I haven’t paid much attention to the Thai music scene for a while, but the other day I was looking around at recent music videos and came across the YouTube channel for GMM Grammy International, a branch of the massive Thai entertainment conglomerate, GMM Grammy.
I was surprised to find there Thai music videos that had subtitles in English, Japanese and Chinese. And there were even videos in which Thai singers said “hi” to their fans in foreign countries.
This made me think back to the early 1990s when satellite TV came to certain parts of Asia. MTV was one of the stations that you could watch then. The MTV at that time covered all of Asia, and mainly showed videos of Western music, but they did show some videos by artists in places like Japan, India, Taiwan, etc.
This was of course in the pre-email era, so viewers actually wrote letters to MTV at that time, and I remember how VJs would read some of the mail, and what was interesting was that there were people in places like India who wrote in and requested to see more of artists from places like Japan.
That was an interesting moment when it looked like some kind of new, transnational music scene would emerge. However, the business people at that time apparently felt that they could make more money by making music television less transnational.
So MTV “broke up” its Asian-wide channel and established channels that fit smaller, more culturally and linguistically homogenous markets. Channel V, another music channel that was set up in the 1990s, did the same.
This of course didn’t stop music from crossing borders. Since the “break up” of music television in Asia there has been a Japan wave and a Korean wave that has influenced popular culture in many ways in places like Southeast Asia.
However, what GMM Grammy International is doing now strikes me as something different. And it reminds me of that “transnational moment” in the early 1990s.
The above video captures the current moment well. There is a Thai girl and a Japanese boy studying English together in Thailand.
They spend time together working on a project, and they do all of the things that countless young tourists from Japan and Korean do every day in places like Bangkok: take pictures, go to a market, try local food, etc. These of course are also all the same things that young Thai travelers do when they go to places like Japan and Korea as well.
In other words, the video shows the common transnational youth culture that has emerged over the past decade or so. That common culture is the result of many things: the expansion in English teaching (note that the teacher in the video appears to be a native speaker of some language other than English), the influence of Japanese and Korean popular culture, the growth of the middle class, the emergence of budget airlines, the Internet, YouTube, plastic surgery. . . the list goes on and on.
That said, the existence of this common transnational youth culture does not of course mean that Asia is becoming homogenous. But to use a Tinglish (Thai-English) phrase, I would say that it does show that at least in urban areas youth culture is now “same same but different.”
And my guess would be that it is that “same same” which is leading a company like GMM Grammy International to try reach across national borders, whereas in the early 1990s it was the “different” that led MTV and Channel V to focus on what was within national borders, even though some of their viewers at that time could clearly see the “same same” already.