Call it the Chinese Student Invasion

Mayday at MSG

The debut of the five-man alternative rock band Mayday, aka the Chinese Beatles, at Madison Square Garden was well received with a near-capacity crowd. Concert promoters said it could be the start of the "Chinese Invasion" of pop culture in the U.S., like the British Invasion those other Beatles triggered. For now, let's call it the Chinese Student Invasion.

Mayday, which is technically from Taiwan but, like many popular groups from East Asia who sing in Mandarin and are popular in China, are often labeled a Chinese act — in this case, the Chinese Beatles.

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Yee Leung, the president of local concert co-promoter IEM Show Place, said Mayday's MSG debut exceeded their expectations and fit well coming after several years of performing at smaller U.S. venues, such as casinos.

"I think they are very suitable for showing Americans what Chinese music is like," Leung said. "I think there is still a bit of a gap before Chinese music becomes more mainstream in America, but this first step [with Mayday] is important."

Indeed, most of the 14,000 people who attended the concert, which kicked off the band's U.S. tour, were Chinese studying or working here.

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The tour, which is in collaboration with Live Nation and B'in Music, will include stops in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. Depending on the outcome of the concerts, Leung said IEM will bring more Chinese acts to the U.S.

On March 22, 2014, the Taiwanese alternative rock group Mayday became the first Chinese-speaking band to perform at Madison Square Garden. From left to right: Masa (bassist), Monster (bandleader and guitarist), Guan You (drummer), Ashin (vocalist and song composer) and Stone (guitarist).
Source: B'in Music International Limited

The band got the crowd jumping and singing at the top of their lungs, but for non-Mandarin speakers, language was still an issue.

Meredith Oyen has unofficially translated many of Mayday's songs on her website, OneDayinMay.net. After attending the MSG concert, she said her boyfriend had trouble following the English lyric subtitles and keeping up with the band's primarily Mandarin-language comments.

"[T]here was a bit of a disconnect between the promoter's ambitions — to start the Chinese Invasion — and the band's assumptions about their audience. I like the promoter's thinking a bit better, but Ashin and the boys don't seem to have gotten there yet," Oyen said.

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For others, not understanding the lyrics didn't affect them that much. Jonah Green, 38, a doctor from New York City, danced enthusiastically to songs during Mayday's MSG performance.

"Fifty percent of this language is more than 100 percent of Jay Z and Beyoncé, because this is real from the heart, so I really love it so much," he said.

Even if reaching the U.S. audience will take time, Mayday has high ambitions, especially after the band saw posters of their idols John Lennon and U2 hanging in the halls backstage.

"What day will Mayday have a poster there? You decide. Even if we don't get to the Beatles, one night's high is possible," band leader Monster told fans in Mandarin during the concert.

Guitarist Stone added: "I think if we come often and sing and sing again in Madison Square, someday this arena will have our poster on the wall."

Silvana Ordoñez contributed to this article and produced the video.