Recently, OC Weekly published an extensive story article by Spencer Kornhaber on Paris By Night, a Vietnamese music variety show. Being Vietnamese, Paris By Night is quite the staple at my house and I pretty much grew up watching it. There’s so much I learned about Vietnamese culture from watching it. And the music! I’m almost certain that my love for music now, stemmed from watching PBN when I was little. Bao Han & Don Ho are, to this day, my two favourite Vietnamese singers. I guess when you’re younger, you can’t really appreciate the slow ballads and the older singers, so I veered towards the more pop stuff that Bao Han & Don Ho usually performed (and also probably the root of my love of pop music).
Somewhere in my adolescence, I didn’t really watch PBN as much as I did. I mean I watched it, but it was really only in passing, I don’t really remember. I do remember however that about 6-7 years ago, I started to fall in love with it again. I think at that point in my life (junior/senior years of high school), music REALLY became a big part of me. I started getting introduced to other artists who weren’t mainstream, Dance Crew was important to me, and I suppose in search of something different, I went back to watching Paris By Night and actually watching it, not just passively. The real turning point was when Paris By Night 79 – Dreams came out. I remember watching it when it came out and I was in awe of everything they did because they really did something different with the whole production. Everything seemed more grand, the dancers were great, the performances were great, and the music from start to finish was fantastic.
So from that point on, I watched PBN almost religiously – going on the forums to find out news about the next show, admiring all the dancers (like seriously, I follow these dancers’ careers beyond PBN), anxiously awaiting the release of the next DVD. My admiration for PBN is at an all-time high I’d say. I think it says something when PBN 98 was released this past winter, and despite the fact that I had a huge paper to write, when that DVD showed up in my mailbox, I popped it in to watch right away. Or more recently, PBN 99 got released in the middle of finals, and I worked it out perfectly that when I got home from my morning exam, I would allot 5 hours to watch PBN as a break before studying for my next final. Consider me super upset when my DVD arrived late, and ruining my perfect plan.
Anyways, back to the article that sparked my sudden need to write about how much PBN means to me. This story was released in preparation for the 100th show this coming weekend and I think it is absolutely amazing that an American publication has written a piece on a very important part of Vietnamese culture. Being the dance lover that I am, it’s always a little tough for me to explain to my friends how I know of the likes of Katee Shean, Rynan Paguio, Bryan Tanaka, Taeko Caroll, Paula van Oppen, Alexie Agdeppa, Dominic Chaiduang, Tracy Shibata, etc. and why I get so excited when I see them on SYTYCD, ABDC, performing and/or touring with different artists. It’s because they have or are dancing for PBN and that just makes them awesome.
Furthermore, the epicness of PBN 100 is surrounded by the fear that this could quite possibly be the last show. As with the regular entertainment industry, Paris By Night and the company that produces it, Thuy Nga, are faced with increasing issues of piracy. The difference is that it’s an even more serious issue for the Vietnamese music industry than it is for the N. American industries. Each subsequent show is funded by the live ticket and DVD sales of the previous show. But with increasing costs to make PBN how it is (in all its grandeur, quality, and prestige) and decreasing DVD sales, it’s no wonder that there is doubt as to whether the shows can continue. Sure, PBN could cutback a little on everything since they are miles ahead of Asia Entertainment and Van Son (as MC Ky Duyen said in the story), but you have to respect executive producer Marie To for essentially saying that PBN is the best for a reason and you have to put out all the stops – if it doesn’t do that, then it’s not PBN.
I think the one thing that struck me in the article is what a Vietnamese UC Irvine student had to say about PBN and how her and her friends really only come in contact with it when visting family or “re-creating it for VSA culture nights”. For me personally, I mentioned earlier that despite schoolwork, I made time to watch PBN. Beyond just watching PBN, I have the music from each show, I put it on my iPod, I play it in my car, and I get that I’m in the minority when it comes to that. I can’t help but feel a tad bit of disappointment when I learn that my peers (or whoever I know who is Vietnamese and part of my generation) don’t watch PBN or even listen to Vietnamese music. They’re more likely to know and listen to Korean pop music than Vietnamese music, which I find to be the slightest bit odd. I just don’t get it. Some would make the argument that a lot of Vietnamese kids these days don’t know even know how to speak the language, let alone understand it, but wouldn’t that make you want them to learn by watching PBN? Or even listen to the music? Back to K-pop, unless there’s an English version of the song, how would they know what those artists are singing about anyways? Just one of those things that bother me I guess.
So will PBN go on after this 100th show? As the article noted, there are obviously a lot skeptics and people who think that PBN makes a lot of money and that all this is a marketing ploy. The optimist in me wants to believe that PBN will continue on and that it won’t shut down. But the reality is, there’s just as good a possibility that it might be the end. I can’t even imagine how I’ll feel (or any devoted PBN fan for that matter) if and when that news is ever made official. Considering I cried when I read Bao Han’s letter to her fans saying that she was retiring from music and almost cried again just watching her talk about the matter in PBN Divas, I think if that day ever comes where PBN announces it’s over, I’m probably gonna be a wreck. Here’s to hoping that day isn’t in the near future.