East Asian Popular Music and Nostalgia: Local and Global Imaginations

June 26-30, 2017, Kassel, IASPM conference: The 19th IASPM conference, this time in Kassel, Germany. Please go here for the conference website. Very happy to be in a panel organised by Haekyung Um and Oliver Seibt:

East Asian Popular Music and Nostalgia:

Local and Global Imaginations

Panel Organizers: Haekyung Um and Oliver Seibt

Originated in the17th century as a medical term, nostalgia referred to a homesickness or melancholy. In the late 20th century it entered into academic and popular vocabularies often with reference to a longing for an idealized past.

Nostalgia is not an ordinary memory but is a particular type of recollection of a special past (Panelas 1982). Nostalgia is also complex and often double-sided in nature: while intensely private and personal in character, it is a deeply social emotion (Davis 1979). It can also be ‘retrospective’ as well as ‘prospective’ because the fantasies of the past are determined by the needs of the present and this, in turn, has a direct impact on the future, pertaining to its political implications (Boym 2001).

Nostalgia and its impact can manifest at the various levels of local, national and global, through technology and globalizing popular culture (Boym 2001, Jenkins 2004). In this context nostalgia can be highly stylised/ritualised and commodified (Grainge 2002). More specifically, along with film, drama and other popular media, popular music can play a vital role in nostalgia making. As a marker of specific time and place, popular music helps different individuals and social groups to feel emotionally engaged in while imagining their/other’s past, selfhood, heritage, nation, etc.

This panel will critically examine the production and consumption of nostalgia and their specificities as relevant to East Asian popular music in local and global contexts. Five case studies will include China (de Kloet and Chow), Japan (Seibt), South Korea (Um), Taiwan (Ho) and Singapore (Tan) as follows.


From Bowie to the Shenyang Rock Scene: Notes on the Monumentalization of Rock Culture

Jeroen de Kloet (University of Amsterdam) and Yiu Fai Chow (Hong Kong Baptist University)

In classic subcultural theory, Dick Hebdige described two ways through which subcultures lost their allegedly critical edge, either through commodification or through exoticization. By now, almost 40 years after he wrote his seminal study, we add monumentalization to that list. The exposition on the life and work of David Bowie attracted large audiences in London, Berlin and Groningen. Rock has broken through the heavily guarded boundary between the popular and the sacred, and morphed to art. In our paper we like to move Eastwards to further explore the social and political implications of such monumentalization. In art district caochangdi, located at the fringe of the Beijing, Taikang Art Space presented the show ‘Bio-archiving: Underground Music in Shenyang 1995-2002’. Like in Bowie’s show, rock becomes not only an object to look at, but also to dwell in, to explore one’s nostalgia towards a time past, a pre-digital time, when dakou tapes and CDs, handmade flyers and lo-fi performances provoked the rise of a vibrant rock culture. Monumentalization, nostalgia and subculture: how to think these three terms together in a time when everything from both the past and the present feels like just a mouse click away?

Longing for Someone Else’s Past: Miyazaki Hayao, Matsutōya Yumi and the Global Desire for Japanese-Flavoured Nostalgia

Oliver Seibt (University of Amsterdam)

While some of the Ghibli Studio’s animation films might be taken as examples of what Iwabuchi (2002) called ‘culturally odorless commodities’, Miyazaki Hayao’s latest film The Wind Rises (2013), a biopic of the aircraft engineer Horikoshi Jirō, certainly offers some ‘Japanese fragrance’. While the film covers the period from 1918 to 1939, as its theme song Miyazaki chose ‘Hikōki-gumo’, a ballad written by then 16 year-old Arai (Matsutōya since 1976) Yumi in 1970. Owing to the success of Miyazaki’s film, this song topped the charts forty years after its initial release. The promotional video depicts the singer strolling through Ghibli Museum, a retrospective of Miyazaki’s oeuvre as an anime director and Matsutōya’s career in Japanese popular music. Together with the theme song and the music video, the film establishes a dense texture of interrelated time layers, which clearly intended to evoke nostalgia amongst the Japanese adult audience. But how do ‘Western’ anime fans, unfamiliar with Japan’s pre-war history, with no first-hand experience of the 1970s ‘new music’, relate to this complex structure? If so, how does this intentional evocation of nostalgia work with those spectators whose life experience do not correlate with the ‘Japanese’ times depicted? The paper will try to answer these questions based on a virtual ethnography of ‘Western’ Ghibli fans.

Mediatization and the Invention of Nostalgia Through Popular Music: The Musical Production of Everyday Life and Cultural Memory in the Korean TV Drama Reply 1988

Haekyung Um (University of Liverpool)

Reply 1988, a Korean TV drama created by the cable channel tvN of C&J Entertainment, was an instant hit. Aired from 6 November 2015 to 6 January 2016 over 20 episodes, this drama depicts the everyday life of ordinary Korean families in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This paper will explore the ways in which popular music is used in Reply 1988 to create nostalgia. How can popular songs from a recent past and their contemporary cover versions function as a kind of ‘time signature’ and how do they contribute to the invention and authentification of cultural memory for the audiences to consume even when these audiences are from different generations and backgrounds? Grainge’s two concepts of nostalgia (2002) ‘as a structure of feeling or affective and experiential discourse’ (nostalgia mood) and ‘as a commodified style or commodified set of practice’ (nostalgia mode) are used to further examine the social and personal implications of nostalgia in the context of Korean popular music. Additionally Jenkins’ theory of convergence culture (2008) informs the ways in which musical nostalgia can be created through the processes of transmediation that brings these musics and drama together for their interactive audiences across generations and borders.

Haunted by the Past: The Ever-presence of 1970s’ ‘Folk Music’ in Taiwan

Tunghung Ho (Fu-Jen Catholic University)

Through popular music individuals can remember certain parts of their past life. Yet just how popular music triggers and plays with socio-cultural weight is central to our evaluations of music’s significance in this regard. In Taiwan certain kinds of music genres in certain periods can be seen in a ‘hauntological’ sense that is constantly reminding people of ‘musical beauty’ and their associated social evaluation. For example, since the 1990s Mainland Chinese audiences have been taken with Taiwanese ‘Folk Music’ from the mid-1970s and in the context of its 2015, 40th anniversary event I will discuss:

  1. Why an invention of ‘Folk Music’ in an era of a nationalist authoritarian regime in 1970s Taiwan has been seen as the innovative popular music in Taiwan for 40 years, although its ideology was neither rebellion nor socially engaging?
  2. Why, after various stages of popular music development, ‘Folk Music’ – a misnomer- is seen as central aesthetic practice in Taiwan?
  3. Under what social condition do Mainland Chinese audiences form their fascination with Taiwan’s Folk Music? And why are they still cherishing it now?
  4. By using this as our case in discussing issues surrounding the ‘nostalgia industry’, what lesson can we draw concerning popular music’s social and political significance?

Branding Heritage and Nostalgia in Singapore through Popular Music

Shzr Ee Tan (Royal Holloway)

In the past five years, Singapore has seen a spate of heritage “retro” revivals ranging from building conservation campaigns to dialect-based festivals, largely spearheaded by young, Gen Y activists eager to ‘intervene in state narratives’ (Goh 2014) of heritage and tradition. While many of these social projects present counter-discourses to previously dominant and government-imposed schema for local history and nationhood, they are also ‘uncannily contemporary’ and strategically strike at the aspirationally cosmopolitan local imagination in their rewriting of culture and history. A large part of this is achieved through the use of pop music articulations that selectively, symbolically or cognitively underscore discrete evocations of atmosphere, place, class, temporality, historicity and difference, channelling Boym’s (2007) restorative as well as reflective nostalgia. The past is romanticised and rebuilt as a fashionable hipster movement, with the coyness of vintage branding playing as key a role to social re-imagining as the movement’s trendy, market-underwritten values are dissonant with the directives of a civic enterprise. This paper examines the conflicted messages music producers, music curators and listeners articulate in several case-studies: viral music videos made on behalf of the aggressively-marketed Teochew Festival, sentimental 1970s Hokkien songs, and old-world pop soundscapes of urban-regenerated coffee shops in Tiong Bahru.