Is the Curse of Kenny G About to be Lifted?

In my early days of blogging, back in 2005, I wrote a post titled The Curse of Kenny G, in which I went on a bit of a rant about the popularity of Kenny G in China.


Here’s what I said:

A great mystery here in the Middle Kingdom is the Chinese love affair with Kenny G, the bushy-haired soprano sax player, who anchors the “smooth jazz” genre of music. Kenny G music blaring out of stores, or wafting through hotel lobbies is as ubiquitous here as chopsticks and dumplings (OK, so I exaggerate, but only slightly). Once upon a time, I hate to admit, I liked Kenny G. music. But that was before I moved to China, where his music is impossible to escape from. For those of you who’ve never heard Kenny G (oh, how I envy you), it’s romantic, it’s soft, its’ sweet….and music that is sweet is irresistable here.

Ok, so what’s set off this little anti-Kenny G tirade this evening? This afternoon, a friend and I went off to visit the newly-restored section of Beijing’s old city wall, which runs east from Chongwenmen. It has been turned into a lovely park, and the old watch tower has been restored and now houses a museum. This particular section of the city wall was built during the Ming Dynasty, in the early 1400′s. The place just oozes history, and we went on top of the wall to soak it all up. Unfortunately, someone had decided that it’s necessary to pipe music all along the wall and through the park, and even more unfortunately, this afternoon that music was Kenny G music!! Augh! Is there no Ming Dynasty music available? Not a spot in the park was out of range of the music. I tell you, it’s a curse!! The curse of Kenny G!

I wonder how it gets broken!

Today, 9 years later, I think that curse is about to be broken. It seems that Kenny G was in Hong Kong yesterday and turned up at one of the protest sites to express his support. As you can imagine, it did not sit well with the Powers That Be in Beijing. Here’s how The Guardian reported it:

Most governments aren’t too bothered by what jazz saxophonist Kenny G does between concerts, but when he turned up at pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities were furious.

On Wednesday he tweeted a picture of himself making a victory sign in front of a poster reading: “Democracy of Hong Kong” and wrote: “In Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”

Within hours, the foreign ministry in Beijing had issued a frosty condemnation.

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

“We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form,” she added.

Dan Levin, writing in The New York Times, highlights the popularity of Kenny G in China:

In one of the more inexplicable mysteries of Chinese culture, his 1989 saxophone ballad “Going Home” has for decades oozed from speakers across Chinese public spaces at closing time, triggering rapid exits by the masses. The song has no lyrics, yet somehow, when it is played in a mall, Chinese shoppers know what to do. They go home.[…] But an opposing theory that surfaced last week on Twitter said that Beijing might send Kenny G to Hong Kong to play “Going Home,” and that the protesters, who have occupied sections of Hong Kong’s business districts for weeks, would finally disperse.

You can read a fuller exploration of the popularity of this song in Dan’s May 2014 article China Says Goodbye in the Key of G: Kenny G. Be sure to watch the video clip as well.

I’m guessing that Kenny G’s music will henceforth be a lot less ubiquitous.

In other words, it’s entirely possible the curse is about to be lifted.


{Photo by Ryan Wise, via Flickr (creative commons license)}

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Is the Curse of Kenny G About to be Lifted?

  1. Hey Jo,

    Haha, you must have been to too many shopping malls and public places in China! I really like that you always notice something that seems too normal for me to notice. I actually did not think about the shopping malls played his “Going home” to encourage shoppers to “go home”, no wonder they do not play that when they open the store in the morning.

    Thanks for sharing the government taboo which many people do not know. Regardless of his political intention, that will probably make his music disappeared from the shopping malls and the historic sites as well.

    About his music, I did like it and was pretty numb hearing it in the shopping malls. It was probably the first popular musical works (no lyrics) imported to China which is why people loved it because the general public did not have access to this type.

    Always look forward to more of this!

    • Thanks, Steven. It seems that he has offered his profound and sincere apology (self-criticism?). It will be interesting to see if he begins to lose popularity.