The Popular Music of Stylish Young Chinese Men, The Honor: Selection 1 by The Honor

By Daniel Garrett

The Honor, Selection 1
Mastering Engineer Chris Gehringer
Beat Machine Records, 2012

On the album Selection 1 by the attractive band of young Chinese male performers, The Honor, the song “Kick It Up” is brassily, thumping electronic dance music, the current sound of much international popular music, with an assertive chorus, and enthusiastically crowd-encouraging rap. The Honor’s members are Gao Fei, Wang Lu, Feng Xuan Yuan, Huang Ji Yang, Zhang Jing Hao, and Diao Lei; and Feng Xuan Yuan and Zhang Jing Hao are the singers, Wang Lu the disc jockey, Gao Fei the guitarist, Huang Ji Yang the bassist, and Diao Lei the drummer. The band brings together different sounds, for a brashly entertaining, modern blend. “Pain,” with English and Chinese lyrics, contains confident, boisterous, boy-band singing, with electronic echoes and rapping and a variety of rhythms—it speeds up and slows down at different times. This is music that has personality though the dance genre is so common now as to convey impersonality. “I want you but I let you go” is the repeated lyric, ending with “so I’ve got a pain.” The repetition is intended to drive the lyrics into the brain, but the simplicity of the lyrics—as in “What’s Your Feeling”—can find a place there but they are not significantly resonant. They distract momentarily—like youthful engagement in a nightclub: just enough engagement to make a friend or find a lover, and get one into trouble.

The music of The Honor is classic yet contemporary boy band, rhythmic and melodious, commercial and social, a texture that is attractive if not very deep, full of electronic tweaking, with English and Chinese lyrics, rap influences that have charm and energy, and even a punky quality, fast and relentless, and yet not afraid to use old-fashion horns or adopt a sincere tone. I imagine that the more young Americans hear the music of The Honor, the more they will like it. There is an explosion of contrary sounds in “Hot on Fire,” with sharply spoken lyrics—the evidence of youthful testosterone. There are long, drawn-out sung lines, followed by punky shouting, in “Raw Emotion,” and the band combines different approaches—whether out of creative appetite or desperate commercialism is any listener’s guess. It is interesting enough.

Romantic, earnest singing shapes “Faith,” with its busy arrangement and quick beat. The foreign language “Cui Can”, with guitar, is something of a rock song. “Single Party” is further proof that this dramatically expressive music is extroverted music, rather than introverted music—public, rather than private—and full of sound manipulation, a music of both calculation and play. It is like someone trying different attitudes to charm, different positions to please. “Pop Up” is driving, bustling, brassy, with harmonies of repeated half-English refrains and humorous-sounding Chinese rap. Relatively mellow is “Shi Mian,” with ballad singing, saxophone, and what might be strings or their imitation. The collection ends with remixes of “Kick It Up” and “Raw Emotion” and “What’s Your Feeling,” and the first sounds like a bunch of sound effects, the second like a climax or coda, and the third, with a heavy, near-industrial beat and forceful voice, like something more, possibly all a suitable conclusion for an album that is entertaining but not profound.
Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader. He has an internet log, “The Art Notes of a Solitary Walker,” focused on visual art. He has written a novel, A Stranger on Earth.