Ai Weiwei Releases 'Dumbass' Single and Music Video

Sundance Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Still - H 2012
Ted Alcorn

Sundance Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Still - H 2012

Inspired by his 81-day detention by the Chinese authorities, the dissident-artist’s avant-rock number will be followed by a full-length album next month.

HONG KONG -- Ai Weiwei’s been pretty busy lately. Having just unveiled a new piece last week (a map of China made up of empty milk powder cans) and written a letter to The Times to lambaste the Chinese government for discrediting him with made-up tax evasion charges -- he was also the subject of a feature in the June issue of Playboy, too,in which he criticized Nancy Pelosi for ignoring human rights issues in China) -- the activist-artist is now prepping a move into heavy-metal territory.

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It’s music rather than prison bars we’re talking about here, obviously. Ai’s musical debut, "Dumbass," was released online yesterday -- over the squealing noise-rock of experimental musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou, the 55-year-old delivers a furious tirade comprising lines filled with the thinly-veiled rhyming slangs which Chinese bloggers use to circumvent the country’s stringent censors when they were to swear or refer to sensitive subjects.

Helpfully, Ai has provided non-Chinese-speakers with his translation of the lyrics, with lines such as “F--- forgiveness/tolerance be damned/to hell with manners/the lowlife’s invincible” or “Stand on the frontline like a dumbass/in a country that puts out like a hooker.”

Inspired by the 81-day detention he was subjected to in 2011 as part of the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissident activists, Ai also came up with a music video which matches the abrasive lyrics blow by visual blow.

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Shot by Christopher Doyle (the former collaborator of Wong Kar-wai whose work has just graced Cannes in Hong Kong director Flora Lau’s Un Certain Regard entry Bends), the video depicts Ai as a prisoner whose every move is watched by expressionless uniformed guards. Under such close surveillance, he goes increasingly haywire, as fantasy -- his, and his jailers’ -- takes over as the daily pacing around in his cell becomes a catwalk alongside lingerie-clad women. In its final act, Ai shaves off his signature beard and emerges bald, dolled-up in female attire.

Available for free downloads on Ai’s official website, "Dumbass" serves as the taster to a full-length album titled The Divine Comedy that will be released on June 22. The track has attracted a tsunami of responses on Ai’s Twitter account (he boasts of 215,900 followers), ranging from serious suggestions about similarities between the song and other classical musical styles and also more emotional remarks about how the foul language (or at least the phonetically similar words) helped vent suppressed anger among the common people.

Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian, Ai said the song and the video represents the recurring nightmares he and his friends and family still suffer from after the treatment he was subjected to by the police, some of whom said to him that "you ask for your freedom, but we will make you pay with your life".

In the report, Ai also said he’s already working on his second album, which he has said will have “a more romantic tinge”. "They are love songs,” he said. “to people who need love or need to be believed and to children, to Tibet, to this land. Many people need love.” Ai didn’t say whether dumbasses do, though.