It’s gaokao season, so here’s one about the copious joys of cram school and preparatory classes: the song Cram Schools Killed the Children (补习班的门口高挂我的黑白照片 bǔxí bān de ménkǒu gāo guà wǒ de hēibái zhàopiàn), by the Taiwanese band Lao Wang (老王乐队), asks grim, resigned questions about identity and conformity.
Lao Wang has been creating a lot of buzz since late last year, on the back of a three-song debut EP called Stolen Childhood (吾十有五而志于学 wú shí yǒu wǔ ér zhì yú xué). They describe it as an “obituary” to the dashed, idealistic dreams of a lost generation. The band creates a very particular mood, somewhere between the despondency of 丧 (sàng) — or “funereal” culture — and the pointed yearning of sappy mainstream pop that is resonating deeply with those in the throes of exam prep (if comments on streaming platforms Xiami and Netease are any judge).
“How many people are still awake in the world?” they ask in the song.
“We stride into the same places, all dressed alike.”
The song ends with a repeated refrain: “忘记自己最初的模样” (wàngjì zìjǐ zuìchū de múyàng) — “I’ve forgotten what I used to be…”