Thai and Vietnamese pop music – T-pop and V-pop – once mostly kept to their nations’ shores. Today, both countries’ artists are making waves in Asia and beyond, due to social media, like TikTok, and music streaming platforms, like Spotify. Bích Phương has been in the V-Pop industry for 10 years after her debut single “When will you leave”. Before her debut, she participated in Vietnam Idol (a music contest reality show) in 2008 and 2010. Dubbed the “Saint of Sorrowful Music”, Bích Phương’s songs at that time mainly talked about the sadness of a girl in love. The song that caught my attention in 2018 was “Drama Queen” (I’m a DJ and I happened to download this song by chance). The song was a moody pop ballad (a combination of her earlier sorrowful music over a contemporary trap-pop beat) about a woman in love yet still finding cracks in the relationship. As Don Draper from Mad Men says, “But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”
“Drama Queen” and her accompanying album, Dramatic, reached number one on the iTunes Vietnam Chart that year. This wonderful achievement was accredited to her cheerful pop vocal melody shift in 2014-2017. Her two EPs, Things Never Said and REMOB on November 26, 2014 and November 4, 2015 really showed her transformation into dance and electronic music before going indie pop in 2018 with Dramatic. But the song that would really catapult her into even further success was “Đi Đu Đưa Đi” (Let’s Swing) in 2019. With a combination of Dance-Pop, Nu-disco, and Deep House and infectious pop lyrics about a girl vying for the attention of an aloof male suitor, the song is Bích Phương’s most viewed music video on Youtube with 84 million views. The video has a very unique and creative framing device, placing the events of the song in a flashback from an old woman’s point of view as she virtual dreams from a cryo-sleep chamber of sorts. It’s a very fascinating video for a fantastic song.
2019 and 2020 was a great year for disco revivals, dubbed Nu-disco. From Lady Gaga to Sam Smith to Bruno Mars to Dua Lipa to BTS to J.Y. Park, everyone and their mom hopped on the Nu-disco bandwagon to staggering chart success. Chalk it up to collective pandemic anxiety because nothing cures bad vibes better than cheerful and peppy Disco sounds. Like Doja Cat’s “Say So”, Bích Phương had her own song about regaining the attention of a lost love connection. If “Đi Đu Đưa Đi” was her “Say So” of 2019, then “Đố Anh Đoán Được” (Can You Guess?) is like “Say So” Part II. Almost picking up where “Đi Đu Đưa Đi” leaves off, the disco-pop song goes deeper with it’s sexual innuendo suggesting the woman in the song further teasing the man she has affection for. The song is a triumph in its conceptual video design as well, setting up it’s themes visually like a quiz show for the subject of the lyrics to ‘guess’. It’s a step up for Bích Phương all around for her latest comeback.
To U.S. audiences, V-Pop is probably still relatively unknown. I’m of Vietnamese heritage and I, myself, just learned a thing exists. But with the immediate global attention of K-Pop (BTS, BLACKPINK, TWICE) and the convenience of music streaming platforms to bring what was once exotic and foreign right into our smart phones, it is only a matter of time before V-Pop becomes more well-known, as well. Don’t get me wrong, K-Pop is a beast of a different color. They have perfected the marketing and social aspect of fandoms and have fine tuned their “earworm” hooks music making production houses in studio. But there’s always going to be a market for counter programming. That’s why indie pop or alternative rock still exists. Soon artists like Bích Phương will cross promote with global superstars with unexpected collaborations like Snoop Dogg on SƠN TÙNG M-TP’s reggaeton V-Pop track, “HÃY TRAO CHO ANH”. And K-Pop, V-Pop, T-Pop etc. will venture outside of Koreatown, Thai Town, Garden Grove, Westminster, Santa Ana and other SoCal cities and into the world.
Bích Phương’s “Đố Anh Đoán Được” was released on May 26, 2021.