Working class girls and
popular music in Taiwan

by Fang-Chih Yang

from Jump Cut, no. 40, March 1996, pp. 74-84
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1996, 2006

I was an English teacher at Ta-Cheng Vocational High School from January to June, 1990. During these six months, I lived in the dormitory with the female students. I ate with them and spent my leisure time with them, almost like a peer. The students there rarely studied because they knew they were already assigned to work as lifelong manual laborers, just by attending a vocational high school. Since they needed manual skills for making a living, not academic achievement, leisure activities preoccupied them more than school. Both boys and girls were mostly interested in popular music.

During that time, I was responsible for supervising some social activities held by the students living in the dorm. Their social programs usually involved singing and dancing. They also gathered together and sang during most of their leisure time. Consequently, I found it useful to relate class material to TV shows, stars, and popular songs to get their attention. I left ten minutes for them to sing in class. This led me to investigate how music as a cultural form influences, structures, and empowers these working class teenagers' lives.

Taiwan's educational system uses the entrance examination to decide which students will go to "good" or "bad" schools. It functions to stratify the future social status of the students and guarantees the formation of a class society. Most students with good academic standing can pass the entrance examination and enroll in prestigious high schools, which serve as a bridge to the universities. Other less intelligent students either go to a junior college or public vocational high school, depending upon the prestige of the school (in Taiwan, junior colleges and high schools are at the same level). In a public vocational school, students receive three years' of vocational training. These two school systems still offer a possibility of entering a college or university.

The "leftovers" either go into the labor market or to a private vocational high school. Such a vocational high school functions as an intermediary between students and corporations. It offers corporations cheap manual labor in the name of teaching vocational training. Students attend school for three months and then go to the factory for three months for "practical training." Because of the relations between schools and companies, most of the students from a given high school end up working for the same factory after they graduate. The adolescents attending these schools are usually from working-class families (especially working-class families from the rural area) or single-parent families. However, since most working class parents could not afford to pay for the high tuition charged by these private vocational schools, the students have to do "practical training" to pay for their own tuition.

Ta-Cheng Vocational High School is located in the poorest county in the southern part of Taiwan. Due to the region's economic stagnation and the government's unwillingness to develop the country's less financially rewarding areas, Yun-Lin (where Ta-Cheng is located) has remained an agriculturally based county. Most people there make their living from fishing and farming. Socially and culturally, this county tends to be more conservative than other industrialized counties. This social and cultural conservatism shapes the younger generation's childhood. However, as young people enter social institutions, they experience the "modern" world, both from the media and their personal experiences by traveling to the cities. Thus, the youth from this conservative county tend to experience more conflicts between traditional and modern values. Their confrontation with the outside world also makes them realize their disadvantaged geographic location and family background.

In May 1992, I went back to stay in the dorm for two weeks to interview the girls I had known for the past two years. My long-term goal is to write on girls culture, especially that of working class girls, who are rarely taken seriously. Two years ago, these girls had been freshman. Now they would soon graduate from high school and step into the world. To make the interview setting and our interaction more natural, I didn't start interviewing until after three days. During this time, I shared their leisure time with them. We watched soap operas together, we talked about boys and marriage, we told dirty jokes, we dressed up and we even helped each other doing skin and hair care.

After three days, I started doing individual interviews in their rooms. Their rooms are their very own private spaces where they have total control. I wanted to make them feel as comfortable talking to me as if I were their intimate friend. Furthermore, the decorations on the wall revealed to me a lot about their culture. Pictures of stars on the wall, romance books on the bed, teddy bears on the bed, and religious books on the bookshelves all indicated their personal preferences, tastes and even their memories.

Before interviewing them, I used a questionnaire to inquire about their age, their parents' occupation, their personal background, and their most favorite and least favorite songs. The oral interview was open-ended and, in a sense, unstructured. I assumed that people sharing similar cultural and social backgrounds would have similar tastes. These girls had a similar social background and a shared interest in popular music. The girls were in their late teens, aged 17 to 19, and they faced leaving school and entering the labor pool. They all lived in the school dormitory, where they considered popular music an indispensable part of life. I conducted both individual and group interviews with the girls. Individual interviews were conducted first to learn more about their personal history, tastes, family influences, and idiosyncrasies. Group interviews were conducted to explicate the power relationships within this group, to untangle how the group members interacted with each other in their conversation, how they exchanged opinions, and how this group was formed.

Since I always played the part of the girls' big sister and advisor, our relationships have been languid and always harmonious. However, my purpose in writing a thesis about them made them uncomfortable. Some of them tried to show their best and covered up some facts they considered "low," "ignorant" or "inappropriate." For example, three of them denied the fact that they had a crush on some stars or denied that stars were an important factor in determining their choice of their favorite songs. In some places, they contradicted themselves. Here is an example from my interview with Chen, Bi-Hsia (B):

"I don't have any particular favorite singer. I am not like other people who idolize stars."

And later she said:

"I love Liu De-Hua, I think he is great, I love every song he sings and I watch all the movies he acts in…Think about it, it's just like he is singing to you. Do you know the feelings? It's, it's so wonderful. I wish some guy would sing such beautiful songs to me!"

I started with more casual and enticing questions till I found them more open to my questions. Then I began to go on to more serious questions. I started with questions about their opinions and their relationships with boys, and then I began to solicit their opinions on popular music and their use of music. One problem with some of the interviews is that sometimes I got too involved in the conversation and started to talk about my personal experiences in relation to their experiences, and sometimes I offered my opinions or suggestions about their personal problems. Since I realized that I was having too much personal involvement with the respondents in some interviews, I tried to distance myself in later interviews, and at the same time respond and encourage them to talk without talking too much myself.

When I started the group interviewing, only three of the five students were there. They talked very loudly, yelled and screamed. They were very excited about the topics they were talking about. They sang songs in turn to answer my questions. During most of the time, they talked simultaneously without listening to each other, and then the people with the highest volume finally got our attention, and a little while later, other members in the group would try to respond to her opinions. After approximately twenty minutes, the other two came in, although only one of them actively participated in the already-constructed conversation. The other one remained silent during the interview. The one who remained silent was considered a good student and was, in a sense, outside of their group. This interview lasted about forty-five minutes, and then the "good" student went away.

Then, all the others started to tell me dirty jokes such as making fun of the act of lovemaking. After the interview, one of the interviewees thanked me for offering a chance to let them get together and talk about things they enjoyed. This group interview offered me a chance to see how the group members interacted, negotiated and communicated with each other, what languages they used, and how they encapsulated themselves as a group and excluded other members.


These girls are at a time in their lives when they will graduate from high school and step into the world. It's probably the last stage of their formal education. All these girls have mixed feelings toward school. School is the source of their boredom and frustration but also the place where they meet their friends and find meaning in life. For these girls, school becomes not a place for learning, but socialization. From my experience teaching theses students, many of them sleep in class, talk, read romances, or do nothing but daydream during class time. Except for commercial training courses, which accounted for one-third of class time, the girls care nothing about the classes and are bored.

In conquering the boredom of school life, singing, listening to a walkman, reading romances and gossiping become very important. H explains that she and her classmates share a lyrics collection, so whenever they get a chance, they sing:

H: "Sometimes on our way to the restaurant or to school. Sometimes at school, during the break, four or five of us will get together, take out our lyrics collection and start to sing. It's real fun. Though our voices are quite scary…Well, as long as we are happy, so what?"

Dorm life is an extension of school life. The girls' behavior in the dorm is scrutinized, reported to the teachers at schools, and graded. All five girls express their boredom with living in the dorm. B even characterizes it as "living in a prison." The students living in the dorm are not allowed to go out after 7:00 p.m. The school hired a dorm supervisor to supervise their behavior, to protect their personal name as well as the school's name. During my interview, all five girls expressed their resentment toward their ex-dorm supervisor, and they were very proud to have "kicked her out of the dorm."

H told me in a very emotional tone that the dorm supervisor forbade the students to make any noise after 8:00 p.m. She even demanded that the students turned off the volume when they watched television. H expressed her dissatisfaction: "We weren't supposed to come here to be tortured." One time, the girls got so mad, so they decided to confront the supervisor by violating dorm regulations:

"One night, we exploded. We turned on the radio real loud after 8:00 p.m., and we followed the radio and sang together real loud too. We did it on purpose."

The supervisor came and had a quarrel with the girls. She used indecent language to call the girls things like bitches, ugly devils, and dirty jerks. She even grabbed one of the girls and pushed her against the wall. Although the girls were punished for "not respecting the supervisor," the supervisor had to quit her job because of the hostility she had confronted from all the girls in the dorm.

These students are aware of their inferior situation, and they are also aware of the boundaries for expressing their resistance. Thus, what they do is to challenge authority within the authority's accommodating boundary. Dick Hebdige's concept of bricolage best explains how these girls resist the dominant order through re-appropriating the meanings of available cultural products. In the case of collectively resisting the dorm supervisor, the girls used music to make noise, to upset authority. The acts of singing and playing music became tools for a power struggle, for expressing resistance.

To summarize, school life, for the girls, can be identified with frustration, boredom, and fun-making. Despite the drawbacks of the school, it offers a place for the students to meet new friends and develop their social life. Cultural commodities, such as music, when located in the girls' school/life experiences, function to counter their boredom and the frustration, and also function as tools for pleasure seeking.


Due to the establishment of MTV, KTV and KA-LA-OK (karaoke) parlors, singing becomes an important activity for music consumption. Beginning in 1986, the term MTV in Taiwan has referred to a leisure center where people can go to watch movies in a small private room (with an extra service of drinks). Thus, MTV is a combination of coffee shop, theater, motel, teahouse, and restaurant. KTV is a diversified form of MTV. K stands for KA-LA-OK. KA-LA-OK has two meanings. One refers to the equipment for singing, such as tapes, microphones, and amplifiers. The other meaning refers to the leisure centers that provide equipment for singing. Like KALA-OK, KTV also refers to leisure centers where people can follow the tape and sing. Unlike KALA-OK, which provides facilities for people to sing in public, KTV offers music videos and private rooms for singing. Like MTV centers, KTV centers are divided into separate rooms. Each room is provided with singing equipment. Some big KTV centers also offer KA-LA-OK.

Sometimes the girls I interviewed go to the KTV parlors, with private rooms, everyday during the week; mostly they go there only on weekends and holidays. KTV belongs to the night. The girls usually stay in the KTV parlor till 2 or 3 a.m. when they are in Taipei, but if they are in the south, they go there very early (like eight at night), and stay till 11 or 12 p.m. They go there to have fun, kill time, and release emotional stress. Here is how H describes her motivation for going singing:

H: "In that kind of place, sometimes, you need to release your emotional stress. You can go there and scream and shout. It doesn't matter, because it's a room, you can scream and shout there. But if you are with your friends, then, your friends have to bear with that."

Since these girls all declare they do not watch television very often, their experiences or impressions about the songs are structured by their experiences in KTV. As a result, their choices of favorite songs are partly determined by the songs themselves (the melodies and the lyrics), partly by the music videos shown in KTV parlors, and partly by their experiences in sharing the songs with their friends. Here is an example of how KTV music videos, as well as the experiential experience of sharing songs with friends, influence the girls' choice of songs:

B: "When I feel bad, I like to hear sad songs. It depends on how I feel. Like "Annie", I like it very much. You know, the way you feel about it…and the narration on MTV, it is very good."

Y: "What's the MTV about?"

B: "I forgot." (C joins in the discussion now)

C: "Annie? It's about the girl, the couple, they are on the motorcycle first, they are very close at first. And then, when they separate, the girl feels so sad, so she goes to the place they used to go all the time to think of him.

B: My male friends taught me how to sing this song. At first, I could only sing a few lines, and then, the boys taught tile to sing it. So, now, I know how to sing "Annie." After that, whenever I go singing, I ask the boys to request Annie, and then we sing together."

Since singing constitutes a very important part of the girls' experiences with music, it thus becomes necessary that the songs be "singable." For the girls, the criteria for a good song are that it should be, first, melodically pleasant and lyrically meaningful, and, second, "singable." Thus, the girls' selection of their favorite songs is influenced by the range and quality of their own voices. Due to the popularization of KTV in Taiwan, singing has become an important activity in youth's leisure activities. The girls I know all love singing. Their experiences of going to KTV structure their experiences with music, and thus, determine their selection of music. As a result, the context of singing in a KTV — the images from the music video, the songs, the people, and the atmosphere at that particular moment — all determine their experiences, and thus, their impression of the music.


KTV is a place for boys and girls to get together and sing. Since going to KTV is an expensive activity, I inquired about the bill. To my surprise (maybe I've been trained by western thought for too long, so I forget about our "tradition"), all these girls answered in a taken-for-granted manner, "Of course, the boys pay the bill." However, the result of the boys' paying the bill is to diminish the girls' power to make decisions. Here is how the girls describe the payment and the decision-making power:

U: "Sometimes we went there several times a week. But you know, we don't pay the fee 'cause we are girls."

Y: "What songs do you request when you go singing?"

B: "Only the boys request the songs. We don't do that. If we like to sing a particular song, we just ask the boys to request it."

These girls take it for granted that the social convention of boys' paying is natural. They are not aware that by not paying the bill, they lose their decision-making power, and, in a way, they perpetuate gender inequality in their relationship with boys. Even though the girls know that only boys get the power to request songs, the girls all take this fact as natural and do not question the validity of the boys' power.

Actually, the fact of men paying the bill when going out with women is an extension, a reflection, and a result of gender inequality in a society. Traditionally, it is men who have to take responsibility for supporting their families. A woman's job is to stay home and take care of her husband and children. Because of the sexual division of labor due to biological differences, when men work, they accentuate the importance of their being breadwinners by putting down women's work as unproductive. To hold their power and maintain it, men constantly have to put women in a disadvantaged position. As a social convention, the girls are willing to give up their power only because it seems "natural" to do so. And by such small gestures, the girls grow accustomed to their inequality.


Unlike KTV centers, which are places for boys and girls to get together, dancing halls (for disco dancing) are places for girls. Girls like dancing. For girls, dancing is a kind of sport, a way to lose weight, an activity for socialization, a way to kill boredom, and an activity for releasing their built-up emotions. Dancing halls traditionally carry the connotation of corruption. Only "bad" girls go to dancing halls because the sensual movement of the body contributes to a process of building up tense emotions which could lead to the act of sex. Although the connotation of dancing halls changes with the times, it still connotes a place where "good" girls do not go.

All but one of the girls in the group consider dancing a healthy and legitimate activity, and they see nothing wrong with it. However, they won't let their parents know they have gone dancing. Dancing is a female social activity. For girls, dancing is "naturally" an activity for women, shared by women, while singing is for both men and women. Here is how they conceive of dancing as a female activity:

Y: "Do you go dancing a lot?"

C: "Not very often. Sometimes. It's really fun to dance. I didn't dare go dancing before, but now I think it's fun."

Y: "Who do you go with?"

C: "Friends."

Y: "Male or female?"

C: "Female. We might have more fun going out dancing with females. Some boys don't like dancing, but most girls like dancing. I go with girls because we can be very crazy together. I go out with boys to KTV for singing. They like singing, so they'll take you there to sing."

Y: "Do you go with boys or girls?"

B: "Girls. No boys will go to that kind of place with us."

Girls go dancing just for fun. Although there are some boys in the dancing hall, these girls don't go there to meet new boys. As B commented,

"Most of the time we are dancing. The only break we have is the time for slow dances, but we go to the restroom during the break."

Perhaps the boys don't like dancing because the distortion of the body in public conveys feminine seduction. Dancing traditionally is performed by females to entertain men. (The boys the girls know or date are from the south. They are more conservative. B points out that the boys in the dancing hall are from metropolitan areas where gender stereotypes are less strict and more fluid.) These girls, in the group interview, all complained about the boys' reluctance to dance with them.

There are many reasons for going dancing. However, a sense of liberatory pleasure keeps dancing popular among these girls. For them, the pleasure of dancing lies in its sensuality, its total relaxation in the dark. "Nobody sees how you do it." It offers a feeling of liberation from social conventions and regulations. It also provides the pleasure of collectivity, a collective liberation from the social terrain. It's in the feeling that "everybody dances" that the girls find personal liberation. Here is how C describes the pleasure of dancing:

C: "At first, I didn't want to go, because I didn't know how to dance. When I went out dancing, you know, it's always in Taipei, I went out with them (refers to B). They told me to dance with them. They told me to move however I liked. So I did. Well, people don't see you clearly in that kind of light, so if you don't dance well, they don't see you, and you can dance however you want. It's really crazy. So I think it's fun."

Part of the craziness of dancing comes from staying up the whole night and being different from other people. Like singing in KTV, dancing belongs to the night, too. B said that when she went dancing on the weekends when she was in Taipei, her group usually danced till 3 or 4 in the morning. For these girls, dancing is a time to be real "crazy." As has been discussed, the pleasure of dancing is a liberation from social rules. It is a "jouissance."

Roland Barthes (1975) distinguishes two kinds of pleasure: jouissance and plaisir. Jouissance, as Fiske (1989, p. 50) summarizes, can be translated variously as "bliss, ecstasy, or orgasm."

"It is the pleasure of the body that occurs at the moment of breakdown of culture into nature." (Fisk 1989).

The concept of jouissance refers to a pleasure coming from an emancipation of the social construction of self. It is a pleasure produced to evade the social order. Thus, it is a carnivalesquc kind of pleasure.

Plaisir provides a different type of pleasure from jouissance in that plaisir is "socially produced." The roots of plaisir "lie within the dominant ideology, it is concerned with social identity, with recognition."

"Plaisir is more of an everyday pleasure, it involves the recognition, confirmation, and negotiation of social identity" (Fisk, 1989, p. 54).

Therefore, plaisir may come from conforming to or reacting against the dominant ideology, whichever is in our interest. The girls' reacting against the school authority by making the teacher upset is a reactionist kind of plaisir. Doing housework and being a good girl is a conformist kind of plaisir. The pleasure of singing in KTV parlors is also a kind of plaisir, for it involves social identification in releasing emotional stress through singing, it involves happiness from identifying with the romantic love on the music video, and it also involves the pleasure of developing relationships with male friends.


The girls' taste in the songs they like is strongly influenced by U.S. and Japanese pop music. Taiwanese culture is a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and U.S. culture. Japan had colonized Taiwan for fifty years. During its colonization, the Taiwanese were forced to behave like Japanese and think like Japanese. Though Taiwan was returned to China after WWII, Japan's influence on Taiwan was already rooted in every part of the Taiwanese people's lives. Japanese influence on music is more visible in Taiwanese songs, which tend to be appreciated more by people in a lower social strata.

As for the U.S. influence, it can be traced back to the cooperation between the U.S. and the KMT when the KMT took over Taiwan. With its strong economic, military and cultural power, the U.S. was totally in control of Taiwan under the name of assistance. Especially with the rapid growth of cultural industries in the post-war era, the U.S. exported its carefully constructed image of "Americaness" through television, films and music to the international market. This image of "Americaness" was needed by the KMT government to carry out the policy of "modernization," which meant Americanization. The discourse of modernization was carefully constructed by the government and the elites to accentuate certain oppositions: Americaness/ Taiwan-ness, progress/ regression, modern/ obsolete, wealth/ poverty, mainlanders/ Taiwanese. The discourse of modernization equates Americaness with progress, wealth, happiness, and a better life. In addition, the mainlanders' status was (usually that of the governors and the elites) elevated to the category of "Americaness" in contrast to the poor and uneducated Taiwanese people. Once this discourse is constructed, everything American connotes "better" and everything Taiwanese connotes "vulgar." As a result, the Taiwanese songs that are appreciated by working-class Taiwanese people in a lower social strata are considered vulgar, and English songs that are appreciated mostly by the elites are considered in better taste.

In the late 80s, there was a political movement against KMT hegemony. The discourse against this hegemony was focused to upgrade the concept of Taiwan-ness and to elucidate the oppressive nature of the KMT. In the 90s, these two forces are still in struggle — Mandarin as a better language" vs. "Taiwanese as a decent language." As a result of this political struggle, the vulgarity connoted by Taiwanese songs has become elevated to the level of concepts involving "rootedness," "nostalgia," and "pastoral."

The discourses constructed by the ruling party reflect the powerful U.S. influence on Taiwan society. In the area of popular music, western music had a more visible influence on Mandarin songs, and Japanese influence was mostly on Taiwanese songs. This has changed with the recent ascent of Japan as an economically powerful country and the KMT's hegemonic crisis. Western influences on Taiwan's popular music (mostly Mandarin songs) can be traced back to the era of political modernization. The rise of the Chinese modern folksongs, and later the Campus songs, show the influence of U.S. folksongs, even though the Chinese modern folksongs initially emerged as an ideological revolution against westernization. The Campus songs, an extension of the Chinese modern folksongs, are the forefathers of current popular music. With U.S. music's strong influence on the history of Taiwan's popular music, it is no surprise that Taiwan's popular songs are structurally influenced by U.S. songs, especially U.S. songs from the 70s, for this was the period when the Chinese modern folksongs became popular.

All the girls agree that melody is an important factor in deciding the love song genre. A popular song, structurally, should be able to connote tenderness, softness and sadness. The songs they listed as their least favorites deviated from the love songs in content and had melodies that were too "different" from what they have been trained to like. For them, the lyrics also played an important part in reinforcing the melodic connotations and in constructing the songs' meanings.

To these girls, a good song must be meaningful, understandable, touching, and realistic:

Y: "What kind of songs do you think are good? What kind of songs are bad?"

U:"The songs that can touch me. Besides, the lyrics should be modern, I mean, they express what's on your mind…They shouldn't he just about unrealistic love, I mean, by loving each other to death…I don't like that kind of song. I like the songs that express what's on your mind. By the way, I don't like the songs that I don't understand."

All of the five girls interviewed liked songs that are about love and separation. C commented,

"All my favorite songs are about feelings, such as heterosexual love and…whatever, anyway, I like songs about feelings. I like sad songs, songs about separation…Sometimes I cry when I hear the songs."

All of the girls also like to watch TV shows adapted from romances, and three of them like to read romances. These girls place love at the center of their lives.

Several sub-themes characterize the theme of heterosexual love. These are the happiness of being together, the sadness of separation (or the unbearableness of being alone), a glorification of the permanence of love and a lamentation on the impermanence of love, and an exaltation of the uniqueness of love/lover. The underlying assumption threading through these songs is this:

"Being in love makes you happy and wonderful. However, love is impermanent, and thus, separation is almost inevitable. Separation means loneliness and sadness."

Therefore, most of the songs glorify the happiness of being together in the past, and they lament the present situation of being alone.

All the songs are written from a first person point of view. The relationships between the narrator and his/her lover are always mediated by the pronoun "I" and "you." The use of these personal pronouns invites the audiences into the "story" and thus invokes identification. Of the twenty love songs, six are sung by male vocalists. These girls identify themselves with singer when the songs are sung by female vocalists; they are the "I" in the lyrics. When the songs are sung by male vocalists, they identify with the "you" in the lyrics; that is, they identify themselves as the lovers of the male vocalists or any male they know.

Six songs sung by male vocalists are "Make Me Happy Make Me Sad", "It Is Written in the Stars That We Shall Be One in the Coming Life", "Around Winter Time", "I Am Your Only Love", "A Half Lover", and "Annie." These songs present the sadness and loneliness of separation. The male singers and the lyrics are feminized: all the singers are packaged to be melancholic, feminine, handsome, lonesome, and tender. They sing about men's need to be cared for and their loneliness and sadness. Here are some examples:

"In this life, there can be no end to my waiting, my solitary ears, my solitary suffering"
(from "Make Me Happy Make Me Sad");

"Searching and searching…Always searching in vain for the memories…Suffering, sorrow, despair, anguish. I lost you"
(from "It Is Written in the Stars That We Shall Be One in the Coming Life");

"I had never believed that I would fall in love again…At midnight, I always cry and cry, for pretending that I had never had insomnia in a single bed…I know I can only be a half lover for you"
(from "A Half Lover");

"Our love has been going on like this, I find no fault in you, but curse my fate…When I close my eyes, thinking of your love, I can't forget all the promises that we made…Annie, I can't lose you. Annie, I can't forget you. Annie, my whole being cries out to you. I love you forever"
(from "Annie").

In addition to expressing the men's loneliness, the lyrics also express their desire to be together with their women. The men cry and beg for their women's tenderness and love, they even promise to devote everything to the women.

"Please give me a little more space, a little more tenderness. Don't leave me to suffer like this. A woman like you, you make me happy, make me sad. Let me give you all that I have"
(from "Make Me Happy Make Me Sad");

"Maybe parting is not easy, maybe we can't share this life together…We must wait until the next life to begin our love story once more"
(from "It Is Written in the Stars That We Shall Be One in the Coming Life").

Of these twenty love songs, fourteen are sung by female vocalists. The girls identify with the female singers, and consider the lyrics as their personal expression. The themes sung by female singers vary more compared to the songs sung by the male vocalists but still express the idea of love. The themes threading these songs together can be discussed according to these axes: the importance of love in women's lives, the sadness of being abandoned, the confusion and helplessness when being abandoned, the supplication of the lover to come back, the celebration of the happiness of love, and the dilemma of making decisions.

Nancy Chodorow gives a detailed account of the reproducing of women by women. She argues that it is through mothering that women reproduce women with a strong desire for tenderness, care, and love. In addition, women grow up to be women, that is, women learn to be women by experiencing women's culture — dressing-up, watching TV, doing housework, reading romances, and gossiping about men. As a result, women tend to accentuate love in their lives. For the teenage girls I interviewed, due to their frustration with their families and school and due to their adolescent physical changes, the underlying concept of love means the promise of heterosexual love. Thus, for them, without love, their lives become nothing, meaningless. This accent on love is expressed in the lyrics:

"They say falling in love with you is the biggest mistake in my life, but before falling in love with you, what did I ever do that was right?"
(from "Falling In Love With You Is The Biggest Mistake In My Life").

The moral value placed on virginity and fidelity teaches women to be faithful to men. Since women should be faithful to one man, they need his commitment to ensure a successful marriage and thus, their happiness. However, men are not bound by these rules. Traditionally, men are allowed to have as many wives as they want and they can give up their women for any reasons. Furthermore, women are treated as pieces of property to show off men's social status. As a result, women in love are characterized by both a desire for commitment and a fear of abandonment; while men are always characterized as active in abandoning women. Many of the songs are about the sadness of losing a lover.

"My heart is a flower petal, falling, drifting, lost, and confused. I cannot break free from the feelings that bind me to you"
(from "More and More Sadness");

"How could you be so heartless as to say good bye, not knowing how deeply you hurt me?"
(from "How Many Times");

"I already have your promise, I never thought that you would ever leave me, but now you tell me you are leaving"
(from "Falling in Love With You is The Biggest Mistake in My Life").

Women are supposed to keep their husbands, to maintain relationships. Once their lovers abandon them, they have to beg them to come hack. Since men occupy the center of women's lives, without love, without men, women's lives mean nothing. It is because of the unbearableness of being alone, their irresistible desire to be loved, and their search for the meaning of life (which is usually defined by men) that women have to beseech their lovers to come back.

"Love, don't leave me, though you don't want to stay. I know your heart, you have not completely lost your feelings"
(from "Falling in Love With You Is The Biggest Mistake in My Life");

"So I beg you, don't ever leave me. Other than you, I can have no feelings for anyone but you"
(from "You Are All That I Care About").

Romance's impermanence and instability contradict women's desire for eternal love. Thus, love becomes a source of confusion. The lyrics are also characterized by questions of not knowing what to do:

"This love is a mistake, I want to end yet I stay. For love, for you, what should I do?"
(from "To Go or Not To Go");

"Short and sweet or long and bitter, which one do you choose? Which one do you choose? I am confused, not knowing what to do"
(from "Short and Sweet or Long and Bitter");

"Love, don't leave me, though you don't want to stay. What can I do? I already have your promise, I never thought that you would leave me, but now you tell me you are leaving"
(from "Falling in Love With You is The Biggest Mistake in My Life").

To attain eternal love, women must wait (no pain, no gain). To gain their men's love, they have to be persistent and invest their love and youth.

"How long will I go on chasing you? How long will I go on hoping?"
(from "I Think of You Even in My Dreams");

"Searching for your love, painful waiting, you come to me tonight, and I will realize love for you is like an ocean"
(from "Unstoppable Love");

"Nothing can keep me from loving you, no one can stop it. When I want to see you, no wind, no rain can stop me, even if it must he in my dreams"
(from "Unstoppable Love").

In addition to desiring love, like most Chinese people, the girls believe strongly in fate. Life is predestined. In Buddhism, if you do good in your previous life, you will be happy in this life. By the same token, if you do good in this life, you will get a reward in your next life. If you owed a debt in your previous life, you have to pay it in this life. The people around you are all related to you from your previous life. Your parents owe you, so they have to raise you and be nice to you this life. If you love someone very much, but that person doesn't love you, that means you did something bad to him in your last life, so you have to love him and be tortured in this life. Such fatalistic thinking underlies the love songs.

When the girls find they are in a helpless situation, they submit to their sufferings and justify their sufferings by thinking they are predestined. This fatalistic thinking, however, reflects men's privileged position in the relationship. If men abandon women, then it is women's fate to suffer. By attributing everything to fate, women are left with no power for resistance. These lyrics show how women attribute their romantic failures to fate.

"Our love has been going like this, I find no fault in you, but curse my fate. Every moment, I indulged myself in love and you, without knowing that our tragedy was predestined"
(from "Annie");

"For a person like me, who puts so much importance on love, there will be more tears than smiles. It's like I owe you something in this life, so I never had a mind of my own"
(from "I Dream of You Even In My Dreams").

In addition to fate, the girls also believe the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation gives people hope, for there's another life in which well-being can be achieved and through effort expanded in this life.

"How long will I go on chasing you? One lifetime is not enough. If we have one more life, then we can be together"
(from "I Think of You Even In My Dreams");

"Deep feelings can not be realized in this life, so we know, we must treasure our love. We must wait until the next life to begin our love story once more"
(from "It is Written in The Stars That We Will Be One in The Coming Life").

Another theme in songs' lyrics that reflects the girls' experiences involves the girls' relationships with their parents. The girls are in a period of searching for social identity. During this time friends become more important, and the family becomes a "burden" or a block to the girls' developing relationships with friends. As a result, their relationships with family members become tenser. This song expresses the girl's relationship with her family:

"You were always with me since I was a child. Thus, I almost forgot that you had loved me so much…You were more concerned with me when I was in my rebellious adolescence. I didn't like to listen to what you said, thinking that you did not understand me. I had already been an independent person for a long time; however, you silently suffered from your anguish…Oh! Daddy, now I know you are the one that I love most"
(from "Dear Daddy").

U relates this song to her personal experiences:

"Whenever I hear this song, I cry. It is about a very rebellious girl, and about how her dad keeps encouraging and supporting her. Sometimes I identify the daddy in the lyrics as my mother. My mom loves me very much. When I make mistakes, of course, she gets mad, but after that, she forgets it, she won't keep it in her mind. So when I hear that song, I always feel like crying."

These words illustrate the relationships between teenagers and their parents. They also illustrate the fluidity of gender identification in the lyrics; that is, the gender stereotypes in the lyrics are not fixed. As Chang (1991) points out, the lyrics of love songs are "feminized", which is to say that the lyrics are all about the tenderness of love, tears, suffering, and yearning for love, yet these "feminized" lyrics are sung by both female and male singers, which makes gender identification ambiguous. Since gender identity in the lyrics is ambiguous, it offers the opportunity for audience members to fluidly transform the genders of the first and second persons in the text of the song into whichever genders are appropriate for the particular listener. The listener is able to identify with the experiences described in the lyrics regardless of gender. Most often, female audience members will identify with female singers and male audience members will identify with male singers. Thus, in the present case, U. identifies with E, Len-Jean (the female singer of this song). However, since the gender identity of the second person, "you," is not fixed, "you" is identified by U as her mother, whose role in real life is identified with the role of the "father" in the text of the song.

The third theme found in the lyrics reflects the girls' encapsulation of themselves as the young generation. For them, being young means having fun without having to assume responsibilities. They are aware of the temporal limitation of their youth, and thus their fun. They are very conscious of the passage of time and devote themselves to having fun in the limited time they have. These two concepts, the passage of time and the devotion to having fun while young, characterize the girls' attitude toward time, and are expressed through the songs they choose.

Growing up means giving up fun, losing friends. These girls are stepping into the world in a few days. To them, stepping into the world means being adults and giving up fun. U recounts her memories and love of sharing the "crazy" days with her friends.

"'Back Then' makes me think of the crazy days I shared with my friends. Now the friends are all gone, but I still care about them most."

"Back Then" deals with friendship, growing up, and losing friends. To the girls, this song best characterizes their feelings now, for in a few days, they will graduate and go to different places to work. Here are some of the lyrics:

"Yesterday someone called to ask how I have been, I can't help but sighing when I think about that time. How many nights did we wander around together? We talked about life and the future. How many times did the wind bring about our true feelings for each other? Tonight, I can only hold my guitar, singing the love stories you wrote down…For me, friendship is another kind of costume, I don't feel lonely anymore"
(from "Back Then").

To summarize, three topics characterize the girls' favorite songs-heterosexual love, parental love, and fleeting youth. According to the girls, lyrics should be "realistic" and touching. The girls' definition of "realistic" includes not only the life they experience but also the romantic dreams they fantasize. Of the three topics, heterosexual love is placed at the center of the girls' lives. Several sub-themes characterize this love song genre, such as the sadness of being abandoned. In addition to the internal structures and the themes that define the love song genre, the language of the lyrics and the singers' styles are components of this genre, too.

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