Laolang 老狼, “Daydream白日夢 (2019), composed by Ding Wei 丁薇, lyrics by Ding Wei and and Lin Chaoyang 林朝陽, with my English translation:


我不知往哪兒走 哪裏是盡頭
也不知誰離開 誰爲我逗留


我只想往前走 不受誰左右
我相信的一切 不會是虛空

我只想往前走 不受誰左右
我相信的一切 不會是虛空
隨時間的河流 去尋找綠洲
不管人們歌頌 或者是嘲諷

Daydreaming again
People are going mad
A prison that you can’t escape no matter how you run
A bright red sky
The world in turmoil

I don’t know where to go, where the finish line is
And don’t know who has left, who has stayed behind for me
At this crossroads

The past is already covered in dust
Hidden within dreams
Who can see the surging in my heart
Yet pretend to be relaxed
Don’t act rashly

I just want to go forward, free from others’ control
Everything that I believe in won’t be pointless
Perhaps against the wind
With head raised
Never quit

I just want to go forward, free from others’ control
Everything that I believe in won’t be pointless
Follow the flow of time to find an oasis
Heedless of whether people praise or ridicule
Facing the sky
This calmly
Not a dream

My English translation does not do the lyrics justice. The original is fairly colloquial, like my translation, but there are some rarer, surprising words: the alliterative laolong 牢籠 for “prison”, tonghong 通紅 for “bright red” (more accurately “thoroughly red”), luanhonghong 亂哄哄, one of those delightful vernacular ABB words that first appeared in late imperial novels, for “chaotic”. And so on. The whole song uses only two end rhymes, ong and ou—a feature impossible to replicate in translation—and the writers have taken care to compound this effect with internally rhymed words as much as possible: xiongyong 洶湧 for “surging”, zuoyou 左右 for “control”, congrong 從容 for “calmly”.

The subject matter is unusual as well: the song was written for the (apparently quite bad) 2019 teledrama Detective Ke Chen 神探柯晨, from the point of view of the titular detective, inevitably setting it apart from the infinite stream of love ballads produced by the mandopop industry. Chinese songs do not usually talk about people going mad beneath crimson skies. All this is laid over a truly distinctive sound: a deep, continuous guitar line, the occasional rumble of drums. The music lifts and ebbs, but there is no real emotional climax, no declaration of love or anguish—just steady resolve.

Laolang and Ding Wei both rose to fame as campus folk song singers in the 1990s, when the genre took hold in China after increased cultural exchange with Taiwan. Their first major performances were at the same concert in 1994, at the Wutaishan Stadium in Nanjing; Laolang was so nervous that he threw up backstage. They were part of the first “folk song” movement in China—“folk song” not in an endemic sense, but in the American folk revival tradition, with a heavy reliance on acoustic guitar. It is a genre that remains popular in China today despite its musical impoverishment.

Laolang would continue recording primarily in a folk style; Ding Wei would venture into jazz and experimental pop, blazing a path that few, lamentably, have followed. Her first albums—Butterfly with broken wings 斷翅的蝴蝶 (1995), Begin 開始 (2003), and Dear Dingwei 親愛的丁薇 (2004)—still sound more innovative than most Chinese pop produced now, and her album Untied 鬆綁, released in 2017, is even more cohesive and inventive than her early work. Some songs, like “Snow”, sound unlike any Chinese music I’ve heard. It is a grave pity that her work never reached real popularity, neither in China nor abroad.

For many years after her early albums, Ding Wei composed music for television and movie soundtracks, working closely with symphonic orchestras. She often collaborated with Lin Chaoyang, a classical violinist who studied for six years in Moscow before returning to China in 1996 and starting to compose in 2005. They worked together on the soundtrack this song is from and invited Laolang to record these vocals. Ding Wei herself sang another song on the soundtrack, “Listening to fate聽命運說; both are good examples of her beautiful, unusual work.

September 2021