Cover Versions in Hong Kong and Japan: Reflections on Music Authenticity

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1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper is an anthropological attempt to shed some light on the notion of the authenticity of popular music through a comparison and contrast of the practice of recording cover versions in the music industry in Japan and Hong Kong. Both Japan and Hong Kong have a long history of covering foreign music with localized lyrics. However, cover versions enjoy completely different social status and likewise receive different responses in the two places. In Japan, the cover version has been severely criticized as an act of pakuri (plagiarism or copycatting) and thus carries negative connotations. In Hong Kong, the tradition of using foreign, especially Japanese, melodies to record cover versions is as old as the Cantopop recording industry itself. Thus, cover recording is an accepted practice within the industry. This article argues that the different status of cover versions in Japan and Hong Kong has much to do with the respective local musical traditions. It will be shown that the severe criticism of cover versions in Japan is closely related to the neo-nationalism of the 1980s and most importantly with a notion of music authenticity which believes there is a pure Japanese music and cover versions therefore are not regarded as “authentic” Japanese pop music. By contrast, the cultural openness displayed by Cantopop has its historical roots in Cantonese opera where adaptation of foreign melodies has been a normal mode of music production. In short, the contrast between the status of the cover versions and local response in Japan and Hong Kong provide a unique opportunity to look into the differences of Japan and Hong Kong with regard to the definition of music authenticity and its relationship with musical tradition. We can have a better understanding of J-pop and Cantopop than when they are studied individually.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-348
JournalThe Journal of Comparative Asian Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


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