‘I used to be a pop star,” says Mai Khoi. She says it more than once. What does she mean? In the international press, she is sometimes called “the Lady Gaga of Vietnam.” (Lady Gaga, an American, is one of the biggest pop stars we have, for sure.) She is also compared to Pussy Riot, the dissident punk-rock group in Russia.
So, what does Mai Khoi mean when she says, somewhat wistfully, “I used to be a pop star”? She explains, “In order to be a pop star in Vietnam, you have to appear on television and be featured in the press. Since 2016, I have been isolated from the media and the public. I cannot appear on TV. I cannot sing in public. I cannot be interviewed for magazines.”
She is, in effect, banned in her home country. But she is still a household name there, owing to the fame she built. And she can be interviewed by National Review, which does not appear, presumably, in Vietnam.
“I am an independent artist,” says Mai Khoi. In America and elsewhere in the West, that can be kind of a boast. It may mean that you’re not “mainstream” — or that you consider yourself “edgy” or unclassifiable. It may mean, simply, that you’re not successful. In a country such as Vietnam, the term “independent artist” has grave significance. “I am independent from the government and independent from a party,” says Mai Khoi. “I am my own person. I am independent from all organizations and companies. I’m just an artist, working for herself.”
She is also a symbol of democratic opposition to the Communist dictatorship in her country. Over the last 15 or 20 years, this dictatorship has opened up, to a degree — especially in the economic realm. But in the last couple of years, it has cracked down. Critics of the status quo have been arrested, including members of the Brotherhood of Democracy. One of the better-known political prisoners is Truong Minh Duc, a journalist, who is especially interested in workers’ rights. (There are no independent labor unions in Vietnam.)Read the whole thing. Also this WaPo article. This Vietnamese singer tried to battle state censorship. Now she only performs there in secret.
Mai Khoi is not in prison. She has had the experience of being detained, however. And she and her husband have been evicted from their home — twice. She has been harassed in other ways as well . . .
And here, I thought music, like sex, was better under socialism.
The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Eliza Dushku up at The Other McCain.