Discover more from Mando Gap
TLDR: Mando Gap will be going on a brief break for the upcoming month(s)
2018, sitting in a Chinese airport, hearing Blockpunk “Really” (good song btw), I realized something: I knew less about Chinese music than I would have liked. I let the Internet algorithm guide me for a year or two but the tail end of 2019 revealed that if anyone did know enough about the scene, they weren’t really offering it. You can find guides and lists into K-pop, in-depth archives about what was released on a spring week in 2011 but the lists on Chinese music (far and few) have felt narrow. It’s become increasingly harder to find things that are reliable. Apple Music offers a list of essential C-pop releases, which includes: Li Ronghao’s latest Free Soul (panned by… basically everyone) and Jackson Wang’s MAGIC MAN, which sorry but LOL.
So I made my own canon. Browse the text list if you want a quick and dirty list. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, if me, some guy who doesn’t even live in a Chinese-speaking region, can make a reliable canon, but if the goal of your list is to create an accessible entry point to anyone looking to connect with this scene, then what does it matter? There are still ways you can go about it wrong (see: Apple Music’s Essential C-pop list) but what I’ve put together is something I would have wanted to have seen two years ago, three years ago. A list that didn’t feel narrowly focused but a decent starting point into everything “Chinese” music has to offer—there are things I didn’t capture, for example, Abao’s kinakaian, despite being released on the second last day of the decade feels like one of the most important albums of Taiwan right now, and you can its effects only starting to reshape Indigenous Taiwanese music. The same goes for instrumental music (post-rock was so big throughout the decade, I’m thinking Sugar Plum Ferry from Taiwan and Wang Wen from China) and Cantonese music (reaching for the end of the decade again but Juno Mak and Kay Tse’s collaborative splits are incredible). There’s so much music that’s missed just because it didn’t get written into history. And there’s also a narrowing based on my tastes, for example, there’s a lack of hardcore Mandarin-language music (a-mei being like second to Ja Ja Tao in terms of proximity to hardcore is lol) just because it’s not something I normally listen to.
Jolin Tsai’s Play isn’t really favourite album of the decade. It’s good, hell it’s great. But it’s there at the top because it’s the one that felt right, that felt like it needed to be there—essential in so many ways sonically, thematically, etc. (Part of me wanted to put some frilly pop record—Sandee Chan’s I Love You, John or maybe Iruka Porisu’s Call Me When Night Go Blue ahead of Omnipotent Youth Society just because I thought it’d be funny—but I think it works better at top ten as a presentation of what was important throughout the decade. That’s the kind of dumb shit I was thinking about.) Impossible to take out my own personal biases, but the list is aimed to be a reflection of what was important, what I think is a starting point into Mandopop in the ‘10s. Crucially a starting point. It’s imperfect and it’s a bit messy but it’s exactly what I would have wanted two or three years ago.
There’s still so much to explore, whether it’s other releases by artists on the list (if you like No Crying, then why not check out waa wei’s Hidden, Not Forgotten?) or putting a track on and simply letting the algorithm guide you to where it thinks you should be (not a bad bet to discovery; that’s where I started).
I started Mando Gap as a way of better connecting with the genre. Writing about it as a means of re-examining it: discovering what makes a song work, contextualizing what makes an artist sound like the moment.
Well, I mean that’s not the whole driving force of it. The other reason I started Mando Gap was a joke I made out of boredom while I was a student staring at the wall wondering if I’d ever finish school, then sitting awake one night at 2 AM and deciding now was the time to write two paragraphs about an album I liked. And since I already had a couple of blurbs done, why not publish it. I mean even the name was a spur of the moment pun that makes no sense. Joke spirals and somehow this is still running. I was going to quit at the end of 2021 after both year-end singles and albums lists were published, and probably would have if it weren’t for a handful of people who emailed me (thank you, I love you).
I owe a lot to Mando Gap and to the people who have constantly been sharing and reading. The fact that I’ve been able to write for other publications because of Mando Gap is… unreal. I’m unqualified and grifting my way through (if you’re an editor, I’m joking, I’m joking).
But lately—and especially trying to write these on top of those hundred-something blurbs (I blame my editor for assigning these to me)—trying to finish every issue has been a bit of an exhausting task. After graduating last year, I find myself with less time and so I fall behind further and further, and there’s a creeping sense of unease to the start of each month. I also find myself wondering “who cares” way too often. Part of it’s how Mandopop these past few months has felt less exciting to me (last month had a lot of great singles, but I’ve found myself pretty indifferent to most albums since this calendar year started), part of it is self-doubt over whether I’ll write an issue that feels good. Sometimes it’s dumb shit like comparing numbers, a pointless and stupid endeavour, but sometimes it’s just feeling worn out. There’s a whole mix of fatigue and doubt and disappointment over the current state.
So I’m going to put Mando Gap on pause for a bit, hopefully just one or two months. To hopefully find the joy in discovering Mandopop once again and the joy in writing without it feeling like some looming task. I’m planning on restructuring the issues to just be the albums and singles sections, with maybe a tiny news section (?) at the bottom so it’s less intensive on me and perhaps being able to do some one-off issues or smaller pieces in the future that’ll explore older music—both albums and singles. I’ll also keep updating the Spotify playlists (see below) in the meantime.
I’d still love to talk about Mandopop with you. And hey, if you’ve ever wanted to write something about Mandopop here, completely open to it. Mando Gap will likely return in the summer (hopefully), but there’s still plenty to dig into with the end of decade list. There’s a voice in my head that want to keep going, saying make an ‘00s decade list (imo the three best albums of the ‘00s—without having done my deep, deep dive just yet—are all from 2000: Sandee Chan - 完美的呻吟, Jay Chou - Jay Chou, and Faye Wong - 预言). But I’m going to pause for a moment. Maybe that’s for 2025. I’ll see you in the summer.