When you think of the phrase “pop icon,” images of Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson undoubtedly enter your stream of thought. In our minds, these musicians are such international monoliths of pop music, that we forget to consider that they are only the stars of English language music. In fact, there are pop icons from almost every culture that garner massive fan bases and immense influence on regional music scenes, worlds that exist outside of our linguistic realm, but which have their own monoliths nonetheless.
If we had to describe the immense persona and style of Anthony Wong in a way that a western music fan would understand, we’d have to say he’s the Cantonese David Bowie. With Wong’s prolific output, his flare for costume, and his natural ability to create an enthralling spectacle, there’s no better comparison. Not to mention, his establishment as a hero of pop music, having transformed the Hong Kong scene with an infusion of electronic influence.
Wong emerged as one half of Tat Ming Pair along with musician Tats Lau Yi-Tat. Though they consistently maintained Cantonese flavor in their music, the duo brought in influences of British new wave and electronica, elements that were new to the Hong Kong scene.
Setting out as a solo artist in the 90s, Wong found success in a mainstream that he helped to establish, winning awards and gaining recognition for his relentless hit-making and an increasingly engaging flamboyance in his performance. By the end of the 90s, as an icon and a tastemaker, Wong was in a perfect position to take his influence on the Chinese music scene one step further.
Establishing the production company People Mountain People Sea not only meant that Wong could recruit new, unconventional talent (for example, Creator GayBird), but also that he could shape the pop sound for artists across the board. PMPS produces some of the biggest pop stars around, and has become the most important independent label in Hong Kong, blurring the boundaries between music, arts, and theater, and breathing new creative energy into a once homogenous local music scene.
The best way of understanding Anthony Wong’s legacy is to hear the music that it is built upon, so we’ve put together a crash course in some of his hits over the past couple of decades. When you listen to it, try and imagine yourself in the scene of bustling Hong Kong and get a taste for what it’s like to experience a pop icon in a whole new context. We mixed in a few beats and breaks to ease you into the style.
And to complete the experience, here are some photos from Anthony Wong’s live shows.