School Folk is a genre of Chinese music which sits somewhere at the crossroads of Simon and Garfunkel-esque guitar picking and heart-felt reminiscences about the good old school days.
Chinese music is mostly sappy pop ballads. The 80s looms large; Michael Bolton is still taken seriously. Maybe it can be chalked up to Karaoke, the primary musical outlet here, and the need for singable songs. Either way, it’s generally a very uniform environment.
Enter School Folk. The genre first got popular in the 80s, so it isn’t actually that much different from the standard fare. The singing style certainly deserves to be lumped in with most Chinese ballads. However, it does have a folksy tinge–more solo guitar. Think Pete Seegar gone Muzak.
What really sets School Folk apart is the lyrics. It’s all about the bonds between school mates grown out of common experience in the Chinese school system. The most indicative song of the genre is called “desk-mates with you,” which refers to the unique system of desk sharing in Chinese schools. Students often have the same desk-mate for years and the assignment is almost always one boy with one girl. Another similar song is called “My Bunk-mate Brother,” though with less romantic undertones.
The songs are mostly an exercise in nostalgia, reflecting on the promise and naivety of youth through the trappings of school ritual. The closing line to the song “Our Yearbook” runs, “farewell to this delightful classroom dance.”
Sappy? Yes. But what amazes me most is that School Folk is a big enough phenomenon to become a commonly recognized genre with a standardized name. School Folk is listed next to Pop, Rock, and R&B as a style of music to browse on Baidu, China’s Google. You can check out the most popular songs at the moment. I recommend, “Back to the Past” by Jay Chou, an extremely popular singer from Taiwan, for a modern take on the genre.