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In Session: Asian Digital Identities: Media, Platforms, and Cultural Wars
3: Phonic Resistance in Chinese Dialect Pop Song: Sinophone Politics and Latent Vulgarity in Namewee’s (黃明志) Geebai People (擊敗人)
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Ka Lee Wong
University of Southern California, United States
In 2007, Namewee, a Malaysia-born singer and filmmaker based in Taiwan, rose to popularity after publishing on YouTube a parody of the Malaysian national anthem, which led to the Malaysian government prosecuting him for his criticism of corruption in the country. Since then, despite more arrest warrants from the government, Namewee still uses YouTube to publish his works, which are mostly satirical of political and religious issues in Malaysia and beyond. In July 2017, he released another controversial song called Geebai People – superficially it is an ordinary Mandopop love song depicting melancholic unrequited love; yet it is also a song subtly filled with expletives. In the music video, certain words in the lyrics are highlighted in bold red. Literally, these highlighted words are gibberish, like “chao (noisy), hai (also)” (吵/還); yet, Chinese dialect speakers will intuit subliminal meaning from them: these are actually swear words in Cantonese or Hokkien, like the aforementioned “chao/ hai” is a Cantonese profanity, “cau hai (stinky cunt)” (臭屄). In this study, by exploring the significance of Namewee’s expression of latent vulgarity in Geebai People, I contend that the song demonstrates Namewee’s strategy of finding alternative outlets for the censored voice – while Namewee uses YouTube as a transgressive space to circulate his contentious works as a Malaysian Chinese artist, his latent insertion of vulgarity in Geebai People represents an alternative mode for challenging different forms of cultural dominance, like Malay-centrism and Mandarin-centrism in Malaysia as well as in the transnational Sinophone space.