In mid-April 2018, Jessie J was announced as the winner of a Chinese singing competition with just under half of the vote, and well ahead of the second placing competitor. A 30-year-old British singer spent three and a half months in China, took part in the competition for professionals, and won.
What’s the significance of Jessie J competing in a Chinese competition?
Jessie J is an established artist in the UK and in America with songs including Bang Bang and Price Tag, and as a judge from The Voice. What her participation suggests is that there was some sort of value in competing on an equitable level in a Chinese singing competition where value goes beyond cultural integration, a new experience, prize cash value, and singing practice.
It’s a mindful approach to global engagement as it works to reduce systemic advantages. What Jessie J did was make an effort to compete on an equitable level in an international competitive field which few British do. When Brits engage and compete around the world, they have a systemic advantage.
Remember the 2012 London Olympic Games?
I got asked to leave the living room as the family watched the opening ceremony because I kept making comments about the historical timeline that was presented. No child labour, no colonialism, no accountability for history that undermines – even today – the performance of states all around the world. Even in sports, countries experience variances in performance because of having human, natural, organisational, communal, technological, and financial resources taken or stymied.
What Jessie J did was dismantle some of these systemic privileges by competing in a Chinese competition, in China, judged by Chinese citizens.
Her participation in this singing competition provides leadership lessons in pop culture, soft power, and global integration. What Jessie J did may arguably be to integrate Western standards of victory, beauty, and achievement within Chinese performance. This is a fair argument. She may have taken the position of a Chinese competitor. Taking the narrow perspective that she is an excellent vocalist and she won a singing competition undermines an inter-sectional analysis. She can’t speak the language and she did sing in English with subtitles. Agreed.
If her performance is held against previous British artists hosted in China over 30 years - Wham!, Elton John, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Robbie Williams, and Ellie Goulding – nothing comparable has been achieved. These artists hosted their own gigs and/or pissed off authorities. There was no intention to engage beyond economics; it was to sell a show (and tickets) and perform for a Chinese audience without integration or relationship building, it’s a performance and then it is done.
Looking more widely at global integration through music, one example would be American artists in Latino markets. Consider how Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato engaged the Latin market; they added Spanish to the records of existing, successful Latino artists. In an interview, Demi couldn’t recount her Spanish track. She didn’t learn Spanish, just ‘went into the studio and they taught me how to sing it’. Aesthetic cultural engagement for economic gain?
What Jessie J by competing in China is the sincerest effort I have seen from a Brit to compete on an equitable level with international states. A genuine example of global integration, with a focus on skills, solidarity, and sincerity are what – I believe – led Jessie J to compete.
It’s not enough, but it is a start.
There are lessons to be learned from this kind of approach that can set leaders apart in the future.