Wednesday 11 October 2006

Viet Lyrics

What’s wrong with modern Vietnamese lyrics? I’ve heard enough people raising their concern over this matter.

Recently, a new “star” has risen in the arena of Vietnamese modern music. His works, though popular with young audiences, evoke much controversy among different groups of audience. He is famous first of all for songs with easy-to-sing melodies and easy-to-comprehend lyrics.  The lyrics are particularly boring to me. It seems he takes them all from the daily conversations of people around him, and takes all events in the news as his inspiration. He even found inspiration in the scandal of Van Quyen committing football pools. Now that we get here, we all know who he is. His name is Duy Manh.

While a large proportion of young audiences shows fondness for Duy Manh’s songs, he receives equal hatred. The attacks mostly come from people with better taste of art, or at least those who consider themselves to have better taste of art than the rest. I hate Duy Manh’s works, too, but I wonder why I am so biased against them, especially their lyrics. What’s wrong with them? Or, to be more exact, what’s wrong with Duy Manh trying to put daily conversations into his works? Can’t he do so? He just does what many western songwriters have done long before him.

About lyrics alone, in the vast scope of pop music, we have seen a lot of songwriters who wrote image-based and beautiful lyrics.

“There's a lover's moon tonight

As I look back over my shoulder,

all the stars are shining bright

just like the nights when I used to hold her

She's out there somewhere under the lover's moon.

Lover's moon, won't you shine on me?

I'm dancing with a memory

I wish I may, I wish I might

have one last chance to hold her tight

Waiting, I know she's waiting

I know she waits for me under the lover's moon.

There's a lover's moon tonight,

shining down on half of this world

So many souls are in its light

But for me there is just one girl

And she's waiting, I know she's waiting

I know she waits for me under the lover's moon

under the lover's moon...

under the lover's moon...”

(Lover's Moon/ Glenn Frey)

Such beautiful lyrics!

But we too see other songwriters who write straightforward and truth-based lyrics. I usually do not pay much attention to lyrics; instead I would prefer a song for its melody,  harmony, and orchestration. Talking about pop genre, I like an old song by the London Studio band, “Give up Your Gun”. I am particularly interested in its flute and violon accompaniment. However, the lyrics, if translated into Vietnamese, would have been controversial: I guess the song might have been banned if it were written in Vietnamese.

“… I robbed a bank in Tampa and I thought I had it made

But the hounds picked up my trail within the Glades, so I ran

And I stumbled on this cabin, and she came to me once more

She said, "Give up your guns and face the law."

I don't wanna leave her, I don't wanna die

deep within the cold, cold grave with no one 'round to cry

But I got my pistol, now it's time to choose

shootin' here or hanging there, in either way I'll lose

And now I'm in this cabin, where my own true love should be

Instead there lies a note she wrote to me, and it says,

"Though you can't live by the bullet, but you sure instead can die

My love, give up your guns and say good bye... good bye"

And the sheriff now is calling with a shotgun at my door,

"Son, give up your gun and face the law!"”

Cultural officers in Vietnam may possibly jump up on hearing this violence-related song if they catch what it says. It’s a story of a robber on his run from police arrest.

Even the Beatles, famous for many poetic and image-based songs, wrote lots of songs where violence and cruelity are present in every word.

“… He blew his mind out in a car

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before

Nobody was really sure

If he was from the House of Lords…”

Cruelity and insensibility prevail in every cold word of the song which is written just like a piece of news. Despite that all, “A Day in the Life” is said to be an influential and groundbreaking song in pop music history. A modern pop song, it is orchestrated by a symphony orchestra. Strange, and innovative, isn’t it?

Make a comparison and we’ll see that Duy Manh does nothing new. He just put daily spoken language into his songs. But why are his works so ‘frightening’? I mean they can hardly be welcomed by the higher class of audience. For my part, I think there might be two reasons for this. Firsly, some of the audience prove to have a stubborn and conservative mind which resists to anything new and innovative. Secondly, there is actually an obvious difference between Vietnamese and western languages, especially English, and this difference has turned into an obstacle that our songwriters have to overcome before they can make some slight innovation.

So what’s wrong with what Duy Manh is doing, I wonder? In sum, I hate Duy Manh’s works, but I accept what he did. The audiences, the press, the critics, other sorts of listeners, and in general, all people but him, are those to blame instead. He is a music composer, or, in a narrower sense, a songwriter. That means he has the right to create, and we audiences always have the right to choose what to enjoy or to get off our mind. He might be a talentless composer, but who makes us listen to what he wrote? Why not get it off our mind? As he is a composer, writing songs is definitely his work, however badly he does it. We ourselves undertake the responsibility of improving our taste of art. Yes, it’s ‘we’, not ‘he’. And me, I accept what Duy Manh does with his songs, though I hate them. D’ooooh… my head aches…

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