Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Mayor Ko Wen-je just dropped a trap song with one simple message: “Do things right.”
In the world of trap music—a style of hip hop made famous by the likes of Gucci Mane and Fetty Wap—Ko Wen-je is an unlikely newcomer. And yet, here we are, in 2018, and the 59-year-old trauma surgeon-turned-mayor of Taipei, Taiwan, is dropping his first (and possibly not his last) music video, “Do Things Right.”
There he is in the opening, with his button-up shirt tucked into his waist-high khakis, a pen sticking out of his front shirt pocket, walking slowly toward the camera in the dimly lit hallway of the municipal office. “Do the right thing, do things right,” he chants as the beat drops.
There he is again, sitting in an empty conference room, slamming his fist and scratching his head as he raps over and over again: guai guai de. (“Strange! Strange!”) An actual rapper in Taiwan’s underground hip hop scene, Chunyan, soon takes over, giving the otherwise peculiar production some street cred. (Don’t laugh; Asia has long embraced rap music, and Chunyan comes from Taiwan’s biggest hip hop company KAO!INC.)
“Don’t steal chickens or pet the dog,” Chunyan raps—a slang for being lazy and engaging in petty thievery—before we get another earful more of Ko’s rhythmic chants.
The overall message is straightforward: Behave. Achieve greatness. It’s sort of like the mayor’s message in Spike Lee’s 1989 movie Do the Right Thing—but delivered with a … different attitude.
Ko’s popularity has recently been on the rise in Taiwan, with growing calls for him to run for president, thanks in part to a savvy social media presence. If this is his way of appealing to the youth of Taipei, it seems to be working. In less than a day, the video has garnered over 4,000 comments—many surprisingly positive. “Cute! This is our mayor!” one reads. It’s worth noting that Ko is known both for being a political outsider and for his curious antics. (He once dressed up as the main character of the popular anime Naruto.)
He knows how to get people’s attention, as the site Radii points out: “He dropped a video three hours ago about restructuring the city’s management team to serve the needs of the people. It’s already got 22,000 views.”
In a statement, Ko elaborates: “If you want to do something you don’t understand, it’s OK to give it a go,” he said. “The opportunity is reserved for those who are willing to try. Some may laugh, and everyone must bravely pursue their own lives.”
As he did. It wasn’t easy, though. “From understanding hip-hop culture, to learning the different elements of rap songs and the beats behind them … I realized that the music industry is not as simple as singing karaoke.”
The video conjures up lots of feelings. It’s threatening, partly inspirational, a little bit cringe-worthy, if we’re being honest. If nothing else, it’s a catchy song that’s probably already stuck in your head.
To the mayors of U.S., your move.