With a tweet, Kenny G dips his sax into an international protest

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Marco Werman: Okay, I promised you some Kenny G news earlier, and I never thought I’d say this, but Kenny G is at the center of an international uproar. And no, it’s not about whether his brand of music qualifies as jazz or not”¦ And let the debate begin on that one. Actually, not yet. Listen to this first. Kenny G was in Hong Kong yesterday and he made an appearance at one of the sites where pro-democracy protesters have been gathering. Then he tweeted about it, along with a photo of himself with the protestors. The government in Beijing was not happy. And watching all of this is Jon Kaiman, The Guardian’s China correspondent. He says first of all it’s important to understand why Kenny G matters in China.


Jon Kaiman: This is all really funny because Kenny G is a massive star in China. His music is played at cafes and restaurants and gyms all across the country. He’s a sensation, his shows sell out. The fact that he would do something to infuriate the Chinese government, nobody was expecting it to happen.


Werman: He went into the crowd of demonstrators in Hong Kong, he posed for pictures with them. Do you think he knew what he was getting into?


Kaiman: There are two schools of thought on this. There’s a bit of a timeline here. So yesterday, Kenny G showed up at the demonstration. He tweeted about it. He said “I’m in Hong Kong, at the site of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.” Right after he did that, a journalist in Beijing buzzed the Foreign Ministry about the visit during a daily press conference. The Foreign Ministry slammed Kenny G and said “We hope foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.” It was pretty strong language. But Kenny G, he must have been pretty frazzled. He deleted the tweet and he wrote on Facebook that he was basically just going for a walk around and didn’t understand the situation. Then this post by Kenny G took an absolute beating on Facebook -- last time I checked, there were 1,000 comments, people were really frustrated with him for flip flopping on his views.


Werman: China has shut down Twitter on the mainland. Does anybody know, aside from the Foreign Ministry, that Kenny G was in Hong Kong and taking these pictures?


Kaiman: That’s actually one of the funny things about this, is that there’s a good chance that very few people know this happened. There’s been effectively a blanket ban on anything even approaching sympathetic coverage of these protests in mainland media, and the discussion about the protests on social media is also tightly restricted. So people talk about Kenny G all the time. Kenny G is a sensation. But I have an inkling that anytime somebody mentions Kenny G in connection with the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, it will get shut down immediately.


Werman: How did Kenny G get so popular in China? That just kind of baffles me.


Kaiman: I think it baffles everybody. He has this one tune called “Going Home,” which somehow became this anthem of closing times in Chinese institutions -- cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, gyms. The reason why this song became so popular in China is a total mystery. Nobody seems to have any idea.


Werman: How much royalty money does Kenny G get from China every time that comes on in a shopping mall, “Going Home”?


Kaiman: I doubt he gets much. But he’s clearly raking it in in China. You can just look at his stadium shows. He’s packing stadiums in China.


Werman: How is this little controversy going to affect Kenny G’s tour in China? Will he sell even more tickets now, or will people just kind of say “We’re fed up with Kenny G”?


Kaiman: I think mainland Chinese people are generally pretty apolitical and Kenny G is generally apolitical, so if there’s any minor political transgression that the central government will let slide, I imagine this is it. That being said, he’s Hainan right now, he’s back on Chinese territory. I assume he’s probably just going about his life over there and he’ll continue to pack stadiums.


Werman: Incredible story. Jon Kaiman, The Guardian newspaper’s China correspondent, thanks for telling us about Kenny G in Hong Kong and China.


Kaiman: Absolutely, thank you.