New Song: Kuàilè 快乐

My little Audacity-powered home recording studio just cranked out my third Chinese pop song: Kuàilè 快乐 (Happy).

Inspirational Story

It was my friend Adrian who first said, “Have you ever noticed every Chinese pop song has the word ‘kuàilè’ 快乐 in it?” He’s pretty much right. Of course there are about three songs getting air time on our campus radio that don’t mention ‘kuàilè’ 快乐, but if you start listening for it, you’ll see that word is all over the place.

I started thinking about other clichéd (that’s a 2nd tone) words in Chinese love songs. I decided to list the most common ones I’ve heard in Chinese pop music and write them all into one song. Here’s the original list (in order of appearance in the song):

  1. tiānkōng 天空 (sky)
  2. xīngxing 星星 (star)
  3. měilì 美丽 (beautiful)
  4. yuèliang 月亮 (moon)
  5. ài (love)
  6. tiānshǐ 天使 (angel)
  7. chìbǎng 翅膀 (wing)
  8. wēnróu 温柔 (tender)
  9. shǒu qiān shǒu 手牵手 (holding hands)
  10. kuàilè 快乐 (happy)
  11. xīntiào 心跳 (heart beat)
  12. mèng (dream)
  13. tiánmì 甜蜜 (sweet)
  14. kàojìn 靠近 (get close)
  15. húdié 蝴蝶 (butterfly)
  16. yǎnshén 眼神 (eyes / emotion seen through the eyes)
  17. xīnlǐ 心理 (heart / heart and mind)
  18. shēnbiān 身边 (by your side)
  19. xìngfú 幸福 (happy)

It then took almost no time at all to put those words into one long parade of clichés. But by then I was having so much fun I just had to put in a few more little phrases (like “bái mǎ wángzǐ” 白马王子), write a bridge, and finish the song.

Composition Notes

The music also employs a few musical clichés from Chinese pop.

  • The melody is exclusively pentatonic (you can play the melody using only the black keys on the piano). Traditional Chinese music has a long history of using pentatonic and even now many Chinese pop melodies stay within the pentatonic mode for most or all of the song (more on this later).
  • I modulate up two key changes just like Tónghuà 童话 by Guāng Liáng 光良.

One common convention in Chinese pop music that I haven’t followed is the practice of not writing a second verse. Many pop songs just go back and repeat part or all of verse 1 after the first chorus. Since I still had more clichés to shoehorn in, I couldn’t afford not to keep writing.

Two more little cultural shout-outs in the song are:

  1. The line “yuèliang dài wǒ shuō ‘ài nǐ'” 月亮代我说爱你 to reference the most popular love song of all time in China: Yuèliang dàibiǎo wǒ de xīn 月亮代表我的心 (The Moon Represents my Heart).
  2. The mention of húdié 蝴蝶 (butterfly) to reference the ever famous Butterfly Lovers (Liáng Shānbó 梁山伯 and Zhù Yīngtái 祝英台) already immortalized in various songs.

I hope you enjoy Kuàilè 快乐 and wish you all happy every day!

More of my music

Comments

  1. Wow! This is great. I’m a keen musician as well, but my Chinese is not that great yet. Also, thanks for the commonly used words. Also, song is ace man.

  2. Pure genius. Dr. Timms would be proud… if he could speak Chinese. I’m so blogging this.

    If you ever come to TJ my wife and I have have a friend we want you to meet.

    By the way, lyrics and chords for this? Or do I have to do the work myself?

  3. Joel and Jessica,

    Thanks so much for the outpouring of good feelings and kind words. I hope to make it up north someday to finally meet as well.

  4. I ended up here by means of a Google Reader recommendation (“nothing left to read? you might like this”), and man, this is brilliant, I am subscribing to your RSS feed!

  5. Thanks to the catchy melody, this song has helped me learn a lot of new mandarin vocabulary very quickly. Great song. Very much appreciated!

  6. I love the idea behind this song. I always thought, not that I understood the lyrics, but I always thought there was a kind of cliche/d sound to the songs. It’s a great idea to gather all the cliche/s you can and stick them into one song. Wo bu shi dongxi. Does this (also) mean sth like “I’m not east or west?” Or does it only mean “I’m not a thing?”

  7. Cheng2 Yang2,

    Of course the “East/West” elements are in there due to the hanzi. I’m glad the pun wasn’t lost on you 😉

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