|Gong Linna in her daily life. (GT/Li Hao)|
To meet her in person, it is hard to link Gong Linna with someone so powerful that she once made her hit song, Tante (Disturbed), a viral hit all over China. But upon hearing her speak, it is obvious where the rich facial expressions seen on stage come from.
The hit made Gong one of the most popular and controversial singers in China in recent years. And once again she is catching people's attention with three new songs in the last three months: "Fahai Ni Budong Ai (Fahai, you don't understand love)"; "Jingubang (The golden cudgel)"; and "Aishang Dabendan (In love with a big idiot)".
The singer in controversy
The four songs previously mentioned have been labeled as shenqu by the Chinese audience, a term to describe songs that are difficult to appreciate. "Tante" and "Jingubang" are regarded as the most difficult to learn because there are no precise lyrics to go with the music – only a number of nonsensical sounds. The style requires Gong to pronounce every sound quickly and clearly. She embellishes the act with various rich facial expressions. The two other hits, "Fahai Ni Budong Ai" and "Aishang Dabendan," are just the opposite: they feature simple, short and direct lyrics. Yet both styles have run into controversy.
While some music fans love to mimic her songs and praise Gong's courage in creating new styles, others, both professional and amateurs, criticize her for ruining Chinese traditional culture. She often performs in outrageous costumes and makeup and uses exaggerated facial expressions. It impresses the audience deeply but, at the same time, goes beyond traditional aesthetic perceptions.
And after Gong's first performance of the song "Jingubang" at Hunan TV's Spring Festival Evening Gala on February 4, even Xu Jingqing, composer of the ending credit song for TV series Journey to the West said on his Sina Weibo that Gong is causing auditory "pollution to the audience." However, Liu Xiaolingtong, who played the Monkey King in the same TV series, showed his support to Gong for the new song.
"[I] feel the lyrics of her song are serious. [Her] facial makeup [and costumes] presented the feature of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King). [I can see] she is creating works attentively," he posted on Sina Weibo the next day after Gong's performance.
Though Gong has now become a representative figure for shenqu, she was once part of the mainstream performers of folk songs. Born in 1975, Gong started to sing in public at the age of 5 and later enrolled in the China Conservatory. In 2000, she got a silver award at CCTV Young Singers Contest, and from then on, she was invited to various galas and gained both fame and wealth.
However, while friends and family were cheering for her success, she gradually found it was not what she really wanted.
"After I graduated from college, I was lost," Gong told the Global Times in a face-to-face interview in her studio in Beijing, "because I could not find my roots."
Gong thinks what she learned at college could not be called folk songs but only used the folk singing style to sing songs that were a combination of China and the West.
A major contributor to Gong's stylistic change is Robert Zollitsch, better known as Lao Luo, who is Gong's husband and a German composer. Lao Luo came to China to study traditional Chinese music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1993. Now, he composes almost all of Gong's songs including her big hit "Tante."
Gong said that what Lao Luo gave her the most was spiritual courage. "He encouraged me to find the real me, to follow my heart and do what I wanted most, not for fame, or money or for parent's wishes."
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