Like everything else in the country, Vietnam’s music industry was held at a standstill for the better part of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many music projects, including the release of singles, albums, music videos and concerts have been either postponed to 2022 or canceled altogether.
But as a testament to Vietnam’s unique sense of resilience, many local artists found alternative ways to keep the music alive, using digital platforms to connect with their fanbases, and continue to redefine themselves and the music they produce. For one, Vietnamese artist Vu.’s incredible collaboration with Danish pop group Lukas Graham for Happy For You was all done remotely because Vu. can’t fly to Copenhagen to record the song with the band.
And as they come of age, Gen Z artists in particular have come to the forefront of the digital entertainment sphere, creating new lyrical constructions and cutting-edge soundscapes not seen in Vietnam prior.
As we end 2021 with more hope for the return of the music industry, we also look back at all the trends and issues that defined the Vietnamese music scene this year.
Online music is on the rise in Vietnam, with people relying on streaming services to listen to their favorite songs and artists. Before the pandemic, as reported by We Are Social, the average music streaming time of Vietnamese people was 1 hour and 11 minutes per day. Recently, according to this year’s Q&Me statistics, 75% of Vietnamese people listen to music daily and consider it as the main form of entertainment. YouTube, Zing, Nhaccuatui and Facebook are the top four channels for music streaming.
Digital music charts are getting more attention, and have also impacted the music scene. Songs that are considered hits often come with Top Trending YouTube, or Top 1 on streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.
As a result, listening to music became a “battle” among listeners to increase views for their favorite idols. Tuoi Tre Cuoi Tuan, the weekly edition of Tuoi Tre Newspaper, reported that there were songs with thousands of streams but no one actually listened to them. This is considered a way of streaming manipulation in the digital music era.
The growth of music streaming services like Spotify shows that audiences are listening to music algorithmically, where listening habits and behaviors are analyzed to curate music playlist that fits the listener’s taste.
2. Online concerts
At the beginning of the year, concerts such as Concert 25 by singer Hoang Dung or The Veston Concert by singer Ha Anh Tuan were hosted in Vietnam, attracting the attention of thousands of audience. However, a series of music festivals and concerts have been canceled or postponed during the social distancing period.
Due to the pandemic, online concerts became popular in 2020 and continued to attract the attention of audiences this year. Live sessions with singers Thinh Suy and Mademoiselle have been proven effective to remain relevant. Many other artists also brought their live shows online. Rapper Den released his 10th anniversary live show, Show of Đen.
Major music scenes in the world, such as Western or K-pop, have been investing in online concerts in many aspects. However, online concerts in Vietnam have not shown a breakthrough – yet. This may be due to the perception that online concerts are only “alternatives” due to the still uncertain situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than a new and potentially-long lasting trend. The future of organizing online concerts is huge, with the help of virtual reality (VR and AR) and live streaming technology.
3. Growing Genres: Indie and Rap
Indie music has become very popular in Vietnam in recent years. The year 2021 continues to prove that indie/underground music has gradually become “mainstream.” Indie bands like Chillies, Ca Hoi Hoang, The Cassette, or Raditori released impressive albums that instantly became hits. Meanwhile, other indie artists such as Ngot, Vu., Mademoiselle, or Nhac cua Trang have released singles that also made a mark, here and abroad.
According to Spotify Vietnam’s statistics, 4 of six artists belonging to the Indie/Rap category have the most streams, including: Den, Chillies, Vu. and Hoang Dung. In addition, 3 of 5 songs with the most streams in 2021 belong to indie artists, such as: Buoc qua mua co don (Vu.), Di ve nha (Den ft. JustaTee), and Gac lai au lo (DaLab ft. Miu Le).
On the other hand, rap continues to attract both artists and the public – even former US Ambassador to Vietnam Dan Kritenbrink rapped for Lunar New Year with artist Wowy. Many catchy rap songs were born this year, accompanied by fiery rap ‘beefs’. However, unnecessary scandals such as obscene lyrics or piracy also occurred in the rapping scene, tainting an otherwise thriving genre.
4. Commercial Jingles
Many songs which became hits in 2021, such as Di Ve Nha (Den ft. JustaTee), May Be Li (TLinh), Ca ngan loi chuc (Rhymastic ft. Suboi), MLEM MLEM (Min ft. JustaTee, Yuno BigBoi), were all used in advertisements or commercials.
These songs often have the same formula: catchy melody, easy-to-understand lyrics, and the presence of big stars to attract viewers’ attention. The audio and visual quality of these songs are quite outstanding.
Sharing on Vietcetera’s Have A Sip podcast, singer JustaTee said, “Making commercial music actually takes a lot of time and creativity. I want to prove this, so I have to make good content for advertising music.”
Of course, not all advertising jingles were successful. Many rappers tried to make commercial music but have failed to connect with their target market. A listener once said that rap advertising music is hard to consume.
5. Copyright cases
Copyright isn’t a new thing. Everyone – from singers to actors and writers – knows the importance of this word. But this has become a huge deal in Vietnam’s music scene this year, after Rap Viet was accused of copyright infringement for illegally using and mutilating graphic works of many international artists.
However, the issue on copyright in Vietnamese music is not only “plagiarism”, but also of the overlapping of laws in the digital music market. There were many ironic situations, like how Tien Quan Ca — National Anthem of Vietnam — was muted on YouTube, or musician Giang Sol got a copyright strike with the song she composed and recorded herself.
In the era of booming digital music, the challenges in protecting music copyright (including compositional copyright) have become noticeable. Sharing platforms like YouTube, in fact, do not create the rule; they only follow the laws of each individual country.
In 2021, Vietnam witnessed an explosion of Gen Z singers. In the pop music segment, there were singers Thinh Suy, My Anh, Wren Evans, MINH, or Hoang Duyen; and in the rap/hip-hop segment the names like tlinh, Phao, or HIEUTHUHAI stood out.
Gen Zs are now considered as the next generation of musical innovators, with their talent and new styles in making music. Some of the Vietnamese Gen Z artists who achieved notable achievements in 2021 include:
Singer My Anh appeared on Times Square, performed at the 2021 Head In The Clouds Festival in the US (according to 88rising), as well as in Korea.
Singer Hoang Duyen received the Best New Asian Artist Award at Mnet Asian Music Award 2021.
Singer Amee’s album was on the top five most listened to on Spotify Vietnam in 2021.
What many Gen Z singers have in common is their ability to compose, produce and perform. In addition, the topics they explore often delve deep into their thoughts, reflecting their own perspectives, observations and contemplations of society.
7. Controversial ‘idol’
A list of notable V-Pop moments in 2021 wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the controversial debut of Phi Phuong Anh, who referred to herself as “the new dancing queen.” Phuong Anh released “Cam sung ai dung cam sung em” in January 2021, hoping to transition from being a model to an artist. But her first single received negative comments from Vietnamese music fans, calling her stint a disastrous start of the year for the pop music industry.
The rookie singer was then compared to Chi Phu, who vocal critics said was never conceited enough to call herself “Queen” even amidst her smashing success when she debuted four years ago.
Considering the fame and wealth one can get in the music industry, many young artists are striving to be part of it — by hook or by crook. Many think this was the case for Phuong Anh. The controversy was a trending topic on social media for weeks, as fans questioned the integrity of the music industry: Is it just about face and fame?
A veteran Vietnamese singer once shared to Dan Tri newspaper, “there is a class in the show business that are unintentionally, or intentionally, creating images of fullness, affluence and wealth, making many young people fantasize, by all costs, to be involved in showbiz.”
Despite criticisms, Phi Phuong Anh released two more songs the following months, which, again, weren’t well-received by music fans.
Adapted by Thao Van