Jonathan Wong, Hong Kong’s rising pop star who used to gig across America while believing that he could change the world, stirred the Global Lounge in the University of Hong Kong (HKU) today by sharing with an audience of over fifty not only his songs but his ambition of changing the world through his music.
The twenty-four-year-old singer, dancer and songwriter started his career last year after graduating from Cornell University in 2008. But he has already issued two albums and won almost ten “best new singer” awards in Hong Kong. Wong is known for integrating different elements with pop music, for example, modern dance. And he is performing with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra in the coming January.
Before his presentation, Wong greeted the audience of with two pieces of his works. The first song was a bilingual song called “Ni Men Hao” (Mandarin for “How Are You”) to which he danced round the venue. And in the second song “Sum Zug” (Cantonese for “Satisfaction”), he shared the stage with HKU’s Mosaic a cappella, which he referred to as the “world famous a cappella group”. After the two songs, the atmosphere was warmed up and the audiences were shouting for more.
In whistles and applauses, Wong started his presentation by drawing the audience attention to a fact that in pop culture today, songs sound very much the same, and dances look very much the same. What is lacking, said Wong, is a “critical variety”.
“I think that when things become so homogenous, we start to discriminate. We start to lose sight of what we actually would have liked before. But because it’s not main stream, we start to discriminate, we start to hate,” said Wong, showing on the screen a photo of a room filled with Spiderman products.
However, today’s popular culture also offered us new platforms to voice out what we want and to choose what we like, according to Wong. Therefore, it’s time to make some changes to the mainstream popular culture.
“As a singer, I can just put…what I think is different from what’s out there into the mainstream…pop culture is a double-edged sword…it could be something where we get completely brainwashed; but if we choose, we can make something of it.”
He thought that by broadening the mainstream music, it’s hopeful that people would come to obtain different perspectives, to accept diversity, and to tolerate each other.
Wong also encouraged people to avoid being passive recipients of what others think are popular through his music. He said: “Pop is indeed what we say it is…so the next time … we can have more courage to actually choose what we want to see.”
While he was talking, he was walking back and forth on the stage trying to engage the audience on both sides. And at certain points he would make funny faces at his own jokes.
At the start of the Q&A section, Wong said: “We won’t tell you what will happen if you ask a question, but as soon as you do, you find out. And then things will change.” And what happened was that anyone who asked a question would get a CD with Wong’s signature.
When asked about whom he admired most, Wong said he admired “people who are the first in their field…mainly game changers”.
In responding to a reporter’s question on whether he would have to compromise his originality for better selling, Wong admitted that he did have such concerns, though so far he was doing fine.
“If we mark what’s popular this moment as 0, then that of last year is -1, and that of next year is +1…I’m already at +3, but I’ve gone a bit too far; +1 is good enough,” said Wong.
Wong wrapped up the event with his new song “Zoi Sang” (Cantonese for “Rebirth”) which he wrote himself. “If you think about it, to be born once is to be given birth. You didn’t choose it,” he said, “When you find yourself, when you really hold onto something that you really want to be and you become it, that is rebirth.”
July Yang, a student from mainland China who hadn’t known of Wong before, said that she appreciated his philosophy that “we should further open up our minds.”
Dr. Albert Chau, Dean of Students Affairs of the university who took part in organizing the event, said that his favorite part about the event was the song “Sum Zug”. “It’s a very good opportunity for the music lovers in HKU to work with a pop star and exchange with him understandings of music,” said Chau.