“And I’ll meet you in the Heartttlllaaannnd!” So sang a love-struck woman over a twee combination of banjos and guitars, and state-of-the-art but bland production values. Only, this was not occurring on the wide-open American plains. It was midday at a Hong Kong branch of supermarket chain Market Place by Jasons. It made me want to physically attack the watermelons.
Market Place is not alone. It seems that no matter what a shop sells, or where that shop is located, there will always be some form of music playing – and loudly.
A ParknShop in Tsuen Wan can be relied upon to blast psychedelic Santana-esque jams along its aisles of canned goods; Miles Davis-like squeals envelop the endless escalators in Tsim Sha Tsui’s iSquare mall; and Japanese lifestyle outlet Muji serves up never-ending electronica doodling. Has anyone been able to decipher the stream-of-consciousness patter that regularly assaults us in Wellcome?
The easy availability of streaming services enables any genre of music to be broadcast practically anywhere. When an employee flips a switch at the start of a shift, he or she knows not what will emanate through the speakers because playlists usually follow directives from head office – to create a “brand identity”. And while managers may think they are providing a genuine benefit to their patrons, they are tone deaf to the fact that musical taste is personal. While one customer may find transcendent beauty in the work of Metallica, or indeed Justin Bieber, it’s simply torture to many others.
Music, in fact, was used as a weapon of torture during the Spanish civil war, as well as by Nazis in the second world war and by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay (where the theme song to children’s television show Barney & Friends proved especially effective, apparently). When played over and over and over again, and at ear-splitting volumes, music can be extremely stressful.
Award-winning musician Ryuichi Sakamoto recently told The New York Times of how, being severely unnerved by the tunes played at his favourite Japanese restaurant in New York, he curated a playlist for the eatery. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, we are not recognised as musical geniuses, and so we don’t have that option.
So, shop managers and owners, consider this an important and a heartfelt plea: can we please have more music-free stores across the city? If not, don’t be surprised when your watermelons are made to suffer.