meta-scriptA Guide To Cantopop: From Beyond And Sam Hui To Anita Mui |
a guide to cantopop
(Clockwise from left) Leslie Cheung, MIRROR, Anita Mui, Joey Yung, Andy Lau, Faye Wong

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A Guide To Cantopop: From Beyond And Sam Hui To Anita Mui

Since the 1970s, Cantopop has melded Western genres with local sounds to create a musical melting pot — much like Hong Kong itself. Read on for 10 Cantopop artists who have shaped the genre.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2023 - 06:42 pm

Written in Chinese and sung in Cantonese, Cantopop is a melting pot of global influences much like the city of Hong Kong itself. A direct product of Hong Kong popular culture, Cantopop — or HK-pop (short for Hong Kong pop music) —  is inspired by Western pop, rock, jazz, disco and ballads. And while it may have been eclipsed by the rise of K-pop and Mandopop in recent years, Cantopop groups such as Mirror and Collar are making a comeback. 

The Cantopop genre began in the 1970s, and reached its highest glory in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, Cantopop artists such as Anita Mui (dubbed Madonna of the East), Leslie Cheung and Andy Lau (who was known as one of the Four Heavenly Kings alongside solo artists Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai and Jacky Cheung), toured the world — especially in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and South Korea. Cantopop’s popularity started to decline in the new millennium, as Mandarin became more closely tied to China’s economic and cultural growth. 

Interest in Cantopop has renewed following the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to prolonged border closures and travel restrictions. The pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the passing of Hong Kong’s national security law in 2020 has also contributed to a resurgence of Hong Kong pride, leading many natives to support their local artists. 

Cantopop artists and composers hail from different parts of Asia, among them Taiwanese singers Sally Yeh and the late Teresa Teng, a Mandopop singer who also crossed over into Cantopop. There are also many Cantopop performers who were raised in Canada, including Denise Ho and Joyce Cheng. 

During the pandemic, Cantopop boy band Mirror skyrocketed in popularity in Hong Kong. Local media has even described them as "the new kings of Cantopop." They’re hoping to bring their local success internationally, and released  their first English single, "Rumours," in March. 

As Cantopop experiences a resurgence, here is a list of 10 artists that have helped shape the genre over the decades. 

Sam Hui

Sam Hui is widely credited with popularizing Cantopop by infusing Western-style music with his usage of vernacular Cantonese rather than standard written Cantonese. He also used witty and biting lyrics to address contemporary concerns,  humorously satirizing the problems faced by working class Hong Kongers. 

Hui was also known for his flamboyant biker outfits and guitar skills. He is considered to be the first major superstar of Cantopop, and was given the name "God of Song." His relatability also earned him the affectionate nickname "Brother Sam."


Beyond was a Hong Kong rock band that formed in 1983, and is widely considered as the most successful and influential Cantopop band from Hong Kong. The band became known for singing songs about the pursuit of dreams, politics, peace and social issues including racism. One of their most famous works includes the 1990 song "Glorious Years (光輝歲月)," which was about racism and the struggle of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The hit song stood out among the sea of love songs that dominated the Cantopop scene. 

Beyond’s music continues to resonate. Their song "Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies" remains an anthem for Hong Kongers for its themes of personal freedom and the pursuit of dreams. It became the unofficial anthem of the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. 

Anita Mui

Anita Mui was a singer and actress who has been regarded as the "Madonna of the East" or the "daughter of Hong Kong" for her contributions to Cantopop. She was well known for her avant-garde costumes, high-powered performances and contralto vocals, which are rare for female vocalists. 

She released 50 albums over the course of  her two decade career. However, her career came to an abrupt end in 2003 when she announced she had cervical cancer, from which her sister also died at a young age. Mui held a series of concerts in Hong Kong that November —  her last before her death in December at the age of 40. 

Leslie Cheung

Known for his flamboyant and androgynous style, Leslie Cheung is considered a queer pioneer in the Cantopop scene. His career was marked by both praise and criticism, with numerous public discussions focusing on his sexual orientation. 

Cheung first rose to fame in 1984 with the release of his self-titled album and the single "Monica," whose upbeat production introduced a new trend to the otherwise sentimental ballad-heavy Cantopop. Cheung also rose to fame as an actor, starring in films including A Better Tomorrow, Days of Being Wild and Happy Together, which depicted a gay male relationship. 

Cheung’s last concert tour occurred between 2000 and 2001, in which he collaborated with fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier to create drag-inspired performances. Cheung died by suicide at the age of 46, and his death shocked the Asian entertainment industry as well as the Chinese community worldwide. 

Andy Lau

Dubbed one of the Four Heavenly Kings (alongside Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung and Leon Lai), Andy Lau is one of the most successful Cantopop singers of all time. Each were solo singers who occasionally performed together on stage. During the 1990s, the Four Heavenly Kings – a name inspired by the the four Buddhist gods Jikokuten, Tamonten, Zochoten and Komokuten – dominated music and coverage in magazines, TV, ads and cinema, and each also developed successful acting careers. Lau starred in films including Infernal Affairs and God of Gamblers

Lau’s singing career reached mainstream success in 1990 with the release of Would it Be Possible. And in 2000, he made the Guinness Book of Records for the most awards won by a Cantopop male artist. On top of singing in Cantonese and Mandarin, Lau has also sung in English, Japanese and Malay. 

Faye Wong

Faye Wong came to public attention in 1989 with the release of her debut album Shirley Wong, in which she combined alternative music with mainstream Chinese pop. Throughout her career, she has been known to push the boundaries of Cantopop by drawing influence from punk, dream-pop and indie. Wong named Scottish post-punk band Cocteau Twins among her favorite bands, and noted their influence on her 1994 album, Random Thoughts

Wong is also known for her acting, starring in Wong Kar-wai’s film Chungking Express. Her Cantonese version of the Cranberries’ "Dreams" is famously featured on the movie’s soundtrack. 

Joey Yung

Joey Yung released her debut EP in 1999, but broke through the Cantopop scene with her 2003 single "My Pride." In the years since, she became known for singing slow-burn songs with climatic bridges, while her ballads and pop numbers have since made her a staple in the Hong Kong music scene. 

With a worldwide fanbase, she has toured all over the globe with stops in the United States, Australia and Canada. Sheremains one of the most influential working Cantopop singers today. Her last Cantonese album Schrodinger's Cat was released in 2021, and continues to tour across Asia and parts of North America. 


Collar was formed through the reality competition show "King Maker IV," and its name references what  they consider to be the woman’s most attractive body part. 

The name is meant to represent Collar as one of the most attractive girl groups, and their ability to enchant the audience with their talents and performances. The eight-member group debuted in January 2022 with the upbeat pop track "Call My Name!", which took heavy inspiration from K-pop with intense choreography and bright and colorful costumes. 


Error is a boy band consisting of members who competed on the reality competition show "Good Night Show - King Maker" in 2018. While members of the group ultimately did not win (the winners eventually became  Mirror), they formed Error as a comedic musical act. 

Their single "404" is a parody of Mirror’s "In a Second" (一秒間)." While Error do not have as big of a fandom as Mirror, the group now appear on variety shows and are loved by many for their wacky and outrageous antics. 


Mirror is a 12-member Cantopop boy group who have won numerous accolades in Hong Kong and have a loyal legion of fans, known as MIRO. Since their debut, Mirror has been considered one of the driving forces in the renewed interest of Cantopop with music that blends pop, funk, R&B and hip-hop. The group has prompted a wave of fandom culture in Hong Kong, with their faces plastered on billboards, buses and subway ads. 

Now they are looking to further their popularity amongst international audiences with the release of their first English single "Rumours." The EDM-laced track has the members singing about the rumors surrounding a potential relationship, and its accompanying music video has since reached more than 890,000 views. 

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Global Spin: Japanese Rock Band MAN WITH A MISSION Tear Up The Stage With An Electric Performance Of "Fly Again"

The half-man, half-wolf Japanese metal band MAN WITH A MISSION throw down on stage in this live performance of "Fly Again," a track from their 2011 self-titled album.

GRAMMYs/May 30, 2023 - 05:00 pm

Japanese rockers MAN WITH A MISSION don't reveal their aesthetic in dribs and drabs; within mere seconds, you know what they're all about. And that's getting hyped — in the wolfiest of ways.*

Donning their signature canine headgear, the heavy Japanese collective gets throngs of disciples turnt up as they absolutely lay into a rendition of "Fly Again." The feeling is so new/ Believe in what you do," goes one verse. "Don't you ever be afraid in losing/ That's the clue." A wolf's creed indeed!

In this episode of Global Spin, raise a glass to AAPI month with this hair-raising live performance by a group at the vanguard of Japanese heaviness. And if you'd like to join the thrilled masses in this video, MAN WITH A MISSION are in the midst of a North American tour.

Enjoy MAN WITH A MISSION's electrifying performance of "Fly Again" above, and check back to for more episodes of Global Spin.

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5 Bollywood Stars to Discover
(From left) Asees Kaur, Neha Kakkar, Badshah, Arijit Singh, Shreya Ghoshal

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5 Bollywood Stars To Discover: Shreya Ghoshal, Badshah & Others

A new generation of Bollywood singers and composers are bringing a fresh approach to the music, embedding their creations with influences from hip-hop and electronica, and fusing Indian folk and classical traditions with the pop mainstream.

GRAMMYs/May 30, 2023 - 02:19 pm

For many decades, the lush soundscapes of Indian film music were dominated by a select group of singing legends: from Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle to Hemant Kumar, Mukesh and Mohammed Rafi. A change of the guard was inevitable, and it began during the last years of the 20th century. 

As the film industry in India became more globalized and diversified, and reality shows opened up doors for young performers, it was only natural that talented playback singers — the actual performers recording vocals that are later mimed by the actors — would appear in all corners of the vast country.

The Bollywood standards that captivated the imagination of millions from the ‘50s to the ‘90s are still timeless. But a new generation of singers and composers are bringing a fresh approach to the music known as filmi embedding their creations with influences from hip-hop and electronica, and fusing Indian folk and classical traditions with the pop mainstream. 

Here are five young stars of Bollywood music who are ready to be discovered by the rest of the world.

Arijit Singh

One listen to “Kesariya,” the lilting ballad from the 2022 fantasy blockbuster Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva is enough to understand why 36-year-old singer and composer Arijit Singh has been the most streamed Indian artist on Spotify for the past three consecutive years. Singh’s velvety inflections demonstrate the influence of mainstream pop, while remaining faithful to the film masters that he grew up listening to particularly golden era maestro Kishore Kumar. 

Born in West Bengal, Singh was raised in a musical family. Everybody sang around him in childhood, and he was also exposed to both Western and Bengali classical music. Singh has been criticized for lending his voice to too many Bollywood productions, but a prolific output has defined playback singers since the very beginning of India’s movie industry. His association with composer Pritam is already legendary. This year, the team delivered an instant classic: the atmospheric “O Bedardeya,” from the romantic comedy Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar.

Neha Kakkar

This 34-year-old vocalist from the northern city of Rishikesh (also where the Beatles studied meditation with the Maharishi in 1967) wasn’t alone on her path to Bollywood stardom. Neha is the youngest sister of playback singers Tony and Sonu Kakkar, and the entire family initially moved to Delhi in order to further their musical careers. At 16, Neha was a contestant in the second season of the reality show "Indian Idol," but was eliminated early she would return to the show as judge, and gain notoriety for her empathetic reactions to the performances of aspiring stars. 

In 2014, she collaborated with famed music director Amir Trivedi on the rambunctious “London Thumkada,” which accompanies an unforgettable wedding scene in the award-winning film Queen, about a young woman’s path to personal freedom. Since then, the self-taught Kakkar has recorded a number of soulful duets for Bollywood productions. In 2020, the groovy “Dil Ko Karaar Aaya” became one of her biggest hits.


It makes sense that the integration of hip-hop into the Indian music mainstream would generate some controversy, and the wild success of rapper and film producer Banshah has polarized critics

Born in Delhi, Badshah studied civil engineering before turning into music full time. In 2020, his smash duet “Genda Phool” (Marigold Flower) with playback singer Payal Dev was met with hostility by the Indian press because it openly lifted lines from a classic Bengali folk tune. Badshah’s musical ambition, knack for bouncy beats and clever rhymes has transcended his critics. He continues to enrich filmi music with rap and novel ideas: Check out the darkly hued, sinuous melodic lines of “Bad Boy,” which he contributed to Saaho, the second highest grossing Bollywood film of 2019.

Asees Kaur

Growing up in Panipat, a city north of Delhi, Asees Kaur obsessively studied cassette tapes of Gurbani the compositions of Sikh Gurus. It is not surprising that the 34-year-old playback singer’s best Bollywood moments are infused with a subtle spiritual vibe, a benign tranquility. 

Her first big hit was “Bolna,” a duet from the 2016 family drama Kapoor & Sons. She recorded her vocals separately, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the finished product also involved the voice of Anijit Singh. Kaur’s popularity skyrocketed in 2021 with “Raaraan Lambiyan,” the moving opening track to the Shershaah soundtrack a stirring war biopic.  

Shreya Ghoshal

At 39, Shreya Ghoshal is already a legend among contemporary playback singers her prodigious output and notorious versatility providing a link to the golden era of Indian cinema. Tonally, Ghoshal also evokes the spell of singing icon Lata Mangeshkar, one of her greatest influences. 

Classically trained in Hindustani music, Ghoshal was a teenager when she won the reality show "Sa Re Ga Ma," attracting the attention of the film industry. Her auspicious debut as playback singer happened on the 2002 romantic drama Devdas, one of the quintessential Indian films of the past three decades. Mimed by actress Aishwarya Rai, the song “Silsila Ye Chahat Ka” made for a spectacular dancing sequence with lavish wardrobe and sets. Ghoshal's honeyed soprano has served her well, with a gallery of hits that includes recent tracks such as the gorgeous “Pal,” a duet with Arijit Singh from the 2018 film Jalebi.

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5 Artists Showing The Future Of AAPI Representation In Rap: Audrey Nuna, TiaCorine & More
(From left) pH-1, Audrey Nuna, Spence Lee, Rekstizzy, TiaCorine

Photos: Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW; Robert Okine/Getty Images; Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella; Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images; Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images


5 Artists Showing The Future Of AAPI Representation In Rap: Audrey Nuna, TiaCorine & More

A growing number of Asian American and Pacific Islander artists are exploring how hip-hop can help them meaningfully express their multiculturalism — and they're being embraced for doing so.

GRAMMYs/May 25, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Is it possible for an Asian American rapper to achieve widespread commercial success? In the 2016 documentary Bad Rap, no one could be too sure. 

At that point, some firsts for the community turned out to be false starts: In the ‘90s, Mountain Brothers was the first Asian American rap group to sign to a major label, but left just two years later. In the early aughts, MC Jin lost critical career momentum he gained from his impressive winning streak on "106 & Park’s" Freestyle Fridays, when Ruff Ryders delayed his debut album release by more than a year. As [Miley Cyrus]( sparked a national conversation about [cultural appropriation in hip-hop](, *[Bad Rap](*[’s subjects]( faced [questions]( regarding whether they’re just as guilty as Cyrus, or whether their music was helping break the “model minority” stereotype.

Since then, hip-hop, a Black music tradition, has spawned countless global scenes, bringing contemporary rap across the Pacific and beyond. Rap taking hold in Asia can still seem contentious, whether dissecting K-pop's use of the genre or revisiting the viral songs that landed Awkwafina [in ](*[Bad Rap](*. But, there is also a growing number of artists who are figuring out how hip-hop can help them meaningfully express and explore their multiculturalism — and are being embraced by the music industry for doing so.  

Audrey Nuna

In 2013, Kanye West’s jarring Yeezus changed Audrey Nuna’s music tastes for good, encouraging her to check out hip-hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest and MF DOOM. From there, she "started making what I wanted to hear," as she told Pigeons and Planes

Nuna prefers to call herself a singer, to better reflect the stylistic versatility throughout her 2021 debut *a liquid breakfast*. Still, the "Robitussin flow" in "Comic Sans" is undeniable — to where Jack Harlow responded to her cold email and hopped on the song’s remix.

The making of *a liquid breakfast* made Nuna realize that she never has to search far to find inspiration. On "Blossom," Nuna’s grandmother laughs as she tells her about how, while fleeing the Korean War, she woke up from a nap on the migrant trail to find that her travel group — including her family — accidentally left her behind. 

In the future, Nuna hopes to feature [more Korean instrumentation]( as she channels [her current influence, Radiohead]( As Nuna [told ](*[W](*, "We’re sitting here, living, because our grandparents were able to survive." 


"She fell in love with the lifestyle of a pop star," pH-1 raps in "Yuppie Ting," the third track off his 2021 album *But For Now Leave Me Alone*. As he boasts of the Louis Vuitton he wears and the Michelin star meals he eats, pH-1 alternates between rapping in Korean and English with impressive precision, his flow skating over BlackDoe’s garage-inspired production. 

Behind the scenes, pH-1 has felt more torn between the Korean and Western music industries than his music lets on. Even Jay Park, who has followed pH-1 since he moved to Korean and competed on rap talent show "Show Me the Money," [once told him]( to write more in Korean. But for pH-1, to write exclusively in Korean would be to deny his Stateside upbringing in Long Island and Boston, and how he, [like so many Korean Americans](, naturally alternate between Korean and English in conversation. 

"If I want to ‘financially succeed’ in Korea, I would have to make a song that’s very Korean-style. But that’s not me," pH-1 [said to fellow artist Eric Nam in 2019]( Instead, the more glittering spots of *But For Now Leave Me Alone* showcase pH-1 to be the experienced globetrotter he is. 


In *Bad Rap*, Rekstizzy films a music video where, at a cookout, he squeezes picnic condiments not onto hot dogs, but the backsides of dancing Black women — for a song called "God Bless America." In his larger quest to become the ["Korean rapper"]( he dreamed of in elementary school, he figured that  outrageously offensive visuals were a must." "Whatever we do, people are gonna talk shit about us ‘cause we’re Asian," he says in the documentary. 

Straddling the Asian and American aspects of one’s identity can seem impossible. But now, years after *Bad Rap* and after guest appearances in *Adventure Time* and *Beef*, Rekstizzy seems to have figured out an ideal balance. Mostly, he doesn’t seem nearly as pressed over proving that he’s American. 

His own pop culture references, crude as they may be ("May cop a lewd body pillow on Etsy"), speak volumes. His music’s debaucherous nature recalls a wide swath of [U.S. regional rap styles](, from the Bay Area ("요리 (Yori)"), to the Midwest ("Mal Do An Dweh") and Atlanta ("Hentai"). As for his attempts to rap entire verses in Korean for the first time, apparently the jokes write themselves. As he and *Bad Rap* co-star Dumbfoundead realized while recording "Mal Do An Dweh," their takes on Korean slang sound hopelessly out of date, [because as the latter realized](, "We communicate in Korean more with our parents than our friends who speak in Korean."

Spence Lee

Spence Lee is the child of a first-generation Chinese American and a Vietnamese refugee. But for much of his earlier material, his ethnic origins were hard to discern on record alone.

Spence Lee’s previous moniker, Shotta Spence, honored the ["Dirty Jersey"]( that raised him — more specifically, the Caribbean supporters he gained before he relocated to New York, modeled for Yeezy, and gained producer Mike WiLL Made It as a mentor. That influence also appears all over his last full-length, 2019’s *1012*; on songs like "Bounce," his cadence is equally inspired by reggae and trap. 

Spence still shouts out how he came up with "shottas" and "rastas" on the autobiographical single, 2022’s "On God," one of his first under a new moniker bearing his family name. But that fact makes up just one chapter in his larger journey to capturing both the attention of Mike WiLL and 88rising, who jointly released the single. Mike WiLL explained to [Joysauce]( how he and 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro saw "how Spence could be the bridge for many cultures, being from Jersey \[and\] into fashion, understanding his history, having principles and morals." 

But Spence perhaps puts his new direction best in "On God," when he raps, "I do all this s— for my mom."


TiaCorine (whose father is Black and Japanese, and whose mother is part of the Shoshone Nation) ends her 2022 breakout album, I Can’t Wait with a breakup anthem dedicated to the poor music exec who counted her out. In "You’re Fired," she raps to keep from crying and sounding completely helpless: "You never listen to my songs, I’m always doing something wrong."

Today, her sly single "FreakyT" has 21 million Spotify streams and a Latto remix, it’s impossible to imagine how the situation in "You’re Fired" must have played out in real life. 

TiaCorine’s music is Southern rap by way of Hatsune Miku — and it makes perfect sense, in an age where streaming has turned both hip-hop and anime (two of her biggest influences) into Stateside juggernauts. Her music captures the zeitgeist, though it also comes from an authentic place: While her father played formative ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop in his Range Rover, her mother blared pop-rock instead. "That goes into my music — of me, just being free. Me just being confident in myself," TiaCorine told *[Preme](* [magazine]( Thanks to that confidence, mainstream success not only seems possible, but inevitable.

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Henry Lau Press Play Hero
Henry Lau

Photo: Courtesy of Henry Lau


Press Play: Henry Lau Shows Off His Musical Prowess With A Dynamic Performance Of "MOONLIGHT"

Genre-bending singer Henry Lau uses a loop station to perform his single "MOONLIGHT," incorporating the violin, cello and both electric and acoustic guitar.

GRAMMYs/May 25, 2023 - 05:05 pm

With his single "MOONLIGHT," Henry Lau refuses to be burdened by his past relationships. Now, he's turning a new leaf, dancing carefree under the night sky, regardless of the negative emotions he might feel.

"I'm waking up in a daze, get it out of my face/ The sun is shining on every move that I make," the singer reveals in the second verse. "So, let's get to forgetting everything that went wrong/ Everybody here, we been crying too long/ We can dance about it to our favorite song."

In this episode of Press Play, Lau performs "MOONLIGHT" from a mansion rooftop during sunset. He constructs the entire song using a loop station, playing a violin, cello and electric and acoustic guitars — one of his signature performance techniques that  prompted his nickname, "one-man band."

Lau released "MOONLIGHT" in January — marking his first single in two years — via Monster Entertainment, the label he founded alongside his brother Clinton. He released another single, "Real Love Still Exists," two months later; the track features Malaysian R&B singer Yuna.

Watch the video above to watch Henry Lau's impressive loop station performance of "MOONLIGHT," and check back to for more new episodes of Press Play.

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