Yang Peiyi, China’s most famous playback singer

I was bemused by the news about China’s Politburo-sanctioned (or ordered) switch of a more attractive kid for the role of the serenading child performing “Hymm to the Motherland” (a patriotic ballad) to the billion-audience at the opening of the Beijing Olympics.

The news reports were rabid of course since controversy sells. What struck me was the fact that the “show’s musical designer [Chen Qigang] felt forced to set the record straight … in an interview with Beijing radio.” (Telegraph, 12 Aug 2008).

Wow, really? Really appreciates talent, he does.

Americans like Jon Stewart are wondering what the fuss is about – apparently this is staple at major events like the Super Bowl.

Mind you, this is beyond lip-synching – not only was the singer not singing live (even if the kid thought she was, in this case), it wasn’t her voice. This setup sounded vaguely familiar until it dawned just now – Indian movies! Playback singers have been a staple in movies from the subcontinent for decades. The actual singers are well known to the adoring masses who enjoy the collusion of eye candy backed by heavenly tones. Just like fans of professional wrestling, they are happy to believe. There is enough reality in life.

The funny bits then were the indignant journalists (“why didn’t you tell us”) and the IOC officer’s defense using a poorly applied athletic analogy. Luckily there actually was sporting action to distract us. And I’ve learnt to cycle with my knees pointed inwards since!