song after all.
– Cyril Ma