What Hong Kong’s Cantopop scene owes to the Cranberries

A Hong Kong favorite.
A Hong Kong favorite.
Image: Reuters/Paul Yeung
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As the world mourns the death of the Cranberries’ lead singer Dolores O’Riordan, who passed away yesterday (Jan. 16), Hong Kong in particular remembers her as someone who left a lasting imprint on the local Cantonese pop scene.

The Irish band inspired a number of Hong Kong pop artists in the 1990s and allowed them to break away from the traditional Cantopop music format that had so dominated the industry. No Cantopop singer was more inspired by the Cranberries than singer Faye Wong.

The Beijing-born singer, known as Wong Fei in Cantonese, emerged in Hong Kong’s music scene at the turn of the 1990s. At first, she was packaged as a typical young idol under an ordinary name, Shirley Wong. Her songs were the standard, easy-listening love songs popular at the time. It wasn’t until 1993 and 1994 that she started covering music from the likes of Tori Amos and the Cocteau Twins, sending shockwaves through the Cantopop industry, which was at the time heavily influenced by Japanese pop and epic Chinese melodies created for martial arts TV dramas.

Wong’s most notable hit was her cover of “Dreams,” the Cranberries’ debut single and smash hit released in 1992. Wong blended O’Riordan’s vocal style seamlessly with her own distinctive voice in her Cantonese version, translated as “Dreamlover.” The song was immortalized in Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, in which Wong even sported a hairstyle that was similar to O’Riordan’s at the time. From then on, Wong ditched her stage name Shirley and started going by Faye, a nod to her Cantonese name.

The success of the Cantonese cover of “Dreams” not only made the Cranberries a household name across the Chinese-speaking world, but also widened the horizons of music fans who had until then been accustomed to saccharine Cantopop love songs. The public became more receptive toward more alternative music, opening doors to artists who did not conform to the mainstream model.

One of the local singers who found fame in the wake of Wong’s fame was Candy Lo. Formerly the lead singer of local indie band Black & Blue, Lo caught the attention of the Hong Kong music industry with her powerful voice that is also reminiscent of O’Riordan’s. Lo went on to pursue a solo career in the mainstream industry and released her debut solo album in 1998.

The Cranberries also rocked the city in 1996 at the Hong Kong Coliseum, a venue that had been known as the mecca of Cantopop concerts. The last time the band played in Hong Kong was in 2012.