The "Chinese Beatles" are about to land on U.S. shores.
(Cue the screaming girls.)
The five-man alternative rock band known as Mayday, founded by a group of former high school friends in Taiwan in 1997, is set to kick off a U.S. tour with a performance at Madison Square Garden on March 22.
Like the "British Invasion," when the Beatles opened the U.S. door to U.K. music acts such as the Rolling Stones and the Who, there's been some speculation that this tour could be the beginning of the "Chinese Invasion," paving the way for the import of more Chinese pop culture.
If you're wondering why a band from Taiwan is called the "Chinese Beatles," that's because many popular groups in East Asia are known as Chinese because of their ethnicity, use of Mandarin and popularity in China. But most of these stars hail from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia rather than the mainland itself."Mayday is starting to challenge the assumption that English-speaking pop stars are global stars, and Chinese-speaking acts are only regional ones," said Meredith Oyen, assistant professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and affiliate faculty in the Asian studies department. She's translated many of Mayday's songs on her website OneDayinMay.net.
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The only other Asian acts at MSG have been a Cantonese singer in 1995 and a Korean pop group in 2011—but neither have the cultural eminence that the Mandarin-speaking Mayday has. Their tour is the first venture of a new collaboration between U.S music promoter Live Nation and Taiwanese music label B'In Music.
Why they have the girls screaming
The members of Mayday are all around 40 years old but they have the looks and appeal of a boy band. They're dynamic. Although they work hard to polish their music in the recording studio, Mayday rose to fame by playing their songs in bars and performing concert sets based largely on the vibe that they appear to feel from themselves and the audience—and they don't plan on rehearsals during this tour. That impromptu energy is what fans imbibe.
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And, unlike a lot of other popular Asian music, they're not just singing about love—they sing about dreaming big:
"I, if I have a dream, the dream might be crazy,
but only if it's crazy can I become a hero
and one day have a legend of my own."
—from "Salted Fish" (Translation by Merry)
They even sang about becoming the Beatles in their 2004 song "John Lennon":
"One day I want the world to call me a Beatle;
in the end, even if I'm not successful,
I want to have had a beautiful dream."
(Translation by Merry)
Mayday keeps fans coming to their concerts by making them part of the dream with interactive performances. Standing in rows of seats, each member of the audience holds up a colored placard, forming a large mosaic with the concert city's name. Flipping the cards creates a rainbow. In 2012, the band was also the first Chinese band to hold a YouTube livestream concert, which had more than 50,000 tuning in.
Here's a clip of a Mayday concert from a fan site on YouTube:
"I think when you look at Mayday, they're the strongest Chinese act there is at the moment. They are certainly out there, their market is still growing, that certainly attracted us to their music," said Alan Ridgeway, president of international and emerging markets at Live Nation.
This year's U.S. tour comes after stops in Canada and Europe and is not the band's first time in the region, but the venues are decidedly larger.
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With a big 'thumbs up" that he holds close to the camera, lead singer and composer Ashin said the band will hit the streets of New York and sing at the top of their lungs. "We'll make Manhattan go crazy," he said. "That isn't a problem at all!"
'There's a train coming'
And, promoters hope they're not the last band to crack the western market.
"[I]f this time it's Mayday, then next time Jay Chou and Jolin Tsai can step out on to the world stage. I think there's a train coming and Mayday is the first car," said Ashin, as his bandmates made tooting noises.
Ridgeway says Live Nation has some pretty strong relationships with existing Chinese promoters.
"[T]he opportunity for us has been, when in Korea, Japan and Taiwan, to see what we can deliver them overseas," Ridgeway said. "So I would hope that you would start to see us doing some things with some of the mainland artists and the Hong Kong—Cantonese—artists over the coming year."
"We're looking at some of the additional acts on the B'In roster to see which ones we could potentially take overseas," he said. "One act to look for is one of their bands MP—Magic Power. We may be able to bring them to the U.S. and Europe later this year."
Curiously, the arrival of the "Chinese Beatles" in the U.S. comes 50 years after the other Beatles made their debut in America on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
When they learned of the coincidence, Mayday exclaimed—with the same candor as those other Beatles—"Wow, half a century!"
"We hope that during the concert we can use our music to encourage our hardworking Chinese friends and international students here," guitarist and band leader Monster said. "And we hope that our fans can bring more Westerners to understand our music."
—By Evelyn Cheng, Special to CNBC.com. Follow her on Twitter @chengevelyn.