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Vestigial Pop: Hokkien Popular Music and the Cultural Fossilization of Subalternity in Singapore


As part of its modernization project, the postcolonial Singapore state has systematically marginalized the vernacular cultures of the country’s colonial-era immigrant society. Nevertheless, Hokkien popular music has persisted not only in the street festivals that were so characteristic of the colonial port city but also in local movies. A combination of official discouragement and changes in education levels and demography has diminished the significance of Hokkien music in the country. Instead of the mark of evolving, living culture, Hokkien music resembles more of a vestigial articulation of working class tribulations and of middle class nostalgia and reaction to the vicissitudes of capitalist modernity in Singapore. Critical scrutiny of the unchanging replay of traditionalized narratives in texts and live street performances of getai, as well as of theme songs from Singaporean films and Taiwanese soap operas, demonstrates the process through which pop music becomes vestigial.

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