Emerging star Suboi ‘pushing the limits’ as one of the few female rappers in socially conservative Vietnam.
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With more than a decade in the music industry, Suboi still has a hard time calling herself a mainstream artist
Ho bỏ ra Minh City, Vietnam – “Life is happy, so what?” sings Vietnamese artist Suboi in her new hit single N-sao.
The song has resonated with disaffected young Vietnamese và can be heard on smartphones and máy tính xách tay speakers from Ho chi Minh city to the capital, Hanoi.
“Why is it nowadays a shame to lớn be single? Why vì chưng we always have lớn pay when we get pulled over?” raps Suboi, 28, taking aim at traditional Vietnamese culture và petty corruption by traffic police.
The Ho đưa ra Minh đô thị artist’s clip has racked up more than 1.7 million views in the last three months. Not bad for a tuy nhiên in Vietnamese with lyrics that could be considered subversive in an increasingly restrictive online environment.
Born Hang Lam Trang Anh, Suboi’s name reflects her upbringing. “Su” is her nickname và “Boi” comes from being labelled a tomboys as a child.
Like all rappers, Suboi represents her city, still known colloquially as Saigon.
“N-sao is so fast. Exactly lượt thích the city. I went somewhere & two months later I went back & there were new buildings,” she said. “I didn’t write this song only for Saigonese. But also for the people who’ve been lớn Saigon, và can see how it’s changed.”
The music đoạn clip has English subtitles, but even Vietnamese have a hard time understanding as Suboi spits her verses with ferocity – a change from the usual rhythmical rhyme style she became known for.
“My life has changed dramatically. I’ve tried lớn put all my emotions into writing new songs for this new album,” she said. “And so N-sao is the first tuy vậy in a new chapter of my life.”
Suboi shot to international fame in 2016 when she rapped for then-US President Barack Obama during a town hall meeting on a visit khổng lồ Ho đưa ra Minh City.
Obama even provided the beat lớn encourage her khổng lồ perform – & followed it up with an answer on the importance of freedom of expression.
Suboi admits lớn crying when she heard Obama’s remarks.
“That’s the first time I understood what a town hall was. For us Vietnamese people we don’t get to lớn talk to the authorities or whoever is in power,” she said.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know. But we know for sure that Vietnam now recognises its own voice.”
Suboi returned from a two-year hiatus khổng lồ release N-sao. She spent the time focusing on her creative direction, và to briefly attend the Obama Foundation Summit in 2017.
“I feel lượt thích I’m the bridge between Vietnam and the world,” she added. “Through me, people can learn that Vietnam is not just whatever stereotype they’ve heard about it.”
Art & repression
Vietnam has witnessed rapid growth since the communist government opened its markets in 1986 to lớn stave off economic collapse. Since then the one-party state has been flooded with more Western ideas, culture and, of course, music.
But no political change has taken place inside Vietnam since reunification in 1975. This lack of progress has been expressed through all forms of art.
“I think Suboi is making a lot of noise internationally for Vietnamese rap,” said Vietmax, one of the country’s first hip-hop performers.
“We don’t have many female rap emcees. All the rappers talk about themselves, how they’re struggling, & how they live. She’s doing a good job. She has some songs that talk about Vietnam.”
With more than a decade in the music industry now, Suboi has a hard time calling herself a mainstream artist. Star Academy in Ho chi Minh city hosted an event this month discussing underground rap culture in Vietnam.
When Suboi entered the room the crowd erupted into applause & cheered when she was introduced as a guest speaker. She was the only female artist on the panel.
Many in attendance were young women – Suboi’s most ardent fans.
“In the crowd I saw a lot of girls. That’s a big change. You know it feels good khổng lồ see change in Vietnam,” she said. “We’re taught lớn be quiet and pretty và behaved và all that shit. For me it’s about expression. Express yourself as a girl & as an artist.”
‘Push the limits’
Censoring music và artistic expression in Vietnam isn’t as easy as it used khổng lồ be. Getting airplay may be difficult as most television và radio are still controlled by the state, but music distribution is now done independently online.
Vietnam’s government passed a new cybersecurity law that goes into effect January 1, 2019. It will require all giải pháp công nghệ companies to lớn hand over user data or remove nội dung when required by the authorities.
Facebook and Google have been given one year to lớn comply with this law.
Suboi’s influence among young Vietnamese has made many inside và outside of the country take notice.
“I think her music first came about at the time Vietnam was changing fast. Hip-hop music was starting to lớn gain traction in society và she was one of the very first women to get attention,” said Vi Tran, co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam.
“She’s used her music lớn really push the limits in Vietnam.”
Suboi is set to lớn release a new single and music clip in December. She expects her anticipated new album khổng lồ be ready by mid-2019.
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The rap star doesn’t see her songs or music videos being targeted by Vietnam’s new online policing policies set to begin next year.
“I’m not trying to lớn be a politician,” Suboi said. “I’m not interested in all that. For me, it’s about what I’ve learned so far, & what I want lớn learn because I feel that I don’t know enough. I’m still learning every day.”