When people opened their WeChat Moments close to midnight on September 16, their feed was likely flooded with posts about “Won’t Cry,” Chinese superstar Jay Chou’s new song. Related topics of Jay’s new song were also soon pushed to the hot topics list across different social media. QQ Music, the music streaming service the song was released on, even lost its service temporarily because too many users were pouring into the app. On a global scale, Won’t Cry pushed to the top of the trending videos list on YouTube Music across the US, Australia, Canada and Malaysia within only ten hours, and managed to accumulate over 20 million views on YouTube in one week. The numbers alone are proof that Jay Chou is still the most successful and influential Chinese pop star to date.
In fact, as soon as Jay announced the release date of his new single, many who were born in the 80s and 90s began a countdown to the release. Evidently, Jay Chou has been accompanying a generation of Chinese folks throughout the entire period of their teenage life.
A few months ago, a user posted on Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo inquiring why tickets to Jay’s concerts were always sold out within seconds even though his ranking on the Trending Topics List was rather low, insinuating Jay’s diminishing popularity over the years. The rankings are determined based on the number of users who visit the related topic and the number of related posts.
Generally, top trending topics are occupied by upcoming rising stars, who have a structured fan base or even organizations, usually composed of younger generations born in the 2000s, tasked with the responsibility of keeping their idols’ rankings at a satisfactory position. The post in question raised a lot of heated discussions on Weibo. Jay’s fans, who mostly had no clue what Super Topic List was, responded actively by consolidating together, and worked from scratch and managed to push Jay Chou back to the top position on the list. Some users on Weibo named the whole process as a team building of “middle-ages.”
A decade into the 21st century, Taiwanese pop culture had already deeply impacted China’s mainland. The most popular singers, songs, dramas and entertainment content consumed by Chinese audiences were all from Taiwan. Meanwhile, that decade was also characterized as the peak of Chinese pop music, when the non-Chinese music market was still not unsizable and the problem of online piracy was still traceable.
Many Taiwanese singers were wildly adored by their fans in China’s mainland at the time, and Jay was the iconic representative. His debut had, in a sense, redefined general public’s former idea of a good singer. Many older generations complained that “when he was singing, it sounded like there was something in his mouth and he could not open his mouth at all.” However, his mumble-like singing style soon attracted teenagers who were in their teenage rebellion phases, eager to express themselves and show that they were a new generation full of personalities. What galvanized them even more was that Jay was never a traditionally accepted “good boy”, but was instead always delivering a carefree attitude to his fans through his cool poker face and demeanor.
Certainly, Jay’s music was what distinguished him from others within the same age groups. His golden age began with a new music style he pioneered that incorporates elements from western pop music into traditional Chinese style music harmoniously. His collaboration with lyricist Vincent Fang has, undoubtedly, also proved to be a strong and nurturing partnership in Chinese pop music. For example, his early collaboration with Vincent, Nunchuks, mixed hip-hop with Chinese-style melodies, which is also the first song that made a lot of people fall in love with his music.
Compared to the preference for Jay’s music nurtured throughout the years, a lot of Chinese listeners’ current passion about his new song is mainly due to nostalgia experienced during their teenage lives. Although Jay’s new song only received a 5.8 rating out of 10 on Douban, the largest culture-related social networking platform in China, the single still managed to accumulate a large amount of views and positive comments across Chinese social media. His previous album, Qi Li Xiang, which was launched in 2004, received a blazing 9.2 with around with over 3,000 reviews. And even though people had to pay 3 yuan to listen to his music, most were willing to spend the money for Jay’s new song because they could not “control excitement when they saw Vincent and Jay finally collaborated again.”
After getting married in 2015 and becoming a father of two kids, Jay released new works much less frequently. In the recent two years, he only released three songs including Won’t Cry, with most of his news centering around his happy marriage and love for bubble tea. Instead of being a cold and chic boy that he was known as, Jay is now more like a dependable, qualified husband and father immersed in happiness.
Similarly, Jay’s fans experienced a similar transition as well. These fans were almost the first generation of Chinese young adults who have been self-conscious with individualism. They refused to be defined and limited by society, which subsequently gave birth to a huge generation gap from their parent’s generation. The group of irresponsible adults that were once referred to as “a broken generation” with no sense of responsibility have manged to defend themselves and show that they did not want to live a normal life as their parents did. They found their voice in a line of Jay’s song, “please listen to me in my own space.” After fifteen years, the used-to-be-rebellious generation came to their parents’ ages and their sharpness were smoothed out by the stress from every corner in their lives.
When Won’t Cry was released, there was a discussion online about whether Jay Chou is outdated or not. While Jay’s old fans were trying to catch every single moment in the MV that can be shadowed in his previous work, the younger generation found the story that the MV was telling to be bogus. It was another generation gap that the 80s and 90s fans have to face in their lives. Different from the previous one they experienced, they are now the old-fashioned ones that complain about new popular idols just as their parents once did with Jay.
However, to them, they won’t cry. At least, we were all once young.