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If you've never watched or listened to Chinese Mic-shouting 喊麦 before, we strongly recommend you spend a minute to watch this video first to get a taste. (link from Youtube)
For many, China's live-streaming world are chaotic, colorful and very confusing.
Biyi: Ok so what buzz word should we write about this week?
Yan: I know! How about Hanmai 喊麦, Mic-shouting? Please? I am super curious about it!
Biyi: Me too, but I don't really understand it...I mean, I know there's been a lot of buzzes around Mic-shouting, but it is so confusing, I don't understand why it is so popular...
Yan: Well let's research then. (Swiping phone screen). First thing first we need to watch more Mic-shouting live-streams, I am downloading Kuaishou and YY Live, you have those on your phone?
YY Live (Left) and Kuaishou(Right) are two of the most popular live-streaming platforms for Mic-shouting performances.
Biyi: Yeah duhhh. I've listened to that famous "Drinking Alone By Myself" song by MC Tianyou, but never watched Mic-shouting live-streams in action...
Yan: Well you weren't looking hard enough thenAha! check out what I just found! (Waving and showing phone screen).
We spotted a female "Mic-shouting MC" on Kuaishou and watched all her "shouting" video clips.
[10 minutes later ]
Biyi: You can tell she actually has a pretty good voice...
Yan: And is amazing at hairstyling...
Biyi: But I don’t understand what she was singing, those Mic-shouting lyrics are really hard to catch.
Yan: Lyrics don't matter I guess, didn't you notice the majority of Mic-shouting songs are repetitively just about two themes? It's either Jianghu 江湖 (brotherhood/underworld, literally rivers and lakes, aka the environment where the martial artists live) or girls. You just pile up a bunch of seeming relevant words into sentences and make them rhyme.
Fantasizing about Jianghu's heroic lifestyle is a common theme in Mic-shouting songs.
Biyi: How about copyrights? who wrote all these Mic-shouting songs? the MCs? ("Mic-Controllers", aka what livestream performers like to call themselves.)
Yan: (Searching) I tried various keyword combinations on Baidu and found nothing. There are a few sketchy-looking websites sharing Mic-shouting songs and lyrics etc, but no copyrights claim whatsoever. Maybe the whole idea of copyrights just doesn't exist in the Mic-shouting community?
Screenshot of a Mic-shouting lyrics sharing site.
Biyi: That's really weird! Why wouldn't songwriters fight for their creative rights?
Yan: ...Because Mic-shouting is never original in the conventional sense? The soundtracks are pulled and remixed from famous pop songs, and whoever made them just share openly with everyone else. I feel that's how the system works.
Biyi: !! The fans just don't care? They are still obsessed?
Yan: Don't sound like a saint! Obviously Mic-shouting is not designed to appeal to us, but it has its own targeted audiences. It's just an entertainment form, no need for over interpretation.
Biyi: Now you are sounding like the saint, duh.
Yan: Wait a sec, oh my god MC Tianyou is live-streaming right now!!
Biyi: The MC Tianyou??
The most famous Chinese "Mic-shouting MC" who's reported to have earned more than 50 million last year.
Before his successful career on livestream, Tianyou worked various dirty, low-paid jobs from dancing in local night clubs to selling BBQ skewers on street after quitting middle school. 4 years ago, he discovered Mic-shouting online and fell in love with it immediately. After a few months of practicing and performing it through live-streaming apps, he became the Top.1 most-followed Mic-shouting MC on YY-Live, earning more than ¥30,0000 a month from virtual gifts and brands endorsement.
From Live-stream celebrity to awarded public influencer.
Tianyou currently has over 1,600 million followers on YY-Live and made appearances in a number of popular Chinese talkshows as special guests. In many ways, he is the first (and perhaps the only) Mic-shouting MC that has earned pubic recognition on China's mainstream stage so far.
For his recent live-streaming session we watched, Tianyou "Mic-connected" (Lianmai, 连麦) with his live-streamer friends who are also from the northeastern region of China.
Biyi: He sounds like a pretty chilled, down-to-earth normal guy...
Yan: Did you notice he deliberately talked with northeastern accent (东北话) throughout the whole session?
Biyi: Yep, I now can see why most of the MCs are from the same region. They do have a pretty great sense of humor and are open to talk about anything.
Yan: And they all seem to be friends with each other, like there is a super strong sense of community.
Biyi: Just a random thought...don't you think Mic-Shouting is kinda like Hip-hop/Rap during their early period? I am not a music professional but from what I observed the two share some similarities style and culture wise?
Yan: ...You are offending a lot of Rap fans by making such comparison! Clearly Rapping pays more emphasizes on techniques and improvisation, I think?
Biyi: I feel Rapping and Hip-hop in general are more, you know, complex. It was a cultural movement rooted in the minority's discontent about the social and political oppressions they suffered. Mic-shouting seems to have little social appeal; it's more about fantasy themes and more entertaining in nature.
Yan: That's how it looks like from the outside. Only from the outside though.
Mic-Shouting and Rap
- Both emphasizes heavily on rhymes and beats in their vocal styles.
- Both are grass-root in origin: Hip-hop in its infancy has been described as an outlet for the disenfranchised African American youth of low-income background, Mic-shouting gained popularity within marginalized social groups, in particular millennials coming from China's second and third-tier cities and countrysides.
- Both fueled by technology development: Hip-hop's early evolution happened when sampling technology and drum-machines became widely available to the general public, Mic-Shouting emerged from local nightclubs to the mass public thanks to China's mobile internet boom, which made live-streaming and social sharing incredibility fast and easy.
From Hip-hop to Mic-shouting: similar but also very different.
Yan: I AM DONE. I tried to listen to a bunch more Mic-shouting songs and watched a few live-streaming sessions, and I just couldn't bear with it anymore. They are so rude, sexist and... you know, sketchy.
Biyi: Yea I feel the same too. Should we still write about Mic-shouting? I feel we've failed our investigation. It's so frustrating to see a lot of people enjoying this certain thing but you just couldn't empathize their enjoyment...
Yan: I guess Mic-shouting just wasn't created for audiences like us anyway. Do you have any friends in your social circle that actually watch live-streams or Mic-shouting?
Biyi: Nope, no one. Now you mentioned it I feel more than ever that we are trapped in an echo chamber... So far all the social network comments I've encountered on Mic-shouting are extremely negative, criticizing it as uncivil, trashy, low-class or whatever. But that's only because they are from my network; these commentators are similarly-minded city folks who would never watch live-streams to kill time or even to consider Mic-shouting as music.
Yan: I guess we all live by a sense of self-superiority embedded in mainstream social norms and aesthetic standards.
Biyi: And despising Mic-shouting became politically correct. Consciously or not, we are are influenced by this idea that only less-educated, marginalized people would enjoy this kind of crude, seemingly meaningless entertainment form.
Yan: What we consider as meaningless or stupid could actually mean so much for a lot of people. I remember reading a Tianyou fan's comment that watching Mic-shouting was the only highlight of his life. He worked more than 10 hours everyday in a factory and earned very little, but he's happy to buy virtual gifts for Tianyou every time seeing his performance.
"Some people think Mic-shouting is vulgar, but I say everyone just has different tastes. What we do and like is none of your business."
Biyi: Beyond anything, the fact that Mic-shouting is getting so popular is already a proof for its fascinations. For that I think we should definitely talk about Mic-shouting and introduce it to our China-curious readers.
Yan: Agree. I've always believed in the beauty of contradictions. Don't hide them, just talk about everything that we talked, shall we?
Biyi: Shall do.
And our conversation continues...