The Chinese cultural monitors over the summer enforced something that few other countries have done: ban Lady Gaga. Whereas Lebanon banned Lady Gaga as a threat to Christianity, China has blacklisted Gaga as a threat to “national cultural security.“ But once again, the citizens of China continue to out wit the censors in their covert ways to reclaim culture, this time in the form of an elderly choir performing Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance on national television during mid-autumn festival, one of the most high television viewing periods all year. Their rendition was called Fashionable Old folks (Lao Lai Qiao Gaga 老来俏 Gaga). The elderly choir not only performed the song in the local Hunan Changsha dialect, they also wrote new lyrics.
One of the performers has become so popular that people outside China are making TV shirts with her face on it. Chinese internet researcher, Pheona Chen, tells us a bit about how this was started:
“After being posted on Youtube by @mishenic on Sep 13, 2011, the video by now almost reached 1 million views. Viewers have noted the dramatic performance of one of the choir members towards the end of the video who is wearing a red shirt. Her fans have made a special T-shirt with her face on it.”
But the odd things is that Pheona points out that the video was not popular in China:
“What’s interesting about this show is that although it became popular in Western countries, Chinese viewers didn’t seem to pay much attention to the video. While the video has been played more than 900,000 times and commented on more than 1300 times on Youtube, it has only been played 4,269 times and commented 1 time on Tudou - one of China’s largest video sharing platforms (statistics as of Nov 22, 2011).”
Perhaps the reason why it didn’t become popular is because of Pheona’s explanation about the meaning of “gaga” in the local Hunan Changsha dialect:
“…one important thing to know is that “gaga,” in Changsha dialect, means grandmother. So the lyrics and the whole performance makes sense in terms of what “Gaga” means to people who speak Changsha dialect. Therefore, not all Chinese people would understand the whole context of this video because most people speak Mandarin in the PutongHua dialect. So only Chinese people who speak a dialect that refers to the word “Gaga” as grandmother could appreciate the lyrics, the setting, and the local references.”
After reading Pheona’s translation of the lyrics, it seems that understanding that “gaga” means grandmother would be important, otherwise the new lyrics which are about family and longing just don’t make sense!
I personally think this performance is brilliant. It reflects the tensions between parents and their children once they have grown up. The lyrics speak to elderly people’s concern in China that they will be left alone and no one, not each their daughters or sons, will have time for them. Perhaps the Cultural of Ministry will reconsider censoring Lady Gaga after seeing this heart moving performance. I mean even Lebanon lifted its ban!
Read Pheona’s translation of the new lyrics here.