Since they wear sexy clothes to display more skin during performances and lead lives of ‘night working and day sleeping,’ female disc jockeys, or DJs, in Vietnam have to overcome social stigma which often leads to them being misunderstood as call girls.
Adding to the prejudice is their regular working environment at bars, beer clubs and sometimes coffee shops, which are considered ‘places of pleasure.’
In fact, this is a serious job that requires devotion, passion for music and performance skills.
A qualified DJ can earn an average salary of VND20 million (US$920) a month or more and travel abroad for contests and performances.
At midnight one day, the atmosphere inside J Bar on Le Duan Street in Hanoi was still excited since it is almost the peak time for most bars in Vietnam.
DJ Hai Yen. Photo: Tuoi Tre
The hands of DJ Thuy Tien moved fast on the keyboards and control panels of electronic music devices.
Her body moved to the rhythms of foreign electro songs. She was no different from a star artist who could command the attention of everyone there.
She could make the crowd become enthusiastic and cheerful with loud whistles and dances.
Tien worked continuously through 90 minutes of dancing with the musical rhythm and gesturing at the crowd to excite them.
“Thanks to their ability to attract crowds with musical rhythms and attractive bodies in sexy clothes, female DJs are among the favorites at bars,” said a male guest at J Bar.
In a brief chat with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper after her show at 1:00 am, when the street outside was deserted, Thuy Tien said she has DJed for seven years, performing at numerous bars.
“Today, I feel relaxed so I could burn myself like that,” Tien said, with sweat covering her bright face. “This job depends greatly on the state of mind.”
Tien lost her parents when she was 14 years old and had to learn music herself before being allowed to perform in a bar at a low salary.
Each DJ often selects their own style of performance in a certain rhythm of music.
DJ Max Cleo. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Mai Anh, 23, who is the key DJ of the ‘upper class’ Q Bar on Ly Thuong Kiet Street in Hanoi, mainly performs EDM – or electronic dance music – which has recently been ‘imported’ into Vietnam.
Anh said she was able to buy a house and run a cosmetic shop in the Vietnamese capital thanks to the income from her performances as a DJ.
DJ Nguyen Thuy Linh, or Link Eva, 29, is often invited to join foreign performance trips.
Before, Linh had to agree to perform for free at some bars to build her name.
“Then, I made no money but was close to tears of happiness because I was given shows to perform,” Linh recounted her initial days of doing the job.
These young women and most other female DJs admit that they are often misunderstood as call girls by both family and neighbors because of their late working hours and sexy clothes.
Now, it takes a DJ two months and no more than VND15 million ($690) to learn music and performing skills to be able to work as a DJ.
So, it is lucky for newly-trained DJs to be allowed to perform at a bar.
The enthusiastic atmosphere in a bar thanks to the performance of a DJ (R). Photo: Tuoi Tre
A DJ admitted that, “It can be exciting when sitting in front of the keyboards to perform, but leaving it makes DJs feel dull and tired when it is late at night.”
In Ho Chi Minh City, DJs can perform not only at night at bars but also during the day at beer clubs, coffee shops and tea shops.
DJ Huong Tra confessed that she sometimes smiles and gestures at the crowd, but this is just crazy behavior because she is performing.
With some crowds, one may not be in the mood and just do the job for money, Tra added.
She recalled she was once given a cup of water with a VND500,000 bank note around it while performing. She thought it was a tip from guests and drank the cup.
Minutes later, she became crazy and performed and danced so wildly that she took off her shirt.
She said she later realized the water had been spiked with some sort of stimulant.