Valentine’s Day Mixtape with Love Vol. 2
Updated: 2 days ago
For your listening pleasures: 14 songs about love and heartache to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2022.
This latest Date Night China contribution and its accompanying playlist from the world of China’s indie music is a (boom)box of chocolates to get you swaying and swooning.
See the Date Night China posting here.
All used visuals created by Rochelle Beiersdorfer (yours truly) with stock images from Unsplash.
Love is complex and one serious wild ride. Like a rollercoaster, it propels you through a deluge of feelings that make your stomach lurch. From the first turn to the last fall, you feel that rush that only love can trigger, exhilarating and spellbinding. As you ascend to love’s summit, twisting and corkscrewing all the way, this euphoria only intensifies, and, once you’ve reached said summit, you either experience long-lasting airtime or immediately free fall into the dark abyss that is heartache.
That’s romantic love for you.
Of all the artistic mediums, music, arguably, is the best method to express love’s many ups and downs. Through a song, you can feel the butterflies in your stomach metamorphose into pangs of passion, the bitter sting when your heartstrings are snapped, and lovesickness when affection sours to affliction. In other words, music is cathartic in every moment while on the rollercoaster of love.
At least, it is for me.
In my first contribution to Date Night China about my experience on the Chinese dating app Tantan 探探, I mentioned a sound engineer who swept me off my feet and let me fall…hard. While wooing each other, I frequently sent him songs that expressed how I felt. When I was at a loss for words, music could state exactly what I wanted to express but couldn’t. From Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” to eventually the English doom metal band Alunah’s cover of “Wicked Game,” he received an extensive digital mixtape that represented all the stages of love and its eventual painful termination.
From the moment I discovered I had been seriously played, music kept me from completely crumbling. It was my saving grace and once again stated that which I craved to but couldn’t. There were many sleepless nights rocking out and letting the melody and soaring solos soothe my despair. With every verse, chorus and bridge, the heartache became more tolerable and I found a little bit of solace. As the website and book series Tiny Buddha puts it, “sometimes music is the only medicine the heart and soul needs.”
With that idea in mind, what follows is a list of 14 songs that are just what the doctor prescribed. Unlike last year’s list, this year’s compilation is an exploration into mainland China’s indie music communities. With all songs being released in the last two years, this collection is a snapshot of what’s hot and novel in China’s indie music scenes. With how popular indie rock is in China at the moment, songs included are mostly from this genre. After all, there’s no better way to articulate your heartache than with some oomph behind it.
Like last year, the list of songs below is available on both Spotify and NetEase Cloud Music for your listening pleasures.
Lastly, all song descriptions are from my personal knowledge of music and Mandarin Chinese, extensive research, and, because we all experience love and music differently, are my own interpretations. So, listen to the songs yourself and see how you interpret and groove to them.
Without further ado, grab your earbuds and get ready to immerse yourself in love’s joys and devastations sonified. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Artist: Future Technology Institute未来科技研究所 (wèilái kējì yánjiū suǒ)
Hailing from Nanjing, Future Technology Institute is a band that experiments with the scope of state-of-the-art indie music. Blending elements of electronic, pop and indie rock, they create songs that examine modern life in all its pain and bliss. “SHE,” from their 2021 single, is no exception. With its digi-pop vibe and vocals that channel that boy band sound, you will find yourself time-warped to a dimension of electronic pop rock that will get you up on your feet and jumping. Lyrics tell a story of being engulfed in love’s fiery passion, being suspicious of the other, and eventually being willing to fight for love and get burnt.
Food for thought: When exploring a song from a Chinese band, the best place to start is always NetEase Music. Upon researching this song’s origins and lyrics’ hidden meaning, I noticed one fan in the song’s comment section hypothesizes that its origins root from an appreciation of the Taiwanese pop trio S.H.E., and a love for one of the groups’ singers Selina Jen. A Google and Baidu search couldn’t verify or rebut this proposition. If anything, it’s an interesting angle.
Artist: FakeGentle 假斯文 (jiǎ sīwén)
A calculated blend of techno and industrial rock, “It’s Love” is a sober reflection on how foolish love really is. In this electronic dance anthem, the Chengdu duo keeps it simple and blatant: love makes us reckless, especially when we start to only live for the other. As they put it, “love is fool.”
Translation: Get Into Your Left Atrium pinyin: wǒ xiǎng zuān jìn nǐ de zuǒ xīnfáng
Artist: Electric Cherry电气樱桃 (diànqì yīngtáo)
“Get Into Your Left Atrium” is a fusion of electronic groove, computer-generated sounds and lyrics that seem like a bizarre dream. Coming off Beijing-based Electric Cherry’s debut Baby, I Hear the Galaxy (《宝贝我听到银河的声音》| Bǎobèi wǒ tīng dào yínhé de shēngyīn), “Get Into Your Left Atrium” poetically describes becoming one with another. Through metaphors that have a science fiction or body horror feel to them, vocalist Xiao Yihang (肖懿航| xiào yìháng)’s haunting voice evokes imagery of getting under the other’s skin and possession. But sometimes monotony is the most frightening. In contrast to the Matrix-esque theme, lyrics also observe the humdrum of life: the rain falling, clothes drying, a sofa. There’s always more than what there appears. Shh…
Translation: Lover (Hugged) pinyin: àirén
Artist: MILDCURE 温和治疗 (wēnhé zhìliáo)
Beijing’s multi-genre romanticists on their 2020 release《入梦(Fall In Love)》(rùmèng|enter a dream) rhapsodize everyday toil and give voice to sentiments that are sometimes inexplicably hard to assert. The jazzy rock track 《爱人 (Hugged)》follows this dreamy music philosophy to the nines.
Slow, verging on sappy (in my humble opinion),《爱人 (Hugged)》portrays that glorious, sizzling sensation when you’re floating on cloud 9 and bathing in the rich colors of romantic rapture. But every rainbow has its rain, feelings of being swept off your feet can easily turn to fear of losing that someone special. So, hold them close while you still can.
Translation: Tasty Tears pinyin: měiwèi yǎnlèi
Artist: Power Milk 包话喵 (bāo huà miāo)
Be it libation or food, we all can find some comfort after heartbreak in sustenance. My go-to comfort food is a bowl of 油泼面 (yóu pō miàn|oily noodles) and an IPA or hard cider with a shot of whiskey. Regardless of what sustenance soothes your soul, Guangdong’s Power Milk in their 2021 single《美味眼泪》masterfully concocts a jam that expresses the comforting quality that only food and drink possess. *chef’s kiss*
With a title that roughly translates to “Tasty Tears,”《美味眼泪》is a sweet sipper of rich soul, frothy jazz and garnished with a touch of indie pop. Using food metaphors to convey human sentiment, frontwoman Gulico’s voice flows like honey, transporting you to a world of bubbly tang and away from all the bitterness. This jam is chicken noodle soup for the soul.
Translation: The Price of Love pinyin: ài de dàijià
Artist: Carsick Cars 晕车的车 (yùnchē de chē)
A listicle of Chinese indie music isn’t complete without a track from Carsick Cars. Formed in 2005, Carsick Cars have been a core player in Beijing’s indie community ever since. With a discography brimming with artsy psychedelia, pop punk and surf rock tunes that are catchy and easy to boogie down to, Carsick Cars is possibly one of the most internationally recognized bands in China’s indie rock scene.
Originally sung by the Taiwanese singer and thespian Sylvia Chang in 1992, Carsick Cars’ contribution to Rock Records’ 2022 singles project of 40 covers, called《滚石撞乐队, 40团拚经典》(gǔnshí zhuàng yuèduì, 40 tuán pàn jīngdiǎn), is a psychedelic indie rock evaluation on the cost of love, hence the name. From the infectious phrasing of the guitars to the galloping rhythm of the drums, Carsick Cars’ rendition of《爱的代价》is a calculated trip down memory lane that is reminiscent of rock 'n' roll’s golden days. The final appraisal? 走吧 (zǒu ba)！ Go!
Some fun trivia tidbits:
According to Baidu, the original version of《爱的代价》by Sylvia Chang was the theme music for the 1993 romantic drama Three Summers,《哥哥的情人》(gēge de qíng rén) in Chinese. Like a lot of pop songs,《爱的代价》isn’t the brainchild of Sylvia Chang. Instead, it was crafted by the Taiwanese music producer and songwriter Jonathan Lee (李宗盛｜lǐ zōngshèng). Unlike what many listeners, including yours truly—obviously—, assume, the intention behind composing this tune was not to create another love song. According to an article posted by 北方网 (běifāng wǎng), a Tianjin-based state news media group, the intention behind the song was to write a ditty for his older sister. As 北方网 reports, Jonathan Lee clarifies (in Chinese) on the 2012 broadcast of《爱的距离》(ài de jùlí), Shandong TV’s 七夕 (qī xī |Chinese Valentine’s Day) evening gala, “I don’t dare instruct other people how to go love, because every relationship is its own unique case.”
So, what’s the takeaway from all of this?
Don’t excessively calculate the worth of a relationship. Rather, go out there and cherish every exceptional moment of it, because love can be priceless.
Translation: Love’s Card pinyin: ài de kǎpiàn
Artist: Salty Tomorrow 明天的盐 (míngtiān de yán)
Mirroring 《爱的代价》in lyrical themes, Hangzhou’s post-punk rockers Salty Tomorrow on the track 《爱的卡片》create a sound tapestry of creative clamor and brooding. With instrumentals that are sluggish yet frenzied and vocals that seem indifferent and cold,《爱的卡片》is chaotic poetry that is waiting for you to come, hands open and willing to assess love’s criteria.
《以前我也喜欢模仿美国人那样把爱挂在嘴上 (American Sweet Nothing) 》
Translation: I used to like to mimic Americans way of putting love on their lips (American Sweet Nothing)
pinyin: yǐqián wǒ yě xǐhuān mófǎng měiguó rén nàyàng bǎ ài guà zài zuǐ shàng
Artist: Bad Sweetheart
Before discovering this song, I never realized that Americans are seen as using snogging to show their love for someone else. As an American myself, becoming aware of this was definitely an aha moment and made me think about how I communicate my fondness and romantic affection for others. It’s definitely through puckering up. The Wuhan/London-based slacker rock heartthrobs that are Bad Sweetheart got it right in the kisser.
From the duo’s 2021 single《以前我也喜欢模仿美国人那样把爱挂在嘴上 (American Sweet Nothing) 》, the title and only track is a sullen tale of missing that someone special and being annoyed about all the sentiments that still linger and went unspoken. With a well-executed mix of narration and bass heavy lo-fi rock that carries a very lethargic vibe, this tune will pull at your heartstrings and make you maudlin, recalling past darlings and the pillow talk that wasn’t had, and recognizing that there’ll be no kissing and making up.
Translation: Forget itpinyin: suàn le
Artist: Deep Water 水太深 (shuǐ tài shēn)
Chengdu-based Deep Water creates indie rock anthems that are a mixture of pure human sentiment and sweet indie groove. With a melody that is a total earworm, 《算了》describes what it’s like after parting ways with a beloved. Maintaining a trancelike feel through its entirety, the song flows with the same somberness as reminiscing about past love and trying to move on with your life. As the phrase goes, live and let live.
Translation: Cheongsam Girl pinyin: qípáo gūniáng
In the world of hard rock, ballads about love and heartbreak are staples. Take for example Kiss’ “Forever” or Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” Jinan-based rockers GTB keep to this tradition with their own ballad to romance. Incorporating traditional Chinese motifs such as a sound clip of Xiqu (戏曲| xìqǔ), traditional Chinese opera,《旗袍姑娘》is about being so in love with someone but not wanting that person to toy with you, even though you aren’t 100% genuine with them.
Love is such a melodrama.
I Don’t Need A Girlfriend, I Need My Cats
As the 19th century musicologist, writer, humanitarian, et cetera Albert Schweitzer was right on the money when he said, “there are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.” Based on her contribution to Modern Sky’s 2021 tribute to all things furry and frisky,《猫登天空Vol.1》(māo dēng tiānkōng), I bet DBZ couldn’t agree more. As the only hip hop/rap song included on this list, “I Don’t Need A Girlfriend, I Need My Cats” is a super catchy beat that blatantly states how humans sometimes are too much to endure while your feline friend is always there for you. After all, research done in behaviorism and other social sciences show that there’s nothing like animal affection.
You’re probably wondering what the alphabetism of DBZ stands for, right? I was and, like anyone curious in the 21st century, I went to Google for an answer. After doing a search, I landed on the website mojim.com. According to mojim.com, this singer-songwriter’s original nom de plume was 大包子Dabozz and that DBZ stands for 大包子 (big bun | dà bāozi), aka the first letter in each of the characters’ pinyin. So, there you have it.
Translation: True Love Tetralogy pinyin: zhēn'ài sìzé
Artist: Oh! Dirty Fingers 脏手指 (zàng shǒuzhǐ)
As Beijing has Carsick Cars, Shanghai has Oh! Dirty Fingers.
Coming off the garage punk hooligans’ 2021 self-released album Planet Dominic Vivavilli,《多米力高威威维利星》(duōmǐ lì gāo wēi wēi wéi lì xīng) in Chinese,《真爱四则》is a quirky track with a serious world music vibe. With a title that the band on Bandcamp translates as “True Love Tetralogy,” this song expresses the sober reality, or lack thereof, of what being manipulated and used in love is like, but from the perspective of the manipulating user. No one said love is always about authentic connections. But then again, I could be wrong.
There’s just something comforting about reggae. From its carefree attitude, signature chunking guitar, or skengay, and a rhythm that never strolls away from 4/4, it’s the musical style to blast when you’re in major need of a spirit lifter. With its infectious groove and prominent horn section, “Maria” is a feel-good song for those days when everything seems bleak and against you. Off of Chengdu’s JahWahZoo’s 2021 release Zoo Party, this sonic mood booster will get your hips swaying and your heart smiling. Lyrics depict someone who is so taken by another, —in this case, Maria—, and this “Maria” gives the one swooning the strength to keep going through thick and thin.
Is conventional reggae not your preferred cup of happiness? On January 18th of this year, JahWahZoo released a new album entitled Zoo Dubby. This newest opus includes a dubstep version of Maria fittingly entitled “Maria Goes Dub.” To keep with the 14 love songs for Valentine’s Day theme, the dubstep version of “Maria” was not included in either of the accompanying playlists. Don’t fret, with a quick search you’ll be able to start grooving to this happy-go-lucky song’s remix.
Translation: Paranoia and Fantasists pinyin: piānzhí kuáng yǔ huànxiǎng jiā
Artist: Silent Speech沉默演讲 (chénmò yǎnjiǎng)
Love is without a doubt the bane of existence, especially when you’ve been wronged, abused and seen as just something disposable and psycho. 《偏执狂与幻想家》, from the Beijing quartet Silent Speech’s 2021 release《不稳定的规律｜有序混沌》(Bù wěndìng de guīlǜ, yǒu xù hùndùn| Unstable Law, Orderly Chaos), is an alternative rock heavy hitter that conveys this cruel circumstance perfectly. With chaotic, dynamic guitars and glitchy, strange vocals, the anguish of being treated like you’re expendable and just a thing to validate the beloved’s overinflated, super fragile ego is profoundly portrayed. Love, after all, is a battlefield.