Lost and Adrift (LẠC TRÔI) by Sơn Tùng M-TP

This song struck me in particular recently. Perhaps the most viewed Vietnamese music video on Youtube. I’ll probably dissect the lyrics at a later date. I won’t try to describe the song to you. Best to watch and enjoy!

I will likely use this music video in particular for future analysis purposes. In the meantime I’ll be translating the lyrics, and learning more about the history of this artist.

Feel free to comment your reaction to the video down below!

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Stars to the State and Beyond: Globalization, Identity, and Asian Popular Music (Article Review)

If you would like to read the source article first, follow the link.

I used to hate popular music when I first understood the concept. During those times, it seemed like a group I could never belong or relate to. During my elementary and middle school days, I changed schools quite frequently. I was constantly the outcast; the new guy who doesn’t know any of his classmates because he didn’t grow up with them. I had limited access to music, and so all I knew was the music on the radio. I had trouble enjoying pop music for many reasons, and still do to this day. This conceit towards pop music fueled my eventual music elitism once I discovered metal for the first time. Over the years, I became obsessed with metal music. So much, that it became indistinguishable from my identity.

I deplored pop music until something changed. After I finished high school, questions about life, the future, and my identity crashed over me. Indeed, I almost sunk beneath the weight of it all. The result was a re-emergence of the self. My self. Its effects still reverberate today, and knowing this might help you understand the person I am now. I’m still a metal head, but I am no longer elitist. I still avoid listening to pop music in general, but I no longer mistake it for a reflection of my inability to “fit-in” as a teenager. You could say I learned how to go about listening to different kinds of music.

For a long time I refused to let myself like any music labeled with “pop.” At least now we’re on speaking terms. I’ve come develop my own tastes for pop music, and Music in general. Although the study of popular music is a relatively recent topic in the academic world, Matsue argues that it has great potential for interdisciplinary studies (17). Upon reading her article, the next step in my relationship with pop music is quite clear: academia.

The landmark of an Anthropologist is generally agreed upon to be their exceptional skills at drawing connections between different fields. The goal of Matsue’s essay is to get the reader to recognize “the power of pop music to shape conceptions of self and inform the ways we in which we interact with others at the individual, communal, and even national and transnational levels” through the dissection of popular music studies on multiple levels of inquiry (6). Popular music, as defined by Matsue, is “the synthesis of both local and global cross-fertilization” (7). This definition brings me back to last weeks post about “cultural hybridization,” which is the idea that an individual’s culture is not a single entity, but rather a conglomerate of influences.

What struck me the most in Matsue’s article is her cross-analysis between several lenses and contexts of popular music. Rather than seeing each study as not pertaining to the other, she draws the connections between them propelling her understanding of identity formation. The first idea she arrives at is that music is in conversation with itself, and that it produces a more realistic national identity. In the case of Vietnam, censorship of song lyrics moderates cultural expression to the outside world, allowing the government to decide what is uniquely “Vietnamese” and what is not. In terms of national identity, Matsue comes to the conclusion that balance must exist between the need to represent important social themes and the needs of government approval (10). Matsue seems to agree with Olsen (2008) that lyrical censorship limits the full potential of popular music’s ability to express identity on the national scale.

Another point Matsue brings up is that globalizing processes in Asia should not be viewed in relation to the West only (the term Olsen terms “Americanization”) but rather we should widen our lens to include other cultures in Asia and individual traditions. This brings up even larger questions of contextualizing those cultures which influence any given culture. For anthropologists, this means we must increasingly work together as well as outside our discipline in order to achieve such a holistic goal of understanding. Matsue finishes her argument with a call for more research on the “negotiation of identity between performers and political powers,” which brings me to a book I read last Fall called Rituals of Ethnicityby Sara Schneiderman. In this book, Schneiderman gets down to the roots of cultural identity construction through her analysis of interactions of cultural “practice” and “performance” between minority groups and political powers in South Asia. Perhaps I might start there for next week’s post.

Thanks for reading!


MATSUE, JENNIFER MILIOTO. “Stars to the State and Beyond: Globalization, Identity, and Asian Popular Music.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 72, no. 1, 2013, pp. 5–20. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23357504.



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Re-evaluating Research for Everyday Assignments

I finished the weekly reading and I noticed something was wrong. I did not feel that familiar feeling of impression. Unusual; I always feel like I’ve gained a new perspective after finishing a novel. There was no feeling of accomplishment. I felt indifferent about the book I had just read. What determines whether a book leaves an impression on you or not? I had to find answers.

I am in my last year of college now, and if there is one thing I learned throughout college, it is this: research can and should be used for every assignment. Students don’t realize the caliber of learning resources they have at their disposal outside of the classroom. If you are thinking beyond undergraduate school, such as entering the workforce or entering a graduate program, then it is vital that you utilize your free, unlimited access to academic databases. A single article can provide more theoretically complex, multifaceted analysis than an individual can produce after spending only one week on a single novel. Many online articles in databases take years of studying, forming connections, and much reading. Chances are you will learn about at least one new angle or approach regarding your topic.

I began at the research databases provided by our school. I searched the key word Donald Duk, the novel I was reading at the time, and hit search. Why did I not care for this book? Was it because deep down, I disagreed with the author’s message? I saw these steaming accusations being hurled at me by my classmates the moment I shared this reality. Simply put, I found it hard to relate to the novel. There was no room for me, the reader, to fill in the gaps myself. To form connections. The author did that for me. It felt as if I had just sat through a six-hour lecture in the guise of a YA novel.


The book was written in 1991. Almost three decades ago. Check. There’s something to consider. I would later learn in seminar that during this time, Chinese-American history in literature was almost non-existent. The year this book was written is significant because it was around the beginning of Asian-American literature. Historical context of a novel should always be considered during analysis. In order to grasp different modes of contextualization, we must find out what others have said. The best way to do that, is through scholarly articles.

I quickly found a scholarly article in response to Frank Chin’s Donald Duk

As I began reading the article, I gained the sense that a veil was starting to lift. My confusion about the author’s literary strategies began to fade. As I explore the story in a novel, I genuinely try to connect what I already know with the story at hand. If history, politics, society, and author’s background form the deep-end of the novel’s pool, then the issues presented inside the novel are the shallows. We must dive deeper into the academic pool if we want to understand more about what it is we’re reading. We must contextualize for a greater learning experience. Learning how to navigate research databases effectively and efficiently will help you achieve that level of scholarship.

Here’s what I learned from outside sources: the author must balance their novel’s purpose with how this purpose is expressed. Richardson argues that while Chin provides a lens for Chinese-American culture and relative historical and contemporary issues, his literary narrative subverts the novel’s goal of guiding the audience to a process of re-examination (page 62). During many instances in the story, Frank Chin’s messages about otherness, Americanism, cultural alliances, and historical structural violence are facilitated through parental lectures. This literary device, coupled with some prior knowledge of these issues, made it difficult for me to resonate with the novel as someone who is married, works a job, and pays bills.

A successful novel will make readers cry, laugh, or throw the book in rage. “Emotion is what creates movement and action.” When an author writes with a moral lesson in mind, it is exactly the same as trying to persuade someone to do something. According to Dale Carnegie, it does good in persuasive contexts to “remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion” (How to Win Friends and Influence People). Although Young Adult Fiction is a genre in which age-boundaries are blurred through popular titles like Harry Potter and Twilight, some novels are received more easily by certain age groups. In this instance, showing through emotional narrative instead of lecturing could have brought the audience closer to achieving Chin’s goal of producing empathy for Chinese-Americans.

That being said, the novel contains several palatable messages underneath these technical issues. Like I mentioned earlier, this novel is a work in Young Adult historical fiction. The main character is a 5th generation, twelve-year-old Chinese-American boy living in Chinatown who comes to realize his cultural heritage as being a source of pride, instead of a burden. On the surface, this book works well to help younger-generation Chinese-Americans understand multi-culturalism and take pride in their own heritage. But ultimately, it fails to tackle the larger issues of systemic racism through the lightly touched-on relationship between Donald Duk and Arnold Azalea, his rich, white friend. Should these issues be deemed too difficult for young audiences? I’ll let you decide.

Richardson, Susan B. “The Lessons of Donald Duk.” MELUS, vol. 24, no. 4, 1999, pp. 57–76. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/468173.


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The idea of “hybridity” really struck me this week in class. I’ve heard of similar concepts about culture before (although I can’t remember where). Culture isn’t made up of just one singular thing. It is influenced by multiple areas in your life. The two most driving forces designing one’s culture include one’s heritage, and one’s environment. Simultaneously, these two forces continually interact and forming an individual’s cultural identity. A person’s interaction with the environment continuously creates new experiences and memories, adding new pages to one’s history.

Our individual story lies on a continuum. In the early stages of life our family might teach us about our history, where we come from, and teach us how to practice their traditions. These activities instill a feeling of personal identity, and help us to make sense of who we are. As we grow older, we also make connections with the world around us. We meet new people and participate in shared traditions between larger groups of people. We participate in other cultures and draw from them, sometimes with awareness.

In class, we discussed several ideas I’d also like to share my input on. The idea of prosthetic memory was somewhat new to me. I always try to keep context in mind when I gather information from the media. However, I never thought about how mass media might influence our own memories. How can I apply this idea to understand the Vietnamese community in America? How might the American media have shaped the perceptions of refugees about their home country? I saw an example of this phenomenon in Otsuka’s book titled When the Emperor was Divine. After internment the family came back to a different America. One in which the mass media constantly framed all Japanese people (including Japanese Americans) as “the enemy.” In Otsuka’s novel the reader is able to experience only a small fraction of how the Japanese in America were treated post-World War 2.

Another concept, somewhat related to the last, was “collective trauma.” I had read about this concept in some of the research articles I used for my project on Vietnamese refugees last fall. However, when it was brought up in class I found myself re-applying it to everything I had learned since then. I couldn’t help but wonder if this concept can be found in the Vietnamese community in America, now that there are three, four, and perhaps five generations of Vietnamese Americans in the United States.

The last point I would like to bring up in this post, is the relationship between each generation of Japanese Americans that they had with each other. A Japanese person could be referred to based on what generation they were, such as “issei,” “nisei,” and “sansei.” The relationship between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations of Japanese Americans seemed familiar to what I understand about Vietnamese Americans as well.

Valverde hinted at both “collective trauma” and “generational relationships” in her book entitled Transnationalizing Viet Nam. The many tensions caused by the war and assimilation into the United States is deeply rooted in the collective memory of many 1st and 2nd Vietnamese Americans. I see many similar views of each other between older and younger generations in both the Japanese American community and the Vietnamese American community. It would be interesting to compare these relationships to other immigrant groups. There are many different reasons why people choose to immigrate to a new country, and perhaps understanding the why and the how can help us find solutions to the forces that we have control over. Not to curb immigration, but to change the negative circumstances that promote it as the only option.

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Skype for Global Education Disparities?


Advancing technology defines the evolving nature of human communication. Our interactions rely increasingly on our cell-phones, computers, and most significantly, the internet. As an Anthropology student, I have started to notice a few ways ethnography has taken hold of this recent phenomenon. Recently, I was surprised to find a podcast called “Socializing Through Pokemon Go,” which you can find here.

I have heard about the anthropologist conducting an ethnographic study inside the game of World Of Warcraft. The tool-belt of ethnographers is changing. Pen and paper still dominate the anthropologist’s choice of arsenal when doing participant observation and note-taking. The voice recorder freed the anthropologist from the bounds of time, allowing for more “in-the-moment” experiences that can be recorded at the press of the button. Now, every person has a camera better than the most expensive cameras ten years ago in their pocket attached to their cell phone. Get this: we even have computer software that uses voice recognition in real time to transcribe personal narrative. Although these new tools are far from perfect, they allow for qualitative data to be recorded faster, more efficiently, and with ease. Gone are the days when the anthropologist must spend hours each day recording notes in a notebook, missing out on key events that might transform the shape of their research entirely.

I am sure that communication technology will be on my tool-belt, but it will not replace my old tools. There is something about the classic pen and notebook that allows for more freedom compared to new devices. Until the notebook and pen is emulated perfectly in the digital landscape, I will continue to use them. On the contrary, the frequency that I use my tools will change. Being born early enough to remember the turn of the century (I was 5 years old) has given me a distinct appreciation for both advancing technology, and the gadgets we’ve used for millenniums. However, the old means of gathering qualitative data can be restrictive.

I was sitting at a coffee shop called Nhà Sàn with three local high-school English teachers. They had invited my family and I to have coffee with them during our stay in Đắk Lắk, Việt Nam.

Dak Lak, Viet Nam

We visited for hours. Three hours, to be exact. They were so interested in hearing about our lives and where we come from. It also gave them a chance to practice speaking English, since tourists rarely come to this part in the Central Highlands. As we talked, they brought up some issues I was unaware of. The division between location and education opportunity was distinct. Being able to speak English opens up many career opportunities in many countries in the world, including Việt Nam. Especially so because of Việt Nam’s transnational history with the United States and other English-speaking countries. Children begin studying English in school in 6th grade, and continue studying the language until they graduate high school.

Children growing up in the Central Highlands, away from the tourist trade and the big cities, gives them little opportunity to speak with a native English speaker. The division between those that live in a rapidly developing city such as Sài Gòn or Hà Nội versus those that live farther inland generates a widening gap between social classes. Unfortunately, I cannot stay in my wife’s hometown and help students practice their English all year long. As one who is naturally inclined to identify problems and search for solutions, I started thinking about what I could do to help less-fortunate students receive access to speaking English with native speakers.

One solution I’ve come up with is developing a partnership program between schools in Việt Nam and schools in the United States through web-based video chats.

What advantages would this bring for the students in Việt Nam?

  1. Cultural Awareness
  2. Practice speaking English with a Native speaker

What about for the students in American schools?

  1. Cultural Awareness
  2. Opportunity to learn about foreign countries outside of history textbooks
  3. Opportunity to practice speaking a foreign language

Possible issues:

  1. Might widen the class gap on the local level
  2. Technology availability issues, internet issues
  3. Timezone issues
  4. Age-group

If you made it this far, please comment any insights you have on this topic. Thanks!

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The Politics of Remembering, the Economics of Forgetting (Article Review)

If you would like to read the original article first, follow the link.

This book was one of the first books I found about contemporary popular music in Viet Nam. While I haven’t been able to read the book yet, I was able to find some reviews by other scholars. Here is the description of Popular Music of Vietnam on Amazon:

Based on the author’s research in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and other urban areas in Vietnam, this study of contemporary Vietnamese popular music explores the ways globalization and free market economics have influenced the music and subcultures of Vietnamese youth, focusing on the conflict between the politics of remembering, nurtured by the Vietnamese Communist government, and the politics of forgetting driven by the capitalist interests of the music industry.

Vietnamese youth at the end of the second and beginning of the third millennium are influenced by the challenges generated by a number of seemingly opposite ideologies and realities, such as “the past” versus “the present,” socialism versus capitalism, and cultural traditionalism versus globalization. Vietnam has undergone a radical demographic shift with a very pronounced youth movement, and consequently, Vietnamese popular culture has been radically reshaped by a young population coming of age in the twenty-first century. As Olsen reveals, the way Vietnamese young people cope with these opposing and contrasting forces is often expressed in their active and passive music making.

Olsen explores the unknown territory of popular music in Vietnam through the lens of ethnomusicology in the first full-length book on the subject. While I do think that I will eventually read this book to form my own opinion, several critiques made by other scholars pointed out some problematic issues in Olsen’s book. In order to prepare myself better for this assignment and future projects, I will be dissecting some of those critiques.

I’ll start with the only customer review on Amazon.com. While comments on a website are not always reliable, they do give us insight into how the book may be received by others:

“book is way too expensive: it’s is pretty much a compiling of singers. his engagement of the music and vietnam is limited and done so through translators and translation. i think he should have invested more time in learning the language, cultural immersion, and establishing a better relationship with the community before he pursue his research, because it reflects in his superficial presentation of the pop music life in HCMC. his project is overly invested in tourist sites such as over-pricde night clubs in the 1st district. moreover, if the bulk of his project is to compile singers background info, then Dam Vinh Hung should have in it. –Also need to include more stuff dealing with transnational, gender, and race politics.”

“that being said, Olson is brave and attempting to do what that many people has no done. he’s dealing with the music that more contemporary. Jason Gibbs publish an article on VN rock music not to long ago, but mostly the scholarship on VN pop music in English needs to be updated. in the diaporic community, only a few have published stuff on VN music or music related…Reyes, Phong Nguyen, Deborah Wong… it’s a shame that Valverde never turned her dissertation into a book. wish there was more action.”

-USN: Avatar Aang (June 8, 2010)

I also found one scholarly review of this book from the JSTOR research database. Feel free to read it here. The main issues brought up in both the comment from Amazon.com and the article include Olsen’s heavy reliance on translators and translation into English, his use of the term “Americanization” and how it under-emphasizes the impact of French and Chinese presence, and the exclusion of direct testimonies from young Vietnamese consumers of popular music. This results in a misrepresentation of the people subjects in Olsen’s research.

“Reviewed Works: Popular Music of Vietnam: The Politics of Remembering, the Economics of Forgetting by Dale A. Olsen”

In order to avoid these blunders, I’ve developed a list for myself to reference in my future research:

  1. Spend time learning the Vietnamese language before interviewing so I can collect data in its natural form.
  2. Utilize Vietnamese sources such as books, magazines, newspapers from both the diaspora and the home-country.
  3. Investigate the history of foreign occupation in Vietnam, in order to better understand how music changed and evolved over time.
  4. Include the younger generations in my research in order to better represent the perspectives of the majority of VPop listeners.
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Using Technology as Transnational Education?

My recent trip to Viet Nam has opened up many possibilities for coming up with ways to solve problems. And I also want to think about these issues critically as well, and whether the solutions I come up with would help or contribute to a larger problem. Let me share with you a few examples.

One day I went with my younger sister-in-law to her after school high school English group tutoring at her teacher’s house. This seemed to be a pretty common thing that high schoolers are required to participate in, assuming their parents have money. After I met the teacher, she invited my mother and younger sister to have coffee with her and her colleagues. Going to coffee is a common activity in Vietnam as a way to hang out and pass the time. When we met with the three English teachers, they were very interested in talking to us because it gave them a chance to practice their English and learn about American culture.

It soon became apparent from their remarks that many residents in this district have never seen a foreigner in their town. Of course, if you go to the coast you will see many tourists from around the world. They just hadn’t seen anyone come to CuMgar. School in Viet Nam is very competitive, even though getting a degree won’t allow you to avoid paying bribes if you want a decent paying job. English-speakers, of course, have better chances of getting jobs and going to better schools. This is especially because of the evolving tourist industry. The lack of native English speakers means that people living in CuMgar don’t have quite the same opportunity for mobility as people living in Sai Gon, Ha Noi, Da Nang, or Nha Trang.

Now I’m not advocating that we set up a tourist hot-spot in this small little town, but I’ve been thinking about how advancing technology can bridge the gap between educational opportunity and geographic restrictions. Indeed, internet platforms such as Youtube and Facebook have made languages more accessible for those that do not have a native speaker to hear. However, those platforms only get you so far when you’re learning a language. There’s more to simply listening to a native speaker. You have to speak the language yourself in order to improve. I see this need for people to want to learn English, and based on my past research I would argue that learning English will not erode your own language or culture unless you move to an English speaking country. My time in Nepal earlier this year revealed that learning English gives people a voice which might not otherwise be heard by the global community if they could not speak English. Unfortunately, that’s the way things are right now until the universal translator is invented. But until then, I’ll be playing with the idea of video-chat based English conversations between a small community in Dak Lak and a possible future program at Evergreen.

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APIA History and Contemporary Rhetoric

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Reading Asian American History left gave me a nice introduction into the many challenges Asian Americans faced in the past hundred years. The text produced familiar stories to me in the form of the South Asian experience as well as the Vietnamese experience. Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest, by Bhatt and Iyer, informed much of my reading about South Asian migration prior to this assigned text. My memory flashed when I read about the Chinese being pushed out of the Pacific Northwest. In Roots and Reflections, the authors opened with a somewhat similar story of the Bellingham expulsion of Indian workers in 1907. After both of these events, the Chinese and the Indians that used to live here didn’t start coming back until recently. In seminar one of my fellow students brought up the fact that Americans saw immigrants as a threat to their businesses, so they chose to expel them out of business interests. While I agree this could have applied to the situation, I think we also need to look at the context of both of these situations. Many of the jobs immigrants worked were labor jobs, such as logging or agriculture. The people in Bellingham probably assumed that more jobs being taken up means less jobs for them, as if a job is a limited, restricted unit.

Does this rhetoric sound familiar? To me it sounds reminiscent of Americans today who blame Mexican immigrants and migrants for taking jobs. They are “taking our jobs” and “killing us” is what President Trump said in a rally in Phoenix during his campaign. However, this type of scapegoat rhetoric doesn’t hold up nearly as well when you look at the history of America and its scapegoating of every new group of immigrants to come to the United States. History is important to study so we can separate myth from reality. In this case, historic records capture the scapegoat rhetoric of “immigrants are taking our jobs” as something that people in power have used to divide this country. I’m left asking myself whether people who align with this rhetoric simply do not know or remember how these situations led to civil rights injustice, or if they are willing to look past these truths in favor of some other “deal breaker.” Which makes me wonder where the ethnographers have been.


This is just one example of why we should study history because it certainly feels like it is repeating itself nowadays.

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VPop, Transnationalism, and the Internet

Music has always been a huge part of my life, whether that be discussing different genres and new songs with friends, attending concerts, or creating my own music when I still practiced guitar and other instruments. I consider music as a home that is always with me, and it is always there when I need it most. Although I have a wide variety of interests in different APIA popular cultures, I figured that I would at least start with the idea that music is my home.

Over the past two months, I also gained a a new, physical home in another country. During my time in Viet Nam, I spent the majority in my wife’s hometown, CuMgar in the Dak Lak province of Viet Nam. This town lies in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, and it is relatively small. Over the course of my stay, I gradually attuned to the music. It was everywhere. The shop owner next door would blare electronic remixes of older, traditional songs every single morning at 6:00am. For fun, friends would invite us to go sing karaoke in establishments that were surprisingly luxurious by American standards, especially in comparison to everything else. Even when I visited a high school English class, music found its way into the conversation. Naturally, high school students are attuned to all the hottest music in Viet Nam, which made it easy for me to get along with them because I was only familiar with newer songs.

Music seemed to play an important role in the lives of the people living in Viet Nam. Being a music appreciator myself gave me something to talk about, and something I could relate with my new found community. As I learned more about the different kinds of music, the more I begun to notice an interesting trend. Much the same in America, music in Viet Nam varied based on generation. People older than 65, if they still listened to music at all, seemed to solely prefer traditional songs in their original or close to original production. People between 35-65 seemed to enjoy only traditional songs, but they didn’t seem to have a preference on whether they were original recordings or if they were remixed or sung by a singer other than the original. People in mine and my wife’s age group 20-30, seemed to listen to traditional artists such as Cam Ly, or remixed versions of those songs. I hope I can point out that across all these generations, most of the same songs were listened to and preferred. The only difference was whether it was the original, a cover, or a remix. However, in essence, they were the same songs.

Which brings me to the youngest generation, or people under 20. I noticed something very peculiar with this age group. Songs that differ from the traditional songs completely, I like to refer to as new-age Vpop. These songs have a completely different format, production, and sound that makes them unique from regular Vpop (traditional songs, remixes, etc.). Here’s an example:

Traditional song –

New-age –

What interests me the most about this phenomenon, is that new-age sounding Vpop is extremely recent. This transformation between traditional generational songs to this new sound happened within the past few years. Of course, technology has been evolving and globalizing nearly every corner of the world. Naturally, the relationship between the U.S. and Viet Nam, as well as the relationship between the diaspora and native population have played a role in this evolution. That’s where I’ll be for the next week. Stay tuned for more!

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