Jay Chou-esque Song ‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ Takes China’s TikTok by Storm

Chinese singer-songwriter Li Ronghao’s latest love ballad sweeps China’s TikTok, triggering a debate about perceived similarities to Jay Chou’s music

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11:16 PM HKT, Tue March 7, 2023 2 mins read

If you’re active on China’s version of TikTok, Douyin, chances are your feed is dominated by Chinese singer-songwriter Li Ronghao’s latest track ‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ (‘乌梅子酱’), a now-viral love song that some say has strong Jay Chou vibes.

Although Li may not be a household name in the Western world, he has achieved great success in the Greater China Mandopop scene. He won the Golden Melody Award for Best New Singer in 2013 and was ranked 59th on the Forbes China Celebrity 100 List for 2020.

‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ is not technically a new song — Li first released it in November 2022 and included it on his latest 10-track album, Free Soul, in December.

However, the song didn’t go viral until recently, when several Douyin influencers and celebrities, including Korean-American singer Jessica Jung, a former member of the K-pop group Girls’ Generation, covered the original and turned it into an earworm.

A Viral Hit on TikTok

The spike of interest in ‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ on social media has resulted in videos dubbed or tagged with the song amassing well over 3 billion views on Douyin.

The song’s popularity has also led to a surge in interest in the actual dark plum sauce, with searches for the condiment on Taobao increasing by 200 times. (For those unfamiliar with dark plum, also known as smoked plum, it is dried Asian plums commonly used in East Asian cuisines and medicine. With a tart and tangy flavor, it’s usually used to make drinks and dipping sauces for roasted or fried meats, as well as a marinade ingredient in stir-fry dishes.)

Chinese music critic Ding Taisheng is also credited for the newfound virality of ‘The Dark Plum Sauce.’ Ding is known for his sharp critiques of many high-profile artists, including Vincent Fang, Jay Chou’s longtime collaborator, and Chinese rap queen Vava.

On February 20, Ding posted a video on the Chinese video-streaming site Bilibili slamming Li’s original version of the track, calling it “tacky,” “cheesy,” and only “catering to youth from the countryside.”

li ronghao, li ronghao songs, The Dark Plum Sauce

Li Ronghao. Image via Depositphotos

Ding’s critique quickly began trending on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, with a related hashtag garnering 470 million views.

Many netizens agreed with his opinion and criticized Li for being “utilitarian” and only seeking to churn out more hits. Meanwhile, some defended Li and accused Ding of using the song’s meteoric popularity to boost his brand.

A Jay Chou Copycat?

Some have also suggested that ‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ resembles the 2005 hit ‘Romantic Cellphone’ by Mandopop king Jay Chou and questioned if Li had plagiarized the song.

Professional musicians have clarified that the two songs sound similar to general audiences because they both use a classic chord and the same rhythm, although they are still different enough. Many have capitalized on the tracks’ perceived similarities by remixing the two and sharing the results online.

Regardless of the controversy, ‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ continues to dominate China’s version of TikTok and has cemented itself as a fixture of the current Mandopop scene.

Cover image a screengrab from Li Ronghao’s ‘The Dark Plum Sauce’ music video, via YouTube

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