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Chinese youngsters prefer boy bands

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Shanghai (Reuters): Xiao Weixin didn't make it to Westlife's debut concert in China, but not for lack of trying. Shanghai Grand Stage, the flashy modern auditorium where the concert took place in June, holds 8,000 to 10,000, and ticket prices ranged from 150 yuan (19 dollars) to 1,580 yuan (198 dollars). Two days before the Irish boy-band's show, almost every ticket was gone. ''I tried to get tickets online the day before but they were all sold out. I was prepared to pay 400 yuan (50 dollars) for a ticket,'' said Xiao, 21, a student at Shanghai Normal University.

Boy bands, with their soft-pop love-ballads and clean-cut image, have been a major hit among China's young. Few pastimes are more popular among well-heeled urban youth than karaoke, and boy bands such as Westlife and Boyzone, or more local counterparts such as Taiwan's Mayday, are standard fare. ''Take me to your heart'', a dulcet love-ballad most recently covered by Denmark's ''Michael learns to Rock'', is played in shops, restaurants, malls, elevators and even buses in China, so much so that locals all know the tune. According to one Beijing newspaper, Westlife has a China fan club numbering more than 50,000. The band's latest album, ''Face to Face'', released in 2005, sold more than 10,000 legal copies in China, the report said. Ands that doesn't include pirates, which dominate China's music market.

''Most of my friends and colleagues like Western pop music as we appreciate their sense of taste,'' said Samuel Zhu, a recent graduate of Shanghai's elite Fudan University. ''Traditional Chinese music is very out-dated and I find most of the lyrics rather immature and stupid,'' said Zhu. Just 20 minutes away by car from the Westlife venue is the city's classic Shanghai Majestic Theatre, which seats 1,328, and where, two evenings before, the story of the Chinese Communist Party's early history was being acted out. Taken from a 1930s account by US journalist Edgar Snow, the play is set in Yan'an, a remote mountainous area where the early Chinese Communists hid from both the Japanese and the Kuomintang (Nationalist) forces, who later fled defeated to Taiwan.

Yet, though it was based on a key element of Chinese Communist folklore, few students knew anything about it. ''A play about Edgar Snow? I've never heard of it, or heard anyone talking about it at my university. I don't think many people would be interested in going,'' said Xiao. ''None of my friends and I have heard of the Edgar Snow play,'' said Fudan's Zhu. ''To be frank, I find it a bit weird that I am more familiar with ancient Chinese history than with what happened to our country during the last century,'' said Zhu.

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