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Jacky Cheung,
one of the Four Kings of Hong Kong

The Chinese music scene has traditionally been dominated by "Cantopop" singers, who sing in the Cantonese dialect of southern China and Hong Kong. "Mandopop" is pop music sung in Mandarin, the dominant Chinese dialect and one associated with northern China. Mandopop has gained in popularity. Mandarin is not only the most widely spoken language in China, there are also many people who speak it in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Among the artists regarded as superstars in the early 2010s were were Sun Nan, Na Ying and Han Hong.. Two Chinese girls — Qian Lin from Zhejiang Province and Lui Chun from Hunan Province — were the first non-Japanese to join the all-girl pop group Morning Musume. Wang Lihon is a singer who was born in the United States and is popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Popular artists in the mid 2000s included S.H.E. a female trio, and Zhung Dong Liung, a singer from Malaysia. F4 was a popular boys group from Taiwan featured in a number of TV shows.

The pop singer Li Yuchun won of the American-Idol-like “Super Girl” in 2005 with a “hip-hop-flavored, gender-bending” dance-and-song routine. In China, women dressing up like men become more common and more accepted by society after Li Yuchun, dubbed the mother of the unisex look in China, won “Super Girl” in 2005, More boyish girls popped up on Chinese television after that but none of them became superstars like Li. Zhang Liangying is another competitor for the Super Girl competition who became a pop star. [Source: Zheping Huang, Quartz, March 30, 2017]

Deng Lijun.was a singer who was very popular in the 1980s and 90s and shaped views of women should look like at time. Ai Jing is a mainland singer from Shenyang in northern China. She has worked with the famous American producer Phil Ramone. Her first album "My 1997" sold more than a million copies. Wang Lee Hom was a popular handsome singer based in Shanghai. He made much of money from sponsorship deals. One nationally distributed bottle water company put his face on their products. He also had deals for marketing sunglasses, sports shoes, shampoo and clothing.

Zang Tianshuo was named the most popular singer-songwriter in China at the 9th Chinese Music Award. In November 2008, he was arrested in connection with mob-related violence after the bar he owns near Beijing was investigated over several gang fights.One of the biggest Internet hits in 2007 was a song about investing in the stock market written by amateur songwriter Gong Kaijie. See Stock Market, Economics.

Websites and Sources: Inter Asia Pop; Sinomania, with old postings but still online ; Wikipedia article on C-Pop Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Cantopop Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Mandopop Wikipedia ; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean CDs and DVDs at Yes Asia and Zoom Movie

Cantopop Stars

Popular Cantopop singers in the 2000s included Sylvia Chang and Sandy Lam. Popular Hong Kong pop stars included the teenage heart throb Easan Chin; the cute doe-eyed female singer Joey Ying; and the guitar-smashing rocker Nicholas Tse, who was found guilty of letting his driver take the rap when he crashed his Ferrari. Tse was romantically linked with Faye Wong for a while and did a tsunami relief concert with Yumiko Chang in Malaysia in 2005. Anita Mui, who became a star when she won a singing contest in 1982, died at the age of 40 in 2003. Jackie Chan was among those who kept vigil after her death.

Denise Ho (Denise Ho Wan-sze) is regarded as the Queen of Cantopop. She was born in Hong Kong in 1977 but grew up in Quebec, after her family emigrated there when she was 11. Later she returned to Hong Kong and over two decades built a loyal following there, recording more than two dozen albums and making a name for herself as a television and film actress. The petite pop icon is known best for her theatrical stage shows and tear-jerking hit such as “Angel Blues” and “We Stand as One”. In 2007 she provided the Cantonese voice-over for Bart Simpson in The Simpsons Movie. She was also very supportive and visible in the Hong Kong protests against the Chinese Communist Party imposing mainland rule in the former British colony. For that she was labelled ‘Hong Kong poison’ by Beijing. [Source: Tom Phillips, South China Morning Post, September 18, 2016]

Gillian Chung Yan-tung (born 1981) is a popular Cantopop star and actress who has had her share of ups and downs. Chung made her debut in 2001 with Charlene Choi Tsoek-jin as part of Cant-pop duo Twins. The pair had great success, releasing a dozen albums and performing in concerts in North America, Australia, China and Malaysia. The duo split temporarily in 2008 following a sex photo scandal involving Chung, but returned to the stage after a two-year break. Their most recent tour, Twins LOL Live Around the World, finished in 2018. Chung and Choi co-starred in dozens of Hong Kong films, including “The Twins Effect” (2003), “The Death Curse” (2003) and “Twins Mission (2007)”. In 2020, after saying she felt dizzy after going to the bathroom, Chung fell and hit her head against a marble counter at 2:00am in her hotel room, opening a gash that required 10 stitches to close and forcing the final day of shooting of a film in Xiamen in southern China. [Source: Phoebe Zhang, South China Morning Post, September 7, 2020]

Fei Xiang


China's best selling pop singer of all time as of the mid 2000s was Fei Xiang, a handsome half-American, half-Chinese crooner born in Taiwan to an American soldier stationed on Taiwan and a Chinese woman who left the mainland during the Communist Revolution. Fei became popular on the mainland after the release of his 1982 debut album Lingering, which sold millions of records. He is particularly adored by mainland teenage girls.

Fei is over six feet tall and has blue eyes, black hair and features, he says, that look American to people in China and Chinese to his American relatives in Pittsburgh. He grew up in Taiwan speaking Mandarin to his mother and English to his father. He attended Stanford University before going to Taiwan to become a singer.

After the Tiananmen Square Fei left China for New York, where he adopted the stage name Kris Phillips. Although he is one of the largest known entertainment figures in China, he was all but ignored in America. The extent of his singeing career there were appearances in the chorus of four Broadway productions, including “Miss Saigon”. Upon returning to China, Fei released an album of Broadway tunes sung in Mandarin.

Jacky Cheung and the Four Pop Kings of Hong King

The "Four Pop Kings" of Hong Kong are Jacky Cheung, Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau and Leon Lai. They were at their peak in the 1990s and all have both singing and acting careers. Andy Lau is a singer and actor who was has sold over 20 million records as of 2000 (he sold 4.4 million records in 1999 alone) and has appear in as many a 12 movies in a single year. There was some talk that he was going to collaborate with Andrew Lloyd Webber. Leon Lai appeared in the critically-acclaimed film "Comrades, Almost a Love Story".

Jacky Cheung was the best selling Chinese singer in the world and the most popular singer in Asia in the 1990s. Know for his sentimental ballads, he recorded more than 40 albums between 1984 and 1997 and has sold more 25 million copies worldwide. The son of a tailor, Cheung grew up in a 10-by-10-foot room in Hong Kong with his two sibling, while, he said, "the rest of the apartment was occupied by at least 15 of our relatives." Cheung worked as a computer clerk for a while. His big break came in 1984 when he beat out 10,000 other contestants in televised Chinese talent competition and won a recording contract with PolyGram records. Cheung’s single, “Kiss Me Goodbye”, alone has had global sales of four million copies. He has also starred in more than 50 films, and all 42 performances of his musical “Snow Wolf Lake” sold out in 1997. Despite his singing talent, Cheung can't read music. "I sing with my senses, a very direct first impression about the music."

Cheung doesn't have classic demeanor of a Chinese pop idol. He is short (166 centimeters), has a big nose, is not considered handsome and doesn’t particularly like the limelight. Cheung told Time, "As a shy person, facing audience was a huge a challenge." He entered the talent contest that made him famous, he said, to overcome his stage fright. He also had a fear of dogs. To overcome that he locked himself in a room with a Great Dane for a few hours. In 1988-89 Cheung had a highly publicized run in with alcohol. After recovering he said he had no choice: "Didn't have any skills. It would not have been easy to start another career."

Leslie Cheung

right Leslie Cheung is a singer-actor known of his big ego. He stared in the Cannes-award-winning film “Farewell My Concubine” and his music has a large international following, particularly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. Although he was popular with young women he was openly gay and fond of wearing wigs and high heels. His longtime lover was a banker named Daffy Tong.

Cheung was born in Hong Kong in 1956. He became popular as a singer with a bad boy image in the 1980s. His most acclaimed film roles were playing gay men. Cheung played a homosexual opera singer who commits suicide in Farewell My Concubine. In Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together”, he played a gay man who moved to Argentina with his lover. He appeared in several Wong Kar-wai films and John Woo films. In his last film, Inner Senses, he plays man possessed by dead girlfriend who tries to convince him to leap to his death.

Cheung killed himself in April 2003 after leaping from the balcony outside the gym on the 24th floor of the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong. He was 46. Police found a suicide note on his body saying he had been troubled by “emotional problems” and “This year has been tough. I can’t take it any more.” Before he jumped, he sat on a stool on the balcony and ordered a glass of lemon water, cigarettes and an apple and asked for a paper and pen.


FA and Meteor Garden

F4, a Taiwanese pretty boy group, was a big phenomena throughout Asia in the early 2000s. They had some hit songs and were stars of a popular soap opera, “Meteor Garden”. Their first album “Meteor Rain” sold around 500,000 legal copies and an estimated 5 million pirated ones.

F4, which stands for Flowers Four was created by Angie Chai, a chain-smoking television producer who hand picked the four boys in F4 herself and hired them for “Meteor Garden”, a drama about four rich kids inspired by a Japanese anime. One boy, Vanness Wu came from Los Angeles. Another, Jerry Yen, was recruited through a modeling agency. Ken Zhu was spotted waiting tables at a restaurant and the forth, Vic Zhou, had accompanied a friend to an audition.

Meteor Garden was shown at hundreds of local television stations in China, each of whom paid at least $250,000 for broadcast rights,Angie Chai and other people associated with the show and F4 became very rich. When they arrived in China in 2002 for a series of promotions, they were mobbed by hundreds of screaming teenage girls and 20-something young women at the Shanghai Airport. Over 10,000 people showed up when they did a shopping center appearance, Five thousand police also showed up too. Their concert ended up being canceled at the last moment due to security concerns. .

Meteor Garden was yanked off the air and F4 was banned in China when Chinese lawmakers began complaining that teenagers were using slang from the show and sassing back at their teachers and falling in love like the characters on Meteor Garden. Young people continued watching the show after it was banned on pirated videos and DVDs.

There was a big outcry among viewers and in the press after Meteor Garden was banned. One reporter told the Washington Post, “We made fun of the ban. We thought it was dumb, anyway.” After the outcry the ban on the show remained in place but no the ban on the group. Some local stations continued showing the show, arguing they would go bankrupt if they didn’t. The Chinese computer company Legend paid million to have F4 as the”Digital Ambassadors.”

Faye Wong

Faye Wong is a charming, engaging and independently-minded singer. One music magazine proclaimed she was the most popular singer in the Chinese-speaking world. Richard Corliss of Time wrote, "Wong remains the spooky girl of Chinese music.” Her music “is a wondrous bled of Canto-pop and lollipop. Wong's approach alternates between a blissed-out whisper and bright pipings in a register so high only Pekingese pups can hear it."

Faye Wong has been called the “Queen of Mandopop.” Her hits have included “Easily Hurt Woman” , “The Red Bean”, and “I'm Willing and To Love”. Among her works that have been praised critics is the Buddhist-inspired, trip hop piece on her 2000 album “Fable”.

left For almost two decades, Faye Wong's has won the adulation of tens of millions of fans with her feather-light, haunting vocals and rebellious yet innocent individualistic image. Her songs fall into a number of styles: Chinese ballads, classic American soul, rock'n'roll, New Age and rhythm and blues. She is also known for fusing Eastern musicalphilosophy with Western beats. “Her songs were of great inspiration every time I took an exam in my school days,” recalled singer Gigi Leung in an article on :Her song is always on my list at KTV. I can only describe her unique stage image.”

Wong is relatively tall (1.72 m) and lean. When she is not performing she sports jeans, a T-shirt and little makeup. Even after becoming a star she continued to live with her parents in a fashionable Hong Kong apartment. She is a very private person and says she would rather stay home and read a book on philosophy or play mah-jongg than go out partying.

Wong sings in Cantonese for her Hong Kong audience and Mandarins for her fans in China and Taiwan. She is not a big fan of the Hong Kong music scene. She prefers to record in her native Beijing. She is not a big fan of standard Canto-pop either. Her influences include individualist singers like Sinead O'Conner and Kate Bush.

Faye Wong's Life

The daughter of a mining engineer father and a mother who sang in traveling revolutionary musical troupe, Wong was born in Beijing. She told Time that when she was growing up, "My dream varied. At one point I wanted to be a ticket vendor because I fancied the uniform." After her family moved to Hong Kong in 1987, she started taking music lesson because she was bored.

"As a mainland Chinese," she told Time, "I harbored the expectation of Hong Kong as a glamorous exciting place. After I arrived, I found it to be no big deal. I wasn't very happy because I couldn't speak Cantonese and had no friends."

After being introduced to a record company by her music teacher, the 20-year-old Wong began her career as a formulaic Cantopop singer named Shirley Wong. Her record company molded her into ballad-singing pixie and supplied her with ready-made songs. Even though she uncomfortable in that role thrust up on her she was good at it. Her first three CDs, recorded in less than three months, were big hits and she attracted large audiences at her concerts.

After her success as Shirley Wong, she left Hong Kong for New York. "I wandered around, visiting museums and sat at cafés," she told Time. "there were so many strange, confident-looking people. They didn't care what other people thought of them. I felt I was originally like that too, independent and a little rebellious. But in Hong Kong I lost myself. I was shaped by others and became like a machine, a dress hanger. I had no personality and no sense of direction."

Wong is known for her stormy love life. She has been married, had a child and divorced. Her second divorce with Beijing-based rocker Dou Wei, the lead singer in Black Panther, one of Chinese first successful Heavy Metal groups. was a big paparazzi event. Wong was cast as the jilted lover, Daou and his new girlfriend Gao Yuna were so besieged by the press they had to move three times. Wong was also linked with Nicolas Tse, the Cantopop bad boy who is 11 years here junior.

Faye Wong Identity and Career

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Faye Wong, husband Li Yapeng
and daughter Tung Tung
After returning to Hong Kong she decided take matters into her own hands. Her next CD Coming Home showed her range and versatility. Her single The Woman Who Easily Gets Hurt won several awards. She then changed her name back to Faye. "Its really quite a miracle that she became a success," her manager said. "Faye does whatever she wants."

Wong has a reputation for being aloof with her fans and the media and skipping out of award ceremonies and high profile events. She rarely sings in front of choreographed dancers and laser lights like other Hong Kong performs. "She can mesmerize an audience of more than 8,000," a concert promoter said, "without being backed by a dozen dancers and tons of props. Very few artists can afford to do this." [Source: Andy Spaeth, Tim, October 14, 1996]

Wong doesn't really like to perform live either. "I don't have any choreography to go with my music so I don't know what to do with my hands," she told Time. "in a studio I can concentrate on perfecting the way I sing a song. On stage one has to worry about atmosphere and audience response. I find it distracting."

After five-year absence, Wong returned in 2010 in big way performing the title track for the epic film on Confucius, director by renowned Chinese filmmaker Hu Mei (Yongzheng Reign) and starring Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Zhou Xun (The Message). Titled “You Lan Cao”, the song features a strong Chinese style and melodious tune, lifted by Wong's lilting vocals. Consistingof only 64 Chinese characters, the lyrics have been adapted from Tang Dynasty literati Han Yu's eulogy on orchids, which commemorates the great philosopher Confucius. “The ethereal and sublime voice of Faye Wong bridges the beauty of the mortal world and heaven” — director Hu Mei said on Confucius' website. [Source: Xing Daiqi, Global Times]

Wong said t her decision to return to performing was due tothe film's subject matter. “The production Confucius is especially important in our age where negative information and attitudes prevail,” Wong commented on the website. “It reminds us of the power of faith and inner strength. I'm honored to be part of it and hope everyone can benefit from the film.”

In 2010, Wong announced a long-waited stahe comeback of sorts — a series of concerts in Beijing and Shanghai in October and November. Chinese newspapers ran the headline: “The Diva Is Back.”

Faye Wong's Music and Films

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Faye Wong as a robot in the film 2046
Wong had sold more than 7 million albums as of 1999. She had released nine albums as of 2004 and has performed under the names Faye Wang, Fei Wang, Ching Man Wong, Fei Wong and Shirley Wong.

Wong was on contract to release one album a year. Sometimes that meant she released material she was not completely satisfied with because the music and sound was not perfected to the point she would have liked. Wong's 1996 CD “Restless” includes five song with unintelligible lyrics, two alternative rock tracks written and produced by Scotland's Cocteau Twins (she also contributed a song to their “Milk 'n Kisses” CD). Describing herself as restless, she once said, "You agitate to reach a certain kind of status quo. Once you achieve that, you agitate to change again. It's a never-ending process." Wong has recorded songs in Japanese. Her song In the “Name of Love” was banned in China because the lyrics contained the word “opium" in them.

Wong's cute but devilish good looks have made her a natural for the screen. After a disappointing debut as the girlfriend of a rock star in Beyond's Diary, she earned good notices in her second movie, “Chungking Express”, as a waitress who longs to go to California and lives out her fantasy by listening to the Mamas and the Papas California Dreaming over and over. She won a best actress award in Sweden for her performance. Wong won acclaim for over performance in Wong Kar Wai’s 2046. She won a best actress award in the Hong Kong awards for her performance in Chinese Odyssey 2002 and stared ib the 8th installment of the Final fantasy video game series.

Jay Chou

Jay Chou (born 1979) is a Taiwanese singer, songwriter, record producer, actor, businessman and magician. Dubbed the "King of Mandopop", he has sold over 30 million records and is one of the best-selling artists in the Greater China Area. He is known for his work with lyricist Vincent Fang, with whom he has frequently collaborated on his music. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 2000, Chou released his debut studio album, Jay (2000) to moderate success. He became a big star after the release of his second studio album, “Fantasy” (2001), which combined Western and Eastern music styles. The album won five Golden Melody Awards, including Album of the Year. As of 2020, Chou had released 13 studio albums, and had numerous hit singles in Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Chou has taken part in six world tours and had played before more than 10 million fans as of 2019.

In 2007, Chou established his own record and management company JVR Music. Outside of music, Chou has served as the President of his own fashion brand PHANTACi since 2006. Chou made his acting debut in the film “Initial D” (2005), followed soon after by a starring role in the very popular Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). He has since starred in a number of movies. He made his Hollywood debut in 2011, starring in “The Green Hornet, with Seth Rogen and Christoph Waltz. He also appeared “Now You See Me 2" (2016).

Chinese Begin Copying K-Pop Look and Sound

In 2011, Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, “As if Korean pop stars do not have enough competition from their own countrymen in the crowded entertainment industry, they now have to contend with Mandopop singers who are copying their look and sound.”More and more Taiwan-based stars are repackaging themselves in the mold of their Korean counterparts — singing fast infectious tunes with sleek dance moves complete with more adventurous styling. [Source: Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, May 2, 2011]

Korean acts are known for their sleek dance moves and interesting choreography. Sending our artists to train there helps achieve something that is out of the box for the Chinese music industry. The catchy tunes sung by Korean acts with insidiously repetitive phrases and use of unusual lingo have also found their way into, for instance, Taiwanese boy band Lollipop F's song “Four Dimensions (2010),” which repeats the words “Crazy! Go crazy! Go crazy!” in its chorus. It is common to find a word or phrase being repeated many times in the chorus of a Korean pop song. The entire chorus of T-ara's hit “Bo Peep Bo Peep” consists of “Bo peep bo peep,” while boy band Super Junior's famous song “Sorry Sorry” has them repeating the words over and over again. Besides that, the adventurous and unconventional styling of Korean acts — such as the bold use of eyeliner, daring hairstyles and an androgynous image — is also another distinctive factor.

Fans do not mind the K-pop imitation, saying that incorporating K-pop elements can raise the standard of Chinese pop.Student Jaslyn Tan, 19, says: “Korean pop groups are very well-trained and they seldom make mistakes during performances. It is great that Chinese pop acts are taking a leaf out of their books.” Marketing manager Cindy Lin, 23, adds: “I am all for improving the standard of Chinese pop. However, the industry may end up being saturated with too many Taiwanese artists sporting Korean styles.”

The record labels of Taiwanese boy band Sigma and Singapore talents Derrick Hoh and Jocie Guo sent them to Korea to learn from dance choreographers for their new albums. Hoh also sought the expertise of Korean boy band Shinee's stylist for his second album Change, released this year. In addition, Taiwanese artists are also collaborating with Korean stars to incorporate Korean pop elements into their songs. Wilber Pan recruited Nichkhun from Korean boy band 2PM to feature in his new song, Drive, from his newly released album, 808.Danson Tang worked with Amber from Korean girl group f(x) for his song “I'm Back,” released last year. [Source: Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, May 2, 2011]

Industry insiders admit they are riding on the surge of the Korean pop wave. James Kang, marketing director of Warner Music, which manages Hoh and Guo, says: “Taiwan has long been the place that Chinese artists go to for their training. However, over the years, we have seen increasingly similar dance moves in the hordes of artists that emerge from there every year. Therefore, training in Korea injects fresh elements into Derrick and Jocie's appeal. For their self-titled debut album, released late last year, Sigma, which comprises Judy Chou, Mrtting Li and Tommy Lin, flew to Korea to learn from a dance choreographer who had worked with the likes of superstar Rain and girl group Wonder Girls. Chou says in Mandarin: “The training was not easy and we practiced really hard. It is great that we get to learn from a top-notch teacher. Korean acts have very polished and sleek dance moves and we hope to be like them. We aim to be just like Korean boy band Big Bang. They can sing and dance well and are multi-talented.”

Lu Han: From K-Pop to the Chinese Justin Beiber

Lu Han (born 1990 and also known as as Luhan) is South-Korean-trained, Chinese pop idol who has been called China's Justin Bieber. Making a mark as a singer and actor, he was a member of the South Korean-Chinese boy group Exo and its sub-group Exo-M, before leaving the group in October 2014. That year, he was ranked the sixth most popular entertainment star in China by China National Radio. Lu Han released his solo debut album Reloaded in 2015, and has starred in several box office hits such as “20 Once Again” (2015), “The Witness” (2015), and “Time Raiders (2016). In 2017, he starred in his first television series, Fighter of the Destiny. In 2017, he listed as the second highest-paid celebrity in the Forbes China Celebrity 100, behind only Fan Bingbing. The term "Luhan effect" has been used to describe his massive influence and impact on his fans. He currently holds the Guinness World Record holder for the "Most Comments on a Weibo Post". [Source: Wikipedia]

Lu Han was born in Haidian, Beijing. He graduated from Beijing Shida Middle School and attended Beijing Haidian Foreign Language Shi Yan School before leaving for South Korea to attend Yonsei University as an exchange student. He majored in Applied Music at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. In 2008, Lu Han unsuccessfully auditioned for JYP Entertainment at their global audition in China. In 2010, while studying in Seoul, he was scouted while in Myeong-dong by an SM Entertainment representative who recommended he audition for the company; after which he became a trainee under the agency.

From 2011 to 2014, Lu Han was in Exo, a Seoul-based K-Pop group with both Korean and Chinese members who performed in Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese and mixed pop, hip-hop, and R&B with of electronic and dance music beats. The band was formed by SM Entertainment in 2011 and debuted in 2012 and ranked one of the top five most influential celebrities or grpups on the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list from 2014 to 2018. For a time Exo was labeled "Kings of K-pop" and the "Biggest boyband in the world" by various media outlets. In October, 2014, Luhan filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to nullify his contract and effectively left Exo.

He is the first celebrity born after 1990 to be named the "Artist of the Year" by China Newsweek. In 2017, it was revealed that he was dating Chinese actress Guan Xiaotong. In August 2019, during the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, Luhan shared photos of the Chinese flag accompanied by the hashtags "the Chinese national flag has 1.4 billion flag bearers" and "I am a flag bearer" on his official Weibo account.

Lu Han’s Huge Success in China

By 2015, Luhan was working in China. He contributed to numerous soundtracks of movies that he participated in. The video for the theme song of “20 Once Again”, titled "Our Tomorrow" surpassed 1 million views in 47 minutes, a record at the time. In 2015 Luhan collaborated with famous producer Djemba Djemba for his first digital album — “Reloaded I” was released in September 2015 via QQ Music. This was Djemba's first time producing an album for an Asian artist. Reloaded sold 880,000 copies on the first day, another record for Lu Han. Reloaded sold well in Japan and Taiwan, At the QQ Music Awards, Reloaded was named Best Digital Album of the Year and Lu Han was selected as the Best Male Singer of the Year. He followed this up with a sold out tour of China. Reloaded sold over 3 million copies internationally and was the first album in mainland China to go platinum and double platinum. Around the same Lu Han won the All-round Artist of the Year and Media Recommended Album of the Year awards at the Chinese Golden Charts Awards; and the Album of the Year and Artist of the Year awards at the 4th V Chart Awards. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 2016, Luhan began work on a series of albums under the theme "XXVII", which stands for “Xperience”, “Xplore”, “Venture”, “Imagination" and "I", meant to document Luhan's growth story at the age of 27. Xperience featured the track "Catch Me When I Fall", produced in part by the Picard Brothers, a French producer team who had worked with Diplo and Chris Brown. In July 2017, Luhan won the "Album of the Year" award at the Asian Music Gala for the XXVII album series. On April 17, 2019, Luhan released a single album, π-volume.1, which sold over 3.4 million copies. On August 30, 2019, he released a second single album, π-volume.2, which sold over 1.2 million copies.[29] On January 17, 2020, Luhan released the single, "Dream Up", to promote his third concert tour.

Luhan made his film debut in the 2015 film “20 Once Again”, the Chinese remake of the Korean hit movie “Miss Granny”. The film topped box office charts and broke records to become the highest-grossing Korean-Chinese co-produced film. For his performance, he won the "Newcomer of the Year" award at the Beijing International Film Festival, as well as the "Most Popular Actor" award at the Beijing College Student Film Festival. In 2016, he starred in the fantasy-action-adventure film “Time Raiders”, based on the online novel series Tomb Raiders. The film was the biggest summer hit of 2016 in China. He then featured in The Great Wall, a historical epic directed by Zhang Yimou and staring Matt Damon. He has also appeared in numerous television shows in China.

Yan Siwei, a broker who works in the entertainment industry, opined that Luhan stands for a new fandom model; in this model, the artist uses social media data instead of works to galvanize fans, and the fans are well-organized to protect the artist and maintain the fandom. GQ did an investigation on the fandom and call it "a systemic, detailed social labor division and powerful execution empire."

TFBOYS: China’s Successful, Wholesome Communist-Party-Loving Boy’s Band

Siyi Chen wrote in Quartz: “Chinese entertainment companies and talent agents have been trying to create a home-grown megastar boy band for years. Now, it seems that they have finally succeeded, with a teenage boy band called The Fighting Boys, who sing about homework, winning a Nobel prize, and occasionally, songs like “We’re the future of Communism.” So exactly how popular is this band? “Well, the world record for most reposts of a Weibo post (it’s China’s equivalent of Twitter) is held by Junkai Wang, lead singer of The Fighting Boys (also known as TFBOYS). In 2014, Junkai posted a video of himself singing about growing pains, and it has been shared over 150 million times since. [Source: Siyi Chen, Quartz, March 14, 2017]

“The band debuted in 2013 and quickly exploded in popularity, gaining mostly female fans at lightening speed. Its fans are very devoted. Last year, some of them bought a video ad in Times Square and flew a hot air balloon over the Thames river in London to mark band member Yuan Wang’s 16th birthday.

“TFBOYS learned from successful boy bands from South Korea and Japan, which have long dominated the Chinese boy/girl band market. The three boys from TFBOYS started young and appeared on reality TV shows to build their public profiles, measures that K-pop and J-pop (Japanese pop culture) perfected in the creation of pop idols they export abroad. TFBOYS have done that too: They’ve got fans in South Korea, Thailand and a host of other Asian countries outside China. But what’s interesting is that TFBOYS took a different path after they broke through, one that might be uniquely Chinese. “If you examine their songs closely, you’ll see a change of themes. They went from teen love, or puppy love, which is still taboo in China, to more pro-nationalism themes. ” says Jin Zhao, a Chinese journalist.

“TFBOYS sing uplifting, patriotic songs. And mainstream Chinese media praise them for it. Commercials capitalize on their image as model young men. Even in tabloids, stories about them often focus on what outstanding students they are in school. This wholesome image has helped them grow even bigger. To some degree, they’re China’s answer to Justin Bieber: young, fresh and cute. Except while fans might obsess over Bieber’s love life, in China, they care about how well the TFBOYS perform in school.

Hot Chinese “Boy” Band Actually Made Up of Girls — and Most of Their Fans Are Girls Too

In March 2017, China’s social network giant Tencent held a series of music events called “Husband Exhibition” at Chinese universities. Zheping Huang wrote in Quartz: The idea was to showcase new pop stars who appear on the company’s online streaming site;the term “husband” is how China’s female fans refer to male pop stars who are so charming they fantasize about marrying them. Enter Acrush, a hot new “boy band” that performed at the tour’s last stop in southern Zhejiang province, where the group is based. They had one big surprise in store for fans: They’re not actually male.[Source: Zheping Huang, Quartz, March 30, 2017]

“Acrush is made up of five women mostly in their early twenties, who all have edgy short hairstyles and dress like a bunch of boyish hearthrobs. The group won’t formally debut with a music video until the end of April. But it has already garnered a big fan base after several appearances at music events. Its fan page on Weibo now has nearly 900,000 followers. By comparison, Katy Perry, also a big name in China, has about one million Weibo followers.

“China’s talent agents have been talking about forming an androgynous band for years ever since Li Yuchun’s success in “Super Girl: in 2005, band manager Zhou says, but few women wanted to take the risk. Zhou’s search for unisex stars across the country began last March. In September, the 28-year-old agent narrowed down the target to 10 candidates. After two months’ training, Lu Keran, An Junxi, Peng Xichen, Min Junqian and Lin Fan emerged as the five members of Acrush. The youngest is 18-year-old Lin from southwestern Sichuan province.

“Fans are predominantly female, Zhou says, ranging from teenagers to recent college graduates. They like Acrush more than equally handsome boy bands, she says, because the five members can understand them better, which is particularly important in one-on-one interactions with fans. “I ask them to reply every WeChat and Weibo message,” says Zhou. “They need to show gratitude [to fans].”

“Zhou says they will avoid using the word “boy” or “girl” when introducing the group. Instead, they have carefully chosen a gender-free phrase, meishaonian, or “handsome youths.” But still, female fans on Weibo have taken to calling them “husbands,” a meme usually reserved for male celebrities like Justin Bieber.

“21-year-old Lu, captain of Acrush, says some female fans send love letters to her, but “of course I won’t like fans back.” She says the company doesn’t allow her to discuss her own or her teammates’ sexual orientations. “Around 15 percent of Acrush’s Weibo followers are so-called “anti-fans,” Zhou says, who follow them solely for the purpose of railing against them because of their boyish looks. Lu says she doesn’t really care about the trolls, “as long as they are happy.”

“The five members have been dressing like boys in their daily lives long before they took to the stage, Zhou says. Lu has been wearing short hair since she started to learn fencing at around age ten. She recalls that in her childhood she got routine checks before going into public women’s restrooms, with people calling her “little boy.” The situation is less common these days, she says.

“Behind Acrush is Zhejiang Huati Culture Communication Co. Ltd, an entertainment startup founded in 2016 in Tencent’s business incubator in Jinhua, a small southeastern city best known for ham. Huati adopts the same star-producing system that has proven a success in Korea. The company recruits trainees across the nation and selects them to debut as part of a boy or girl group.

Produce Pandas: China’s 'Plus-Size' Boy Band

In 2021, Associated Press reported: “Gathered in a practice room, five generously proportioned young men in baggy black sweaters are patting their bellies and waggling their arms. Bearded with double chins, they shout “Hoo-Ha!” in time to upbeat African drums. The choreography is for the new song “Good Belly,” by Produce Pandas. DING, Cass, Husky, Otter and Mr. 17 weigh an average of 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and proudly call themselves “the first plus-sized boy band in China." [Source: Associated Press, April 30, 2021]

“That's a radical departure from the industry standard seen in South Korean super groups such as BTS, whose lanky young members are sometimes referred to in China as “little fresh meat." Yet, it seems to be working for Produce Pandas, who rose to fame after making it about halfway through “Youth with You,” an idol talent competition hosted by iQiyi, one of the largest video platforms in China.

“On the show, mentors and audience voters pick nine finalists, either individuals or group members, to come together to form a new band. “The five of us may not have the standard look and shape of a boy band but we hope to use the term ‘plus-sized band' to break the aesthetic stereotypes," Cass said in an interview. The five, two of whom formerly sang in bars, are also unusual for their relatively advanced ages in an industry that worships youth and stamina. Most of their fellow contestants on “Youth with You” began South Korean-style training while in their teens. While Produce Pandas excited audiences and sparked discussion about how a pop idol should look, some taunting also appeared online. Users of China's Weibo microblog seized on the Chinese word for panda, a homonym of which appears in the Chinese name for the Japanese horror movie “Ring," suggesting that watching them dance was similarly frightening.

“Mr. 17, the band's main dancer, was the oldest contestant in the competition at age 31. He had been discovered on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, where he posted clips of himself dancing in pajamas or while holding a bowl of rice. He nicknamed himself “17” after his favorite age. The former petroleum company worker said he doesn't feel old, but admits that after rehearsals, “I felt my energy was emptied."

“The five were solicited from over 300 hopefuls by Beijing-based DMDF Entertainment, which wanted to build a band that would be rotund and approachable as well as inspiring. Husky, who worked in IT, thought he would fit in perfectly because he has been chubby since primary school and has failed repeatedly to lose weight. “I often work out one day then take a rest for the next three days, so the result is clear that I gained some weight instead,” he said. The point is “stay in shape (and) not to lose weight, but to lose fat.”

“Fragile” — the Xi-Jinping-Critizicing Mandopop Hit

In 2021, “Fragile”, a Mandopop hip hop song by Australian Chinese singer Kimberley Chen and Namewee, a Malaysian national in her 30s whose real name is Wee Meng Chee, caused quite a stir. Jennifer Jett of NBC News wrote: At first, “Fragile,” which has gone viral in Asia, might come across as a saccharine piece of pop. Scratch the surface of the music video, however, and it is bursting with mocking references to China, its ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, prompting the authoritarian government to ban the two musicians behind it, Namewee and Chen. “Please be cautious if you are fragile pink,” a message at the start of the video” — which was viewed tens of millions of times in the days after its release —“ warns in an apparent reference to “little pinks,” a disparaging term for internet-savvy Chinese nationalists who are quick to defend their country and Xi against any perceived criticism. [Source: Jennifer Jett, NBC News, November 12, 2021]

“The video itself is awash with the color. Balloons, furniture and the outfits Namewee and Chen wear are all pink, as are their heart-shaped glasses. A character in a panda costume that features prominently throughout the video is also dressed in pink overalls. “I’m sorry for hurting you, hurting your feelings. I hear a sound, fragile self-esteem has broken into pieces,” the pair sing as the panda dances around. Since its release, on October 15, 2021 the song has been at or near the top of YouTube music charts in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, where Chinese is spoken. It has also been trending in Australia and New Zealand.

“The first impression that anyone gets if they’re not listening closely or looking closely is, ‘Oh, this is just a syrupy love song,’” said DJ W. Hatfield, an associate professor at the Graduate Institute of Musicology at National Taiwan University in Taipei. “But everyone knows Namewee is a wordsmith and he’s very funny, and he’s also politically pretty strident....Every time I listen to it, I discover new things.”

“So what is the song about? Mostly without ever mentioning them directly, the song, which uses Chinese and Taiwanese internet slang, makes many topical references. 1) Taiwan: Lyrics about an “inseparable” relationship and “not lacking one bit” are seen by experts as references to China’s territorial disputes, including its claims on Taiwan. There is also a line about apples and pineapples, products that China stopped importing from the self-ruling island earlier this year. Namewee and Chen are both based in Taiwan. 2) Xinjiang: The song alludes to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, as well as one of its major exports, cotton, which activists say is produced using forced labor and ends up being used by major international clothing brands. China has denied these accusations, claiming it is trying to combat extremism in the region.

3) Hong Kong: Some viewers see the inclusion of apples as a reference to Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong that was forced to shut down in June after police raided its offices, arrested senior editors and froze its financial accounts. Hong Kong saw months of protests and political upheaval in 2019 before Beijing imposed a national security law last year in an effort to crack down on dissent. 4) Xi Jinping: The song refers to Xi as Winnie the Pooh, a character that has been taboo in China for several years after Chinese internet users made lighthearted comparisons between him and the cartoon bear. “Common prosperity”: This phrase used in the song is what Xi calls his drive to redistribute China’s wealth more evenly among the population.

The song jokes about the consumption of wildlife such as bats and civets, a trope about China amplified during the coronavirus pandemic that has been widely criticized as contributing to anti-Asian racism in the United States and elsewhere. It also references China’s “Great Firewall” of strict internet controls and the censorship of sensitive terms — Namewee and Chen’s accounts on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform, were removed soon after the song was released. “It’s a song about censorship,” said Jeroen de Kloet, a professor at the University of Amsterdam who studies the cultural implications of globalization with a focus on contemporary China. “But then it’s being censored, so that only amplifies the impact of the song.”

Image Sources: YouTube, Fan blogs and websites

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2021

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