Date: October 31, 2012
Location: Hong Kong Coliseum, Hong Kong.
Grasshopper, comprised of brothers Calvin and Remus Choy and their childhood neighbor Edmond So, shot to fame in the late 80s by producing danceable music with sappy lyrics. The Softhard duo of Jan Lamb and Eric Kot, formed a few years later when the Hong Kong music scene was still a factory that churned out cookie-cutter soft ballads and 251 synth-rocks, shook the status quo with provocative rap and unapologetic emceeing. Both groups met success and peaked in the mid-90s, but slowly yielded to a younger generation of entertainers in the past decade. On paper, their collaboration this year is not unusual because of career timing (Canto overlords get periodic revitalizations all the time), but because their artistic and delivery styles differ so much that a concert union seems odd. How does one sell the premise of a show featuring these two distinct groups?
Jan Lamb, the show’s producer, had an ingenious solution: the show is basically a game show divided into segments where the two groups would compete against each other in rounds of singing, dancing and showmanship. The winner, measured by levels of crowd cheers accumulated in those competitive segments, would get bragging rights for the evening. The tasks for their respective fans became painlessly easy: purchase some tickets, show up, and cheer for their respective group.
The night began with a fifteen-minute medley of oldies, sung by a tag team of various combinations of the five. Agile dancers, costumed as icons of the olden days, including Old Master Q (老夫子), Bruce Lee and the legendary Anita Mui, cavorted merrily on stage. Remus Choy sported fancy pants with the head of a psychedelic pink rhinoceros stuck in front. Jan Lamb lit up the Coliseum with his tireless stage patter. And all that was merely the prelude, before the first segment even began. This visual splendor would permeate the rest of the evening, and for the next three hours, Grasshopper fans soaked up Softhard’s colloquial talent and ludicrous comedy, while Softhard’s fans warmed up to Grasshopper’s unrelenting work ethic and melodious singing. Fan bases embraced, and the competition slowly evolved into a kumbaya of sorts.
While the two groups competed for love and appreciation, a theme emerged as they waxed nostalgia through the help of old classics or snappy lyrics. Even in new songs, the future seemed less revered than the past. In the song “你食咗飯未 / Have you eaten?”, when asked about having a late night snack, Edmond So retorted: “宵你個頭呀，晚飯都未食呀 / Late night snack? Seriously? I haven’t even had dinner!”, as if complaining about the working class’ hours which seem to extend year after year. In the cross-over collaboration “俾啲掌聲你自己 / Give yourself a hand”, Calvin Choy and Jan Lamb clearly had something to say about the tension between the working class and the elite ruling class: “明日你會有壓力牆 那裡再有特權 個個讚你 個個也傾慕 / You shall face life’s stress tomorrow; wherever there is political power, there shall be admiration and flattery.” Any fan base in Hong Kong can relate to and appreciate that.
Between songs, Softhard joked about Hong Kong’s unpopular chief executives. The three chief executives’ faces were then flashed on the Coliseum’s large screens, drawing loud jeers from the audience. Nobody would seriously believe that Softhard has a political agenda, though bashing the ruling chief executive is a popular agenda in the homes of today’s average working class. In a city as diverse as Hong Kong, the best antidote to bitter division is to find a common enemy that everyone rallies against. Grasshopper VS Softhard is therefore a condensed tribute to the Hong Kong Style – a three-hour medley evoking a shared, collective memory that brings all fan bases together under one roof, and uniting a diverse crowd that actually has more in common than meets the eye. The competition format was merely an apparatus to bring fans together to share a cheery moment. In that sense, Grasshopper VS Softhard is not so much about two groups duking it out (well, it never was anyway; and for the record, the final score for the kumbaya: a tie) as, whether intentional or not, about discovering common ground among us.