Chinese fans of American band Linkin Park woke up Friday to the death of its frontman Chester Bennington, whom many credit for introducing them to a new genre of music.
For Chinese millennials like Jive Lai, co-founder of the Chinese-language website Eardrum Music, Linkin Park’s mix of rock, hip-hop, and electronica triggered something akin to a musical awakening in a country where pop songs and love ballads typically top the charts. “Linkin Park were one of the very first foreign bands that made it easier for us to speak our mind and express our somewhat suppressed rebel spirits,” she told Sixth Tone.
Worldwide, the band sold tens of millions of copies of their 2000 debut “Hybrid Theory,” but it wasn’t until 2007 that Linkin Park first came to China, performing in front of a crowd of 25,000 at Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium.
Linkin Park’s most recent visit to China was in 2015 for a concert to promote their 2014 album “The Hunting Party.” By then, they had become a household name — in part because their 2007 single, “What I’ve Done,” was featured in the Hollywood blockbuster “Transformers,” which was itself wildly popular in China.
Some fans, however, cultivated a love for the band much earlier. Ye Ye, a music composer in Shanghai who first heard Linkin Park’s songs in 2003, said their “explosive energy and tension in music” helped make rock music a familiar genre among Chinese. For many people, the band’s early hits were a way to — as Lai put it — “learn to rap, or speak English very fast to a beat.”
Many Chinese appreciate Linkin Park’s raps because they do not contain the same degree of profanity or sexual innuendo as most hip-hop lyrics. “There was a cleanness in the music and rap that was nonthreatening to Chinese ears,” Jackson Lee, a Shanghai-based producer who has worked with the likes of Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, told Sixth Tone. “The rap was about emotions.”
Bennington was found dead in his Los Angeles home Thursday night after he had apparently hanged himself. He was 41. Mike Shinoda, who co-founded the band in 1996, confirmed the news on Twitter, saying: “Shocked and heartbroken, but it’s true.”
As news of Bennington’s death broke early Friday in China, there was an outpouring of grief on microblog platform Weibo, where the story was the day’s top trending topic. While many shared his songs, some also noted how his words helped them to overcome personal issues. Since the early days of his now-influential musical career, Bennington had publicly spoken about battling his demons: being sexually abused as a teenager and later becoming addicted to drugs.
“He used a different way to tell the world about the helplessness of children who suffer sexual abuse — I hope everyone will take this problem seriously,” one of his Chinese fans posted on Weibo, along with photos of Bennington and a link to Linkin Park songs.
Music critic Lai, too, appreciated Bennington’s often emotional lyrics. “Everyone’s teenage dreams are larger-than-life,” she said. “But they don’t always turn out rosy-looking, the way they do in bubble-gum teen pop music videos. Linkin Park helped make that very clear to us.”
Additional reporting: Kenrick Davis; contributions: Nuala Gathercole Lam; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington sings during a performance in Shanghai, Aug. 15, 2009. Liu Xingzhe for Sixth Tone)