There’s no television in my house, but at a friend’s house I happened to stop at a channel that had on the Vietnamese version of “So You Think You Can Dance”.
I was mesmerized by the performances. That show isn’t very good in America, and not much better here. But it wasn’t much worse, performance-wise. Technically the dancers were precise and obviously had practiced a lot.
The judges approved many of the dancers, and it was definitely entertaining. But there was something missing. I wasn’t sure what that something was at first. It just seemed off somehow. No matter how agilely the performers moved their bodies, no matter how perfectly-coordinated their hip-hop uniforms were, it all just appeared empty.
In the end I came to the conclusion that what was missing was music. I pictured these kids watching dancers from other countries on television or on YouTube, mimicking their styles, probably looking in the mirror at every move to make sure that everything was just right.
What they appeared to have forgotten is that people dance for a reason; a reason that is deeper than winning a contest.
The spirit of the music was just missing. And it’s not just this TV show. It can also be seen in many other areas of modern Vietnamese culture.
Vietnamese versions of western pop, k-pop and hip-hop music show the same lack of spontaneity. There have been some tracks released that seem to have grabbed the attention of the young public. But they show that same indefinable wanting.
Take this track for example:
It is devoted to a love for Hanoi. There is no way for me to break down the lyrics, but the rhyming style is alright and the beat is not offensive. Still though. There is something not quite here.
Again, I can’t get rid of the image of these kids listening to music originated in the U.S., in places that they’ve likely never been, trying to recreate a style they saw on a screen, even down to physical gestures.
Hip-hop started in a certain city and at a certain time, a long way away from here. And the reason it was started was not to get on television or win some contest.
The reason it was started was that these people were unsatisfied with what they saw around them. They refused to accept it and so they started a whole culture that redefined the way they saw the world and the way they saw themselves.
Now it has risen to a global level, and it belongs to the world. Its influence can be heard and seen from New York, to Johannesburg to Kiev.
The most important element in that movement, though, was the spirit. The music.
These people were courageous enough not to take the world as others told them to. They were brave enough recreate that world and themselves along with it. They were not copying.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not pretending to have a thorough understanding of Vietnamese culture. On the other hand, I will go so far as to say you really need to live up to the strength of your ancestors. Stop trying to be like other countries and create a new and authentic Vietnam.
This is not about a TV show or about hip-hop. This is about being original and imaginative. Revitalize the arts of your country. It’s your duty.