August 29th, 2011
09:38 AM ET
Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Backstreet Boys and plenty of Mandarin and Cantonese pop songs in between... It could easily pass as a radio playlist in China, except this is the latest blacklist issued by the Chinese government.
In a notice posted on its homepage, the ministry of culture has ordered all websites – including personal ones – to remove 100 “unapproved or unregistered” music tracks by September 15, or face punishment.
“Certain websites have been allowing users to play, listen to and download the listed songs,” the ministry declared. “Such actions have disturbed the online music market order and endangered national cultural safety.”
While songs performed by Chinese-language singers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia dominate the roster, works of Western and Japanese stars make the list an eclectic mix.
Top-selling Gaga leads the pack with more banned tracks than any other listed artist. Six songs from her last album “Born This Way” ran afoul with the authorities: “The Edge of Glory,” “Hair,” “Marry the Night,” “Americano,” “Judas” and “Bloody Mary.” The title track itself was already banned in a previous sweep.
Perry has two songs – “E.T.” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” – condemned, with Beyoncé's “Run the World (Girls)” and Britney Spears' “Burning Up” rounding up the diva section.
Other Western titles include songs by British band Take That and Canadian rockers Simple Plan.
Then there is “I Want It That Way,” a 12-year-old hit by Backstreet Boys.
The latest blacklist marks the third time the ministry has clamped down on foreign songs since it began regulating music on the Internet two years ago. Earlier casualties included songs by Avril Lavigne, Eminem, Kylie Minogue and Christina Aguilera.
The ministry requires all imported digital tracks to be translated into Chinese and filed with the government for approval before online distribution. It said in 2009 that such rules were aimed at addressing the issues of “poor taste and vulgar content.”
While Gaga’s “Judas” deals with religion - a sensitive topic in China – and Perry’s “Last Friday Night” mentions drunken three-way sex, most songs on the latest list are benign Chinese love ballads, and many Western choices are hardly racy.
The seemingly random selection has baffled – or even enraged – singers and fans across China.
“My songs don’t talk about politics or religion – how are they able to endanger national cultural safety?” Hins Cheung – a Hong Kong singer who has three of his songs blacklisted – complained on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
“This ban is really over the top,” echoed Jesslon Liu, a college student and devout Gaga fan. “But the authorities have never liked Gaga’s songs or style for ideological reasons.”
Liu added that Gaga fans in China don’t expect to see their idol hold concerts, which also require the cultural ministry’s blessing, in the mainland anytime soon.
Amid the public backlash, officials have tried to frame their decision in the context of protecting intellectual property rights.
“Our targets this time are online music products that we have not registered or reviewed,” the cultural ministry said in a written statement to CNN. “They don’t necessarily contain illegal content.”
All legality aside, the ministry’s new blacklist has inadvertently put a spotlight on some old pop songs, with many Chinese netizens sarcastically thanking the government for its recommendations.
“The most ridiculous pick has got to be Backstreet Boy’s ‘I Want It That Way’ from 1999,” a user named “KeyboardChan” said on Weibo.
“I have been singing it at karaoke for 12 years – have I been a cultural terrorist for that long? Now I really want to sing this line from the song: Tell me why – ain’t nothing but a mistake.”
CNN’s Haolan Hong contributed to this report.
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