Writing this was supposed to be fun, not give me an Awful Realization.
I didn’t expect putting together a music video post to make me at long last understand why so many people reject masks.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still pro-mask. Unless masks give you medical problems, keep wearing them around people outside your household.
Still, having this switch finally flipped in my head is odd. For over a year, I’ve been scratching my head: why are people so powerfully opposed to having cloth over their face? It’s not really about politics, since every political group in the United States has its share of passionate anti-maskers, and international news articles suggest that this is also true in other countries. It’s about something deeper than politics, something so deep it appears in pop music.
I also saw how we can counter mask resistance, but the solution is difficult.
While contemplating another ‘9 songs in 9 languages’ post, I came up with this theme: music videos featuring people wearing mouth coverings which were uploaded before January 1, 2020. Originally, I planned each video to be in a different language, though I changed it to 9 different countries/regions (at least one of these videos is multinational). A mask which has mouth/nostril slits counts as long as the mouth/nose are visible, even though such a mask would not block covid (i.e. Guy Fawkes masks count). A half mask which covers the mouth and nostrils count. (Also, no The Masked Singer videos, even if the lower face is covered). A half mask which covers the upper face but leaves the mouth in open view doesn’t count.
Before I explain why so many people rebel fiercely against masks, I’ll present the music videos:
“Bi An / The Other Side” by Dong Zhen (China)
This song is the opening for the TV series Princess of the Lanling King. It’s one of Dong Zhen’s most famous songs.
Though I haven’t seen the TV show, it’s obviously based on the story of Gao Changgong, AKA the Prince of Lanling. Yep, the guy mentioned in the title.
“Toulouse” by Nicky Romero (Netherlands/Germany)
In this video, an epidemic of Guy Fawkes masks spreads exponentially in Hamburg. At over 400 million views on YouTube, it’s the second most viewed (on YT) video. That’s evidence of its cultural relevance.
If you only watch two music videos on this list, they should be “Bi An” and “Toulouse.” Or at least read about Gao Changgong and watch “Toulouse.” These two videos do the most to explain why there’s so much emotionally profound resistance to masking—and how to reverse it.
The most common reaction to this video amongst English speakers is ‘but these are some of the most beautiful women in the world, how could anyone think they are ugly??!!’
The truth is, per Korean beauty standards (which are ramped up to 11 for Kpop idols), three of them are ugly; only Dara is beautiful. The CEO of their record label called them ugly. Even in English, many people refer to Park Bom as a ‘plastic monster’ because of the plastic surgeries she’s had (regardless of why she got plastic surgery, it’s her body and I won’t judge her for choosing it).
So, since Dara meets even the ridiculous version of Korean beauty standards applied to Kpop idols, she doesn’t have any insecurities about her appearance, right? Nope. When a TV host said she was the beauty of 2ne1, she went to a rooftop and cried. She explains why in this interview.
“Alone” by Marshmello (United States)
If you pay the slightest attention to pop music, you predicted that Marshmello would appear on this list.
With over 2 billion views on YouTube, this is the most viewed video on this list, as well as one of Marshmello’s most popular videos. The exponential spread of masks has a parallel with “Toulouse” above. But I’m not bringing attention so much to this one song as Marshmello in general (hint: he’s always wearing a mask).
Speaking of pop music artists who always wear masks…
“Daiboken / Great Adventure” by Kamen Joshi (Japan)
This is a Jpop group where everyone wears masks. ‘Kamen Joshi’ literally means ‘Masked Women.’
For cultural context, Kamen Joshi was active while surgical masks were popular among Japanese youth. Yes, it was years before covid-19. And no, it had nothing to do with avoiding infectious disease. Even if you don’t watch this video, read the article—and compare to “Ugly” above.
“Carnevale de Venezia 2015” by Venice (Italy)
Quite a few people wear full face masks during the Venice Carnival. Many, many years ago I visited Venezia with my mother. No, we weren’t daytrippers, we spent a few nights in the Cannaregio sestiere. I wasn’t there during the Carnival (thank goodness, it was crowded enough even without the festival, plus it probably inflates prices). One thing which stays with me is how physically small Venezia is. The distances are so short that getting around on foot is quite fast (unless you get lost, which we did, frequently). Anyway, enjoy Carnevale de Venezia 2015.
“Turn Kǒuzhào / Turn the Mask” by Jeannie Hsieh (Taiwan)
A decade ago, Jeannie Hsieh was one of Taiwan’s most popular singers. Heck, she’s still popular today, albeit not at the peak of her career (but who knows, she might pull a Cher and make comebacks well into her older years). Unsurprisingly, Jeannie Hsieh released a new music video for this song in 2020.
This video was filmed in Taoyuan City, where I used to live (and where this blog was started). I’ve attended a performance where this video was shot. Thus, watching this brings me personal nostalgia.
Two musicians wear bandanas over their mouths. I don’t know what meanings (un)covering the face has in Ghanaian cultures, but I noticed that this video was uploaded in 2015, during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Ghana was spared, but is connected to countries which Ebola slammed. Was that a cultural influence? Maybe it’s just coincidence and the bandanas over the mouths represent something completely different.
“H̄n̂ākāk / Mask” by Liberate P and Boy LOMOSONIC (Thailand)
I know nothing about Thai music. Can you tell that I just put the Thai word for ‘mask’ and ‘mv’ in YouTube to find this video?
“Bachke o Bachke” by Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, and Sunidhi Chauhan (India)
This song is from the movie Aladin (which I haven’t seen). The movie and this music video star Amitabh Bachchan, who is only the most famous living Indian actor. Well, he’s more than that. He’s also been a star in India’s publicity campaign to get people to wear masks, and he was hospitalized with covid-19 himself, so he has first hand experience of how awful it is.
I’m surprised by how hard it was to find a Hindi music video with anyone wearing a mask over the face. No, I’m not a dedicated fan of Hindi music, but I’m no more familiar with Kpop than Hindi music, yet I can find Kpop videos with people wearing masks without trying hard. Heck, it would’ve been way easier to put together a list of 10 Kpop videos where people cover their mouths than this list where I did not repeat countries/regions. I’m especially surprised since so many Muslims are involved in the production of Hindi music videos. I realize that the Muslims who work in the Mumbai film industry are not particularly strict about women covering themselves up, but wouldn’t they at least draw some creative inspiration from the Muslims who do cover up their heads/faces more? They probably have and I just haven’t found them. I’m just surprised by how much effort it took for me to find even this video. (Also, my effort to find Arabic music videos where people cover their nostrils and mouths was unsuccessful).
Did you see what I saw in these music videos? It’s not so much the music, as the cultural symbols evoked in the videos: Guy Fawkes, the Prince of Lanling, superheroes, Venice, the loner in high school, etc.
Why do you think so many people refuse masking? Why is Guy Fawkes fighting the Prince of Lanling? And what can we do about it?
I’ll give you my answer in Part 2.
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