On March 28, Muse frontman Matt Bellamy Tweeted a photo of himself signing a contract in Simplified Chinese, saying “I know exactly what contract I’m signing; I think…” Picked up immediately by the band’s Chinese fans and music media, speculation ran rampant as to when the band would be playing in the mainland. Less than 2 days later, the Tweet and photo disappeared, and there has been no announcement of a Muse tour in the Far East. What happened? We have a few ideas.
Without getting into too much boring detail, the process for obtaining a performance permit from the Chinese Ministry of Culture is a bureaucratic, complicated process. Aspects of it have been highlighted by both the foreign press and music industry insiders, to varying degrees of accuracy. The process, which includes submitting set lists, song lyrics and videos to the MoC, is also well-known to Chinese music fans. After the photo was Tweeted and shared on Weibo by Muse fans in China and Hong Kong, it didn’t take long for the fans to start worrying about how certain Muse songs were less than “harmonious.” They quickly started an initiative to translate the band’s lyrics in a “louder” “redder” fashion. It should be emphasized that this was a purely fan-led initiative, without the knowledge or approval of the promoters.
Of course we don’t know what has (or hasn’t happened) with the band, their agent, and the promoters in the interim since the Tweet was posted and removed. Getting bands to China, especially ones of Muse’s size and production, is not an easy or time-efficient task. Therefore promoters like to keep details close to the vest until contracts are signed and permits submitted. To have something like the performance contract leak, even if the photo is too blurry to show details, complicates matters. And to have fans, especially the 脑残粉 (“brain-damaged fans” or superfans) insert themselves into the process only complicates matters further. We don’t want to sound patronizing, but certain processes are better left to the professionals. If Muse does end up coming to China, it will be in spite of the intervention by fans. And if they don’t, one reason – of potentially many – might be because of the leaked photo and subsequent translation initiative.
We want to see more and more worthwhile arena shows. We understand that in the age of social media and the Internet it is harder and harder to control the process and consequences of information sharing. It is the fans that make it possible to bring artists to China, and we appreciate their dedication to the cause, but in a still-sensitive performance climate, in order to achieve our collective goals, music promoters need the space and freedom to do their jobs properly. The Chinese authorities have proved time and again that in order to keep expanding the size and diversity of artists coming to China, we need to keep as low a profile as possible. It is our hope that one day we will be free to bring in bands quickly and easily and without the acres of bureaucratic nonsense that we currently endure, but that day is not today and in the meantime, we must work with what we are given. Three years ago, it was inconceivable that a band like Muse would be anywhere near coming to China. Today, we accept it as almost normal. How far we have come!