Monday, November 14, 2011

Movie Monday: Lady Gaga in China

A friend asked me to "explain" this video to him the other day.

Okay, I can see why the average American would think this is bizarre:
  1. It takes a Lady Gaga song
  2. Translates it into Chinese
  3. And makes a bunch of elderly people sing it
  4. Occasionally off key
  5. While dancing
  6. Along with some young women in tutus 
  7. Holding plastic renditions of traditional Chinese instruments
Yes, it's strange. But it's not too different from what's usually on TV in China, especially around holidays like Chinese New Year when the stations run one variety show after another.

Here are a few things about Chinese culture that might make viewing this video feel a little less odd:
  1. Chinese people do not have as many inhibitions as Westerners do. Say you're walking through a park in China. You will see at least one of the following: a large crowd practicing tai chi; a large crowd dancing, either ballroom dancing or a more energetic, dance routine (usually there's a boombox set up to provide music); someone singing opera of some kind with a crowd gathered to watch; people walking backwards (this is believed to improve mental dexterity); someone playing a musical instrument; numerous games of hacky-sack; lots of badminton. Many of the people involved in these activities are retired. They have time and this is the way they have fun and stay healthy. It's totally normal.
  2. Chinese people love to perform and they love to watch others perform. It's a national pastime. If you've ever been to a Chinese banquet you know this when they force you up in front of everyone to sing "Doe A Deer" a cappella. This is also why karaoke is so popular in Asian cultures, because singing in front of people is totally normal and wonderful and expected. In fact, if a Chinese person at a banquet asks you to sing, you'd better sing, brother.
  3. It's not so important to stay on key. This should be comforting if you're ever pulled up to the front of a banquet hall in China and asked to sing a cappella. Chinese opera is very forgiving in this way, and since this is probably how most of the singers in the video were trained, they're more concerned about volume than pitch. This is not a criticism. It's simply style. I actually learned to sing a section of a famous southern Chinese opera called Butterfly Lovers. I performed it quite a few times at different venues with my opera teacher. So, I've heard my share of Chinese opera and it is an amazing art form! The movements are precise, but the pitch ... not as important.
  4. No comment on song choice. Not positive why Lady Gaga was chosen, and my Chinese isn't good enough to know if they translated the lyrics exactly, but... Yes, they do look cheerful for singing about heartbreak and bad romance. But the tune is kind of catchy, right? **
I actually love this video. I love that the Chinese live to entertain, that they're not afraid to try new things and put themselves out there. I love that they honor their senior citizens and that people aren't considered  "too old" to perform on national TV. It's wonderful ... and just watching this makes me feel nostalgic for China. I loved the quirky, unexpectedness of living there. Every morning I woke up not knowing what adventures the day would hold.

American life, on the other hand, is very ... predictable.


**Giora very kindly provided more explanation in the comments (thank you, Giora!). I wanted to include his words, because they are very important to understanding this performance: "The lyrics are very different from that of "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. The lyrics are about eldery people sining to their son that he is too busy to visit them and they hope that he will see them singing the song." Isn't that helpful? I'm becoming more and more attached to this performance all the time!


  1. I thought Lady Gaga would be too Imperialist Running-Dog Lacky Decadent to be sung in China.
    Maybe Lady Gaga could sing a cover of The Internationale.
    Walking-Cat Flunky

  2. This is hilarious! And I love learning about other cultures. Those old people definitely looked like they were having fun.

    Perhaps we should be like this more in the US. :)

  3. I wish we were more okay with walking-backward type things. I like that about the Chinese culture.

    And Happy Birthday to your son! My 16 yo is the cake maker around here and I love that!
    My Blog

  4. I need to move to China. I love to sing but I'm not very good (OK, I'm terrible) so I don't do it.

  5. I love this video too. And I love your explanation for it. Your little forays into Chinese culture delight me. Do more of that:)

  6. Hey! They aren't elderly, at least most of them - they're my age! :-)

  7. Overall, it's a good performance, especially the ladies on the left side who also dance nicely. Why Gaga? In that area in China "Gaga" means "Grandma". The lyrics are very different from that of "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. The lyrics are about eldery people sining to their son that he is too busy to visit them and they hope that he will see them singing the song. Thanks for this blog.

  8. Giora, Thank you! That explains a lot!! I wondered if they were singing the actual lyrics of that song; it makes sense that they just used the tune. And this description of the lyrics helps the whole thing make sense!

    Lady Gaga is the singer who originally sang this song. She's quite a character herself! :)


  9. This makes me want to go to China. SO much. Love it.

  10. Amy, great post! Loved your observations! I thought the same.
    You "studied" Chinese opera for a bit? I just learned another new thing about you! NEVER do you cease to amaze me, Supermom! ;)
    We live next to a large park now and I have LOVED all the different things that go on.One of the most popular is karaoke...they have their machines on carts with a generator and pull up under a shade tree and groups come and sing, eat watermelon, chat and sing some more.

  11. Go down in this website to find out the lyrics of the Chinese version

    The video is from Hunan provinec and in their Changsha dialect, Gaga is Granma.
    Hopefully, Lady Gaga will fly to China and sing with the,

  12. I love this! It took me until after the brides did their intro to figure out which song it was. And the polo shirt-clad men are so cute with their hand movements. Classic!

  13. "more concerned about volume than pitch" - love it! great attitude!

    I tried Karaoke for the first time recently (away on a trip! nobody knew me!)and LOVED it!
    It's good to shed some inhibitions.