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Chinese Idol Survival Shows – The Start of a New ‘Idol Era’

Idol reality survival shows are riding a new wave of popularity in China.

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China has a vibrant online popular culture media environment, where new trends and genres come and go every single day. Chinese idol survival shows, however, have seen continued success and now seem to go through another major peak in popularity. What’s on Weibo’s Yin Lin explains.

On May 30, the finale of Chinese online video platform iQIYI’s Youth With You 2 (青春有你2) broke the Internet. Official videos on iQIYI’s Youtube channel garnered over 300 million views. At the time of writing, the hashtag “Youth With You 2 Finale” (#青春有你2总决赛#) has 3.15 billion views; the hashtag “Youth With You 2” (#青春有你2#) has 14.5 billion views. 

In recent years, China has produced a slew of so-called ‘idol survival shows.’ They have enjoyed much popularity among local audiences, as well as overseas—more than 393 hashtags related to Youth With You 2 trended in Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. In this overview, we explore the background, status quo, and future of China’s idol survival shows.

 

The Start of The ‘Idol Wave’ in China 

 

In China’s idol survival reality shows, so-called ‘trainees’, or aspiring idols, participate in a series of different challenges to compete for a chance to debut.

The ‘idol culture’ (偶像文化) has been dominating popular culture in Japan and South Korea for many years. An idol is, in short, a heavily commercialized multi-talented entertainer that is marketed – sometimes as a product – for image, attractiveness, and personality, either alone or with a group.

Especially K-pop and the Korean entertainment industry have since long been extremely popular among Chinese youth, heavily influencing pop culture in China today (more about Korean and Japanese idols here and here, and also read our article “Why Korean Idol Groups Got So Big in China and are Conquering the World“).

These kinds of shows are ubiquitous in South Korea’s popular culture, with Produce 101 (2016) becoming one of the most popular and successful South Korean reality series ever. 

The concept is simple. Every week, viewers vote for their favorite contestant. Trainees with insufficient votes during elimination rounds are eliminated from the competition. 

Nine Percent, the group formed from Idol Producer (Source).

The group formed from the final trainees then goes on to ‘promote’ for a period of time, usually one to two years.

This method of creating an idol group, in which the members are basically selected by their own fans, is a major way to bridge existing distances between fans and their idols. Fan participation is a key factor in the success of idol reality shows.

While China has had several idol survival shows, iQIYI’s Idol Producer (青春有你, 2018) was the first to reach levels of popularity similar to that of South Korea’s Produce 101

Idol Producer premiered in January 2018 with Zhang Yixing as the host and Li Ronghao, MC Jin, Cheng Xiao, Zhou Jieqiong, and Jackson Wang serving as mentors.

This first season of Idol Producer brought together a total of hundred trainees. Though most trainees were from China, there were a few from overseas, such as You Zhangjing from Malaysia and Huang Shuhao from Thailand. The younger brother of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, Fan Chengcheng, also participated in the show.

The first episode of Idol Producer attracted more than 100 million views within the first hour of broadcasting. In the final episode, more than 180 million votes were cast, with first-place winner Cai Xukun raking in more than 47 million votes.  

Trainees performing on Produce 101 China (Source).

Two months after Idol Producer, Tencent launched Produce 101 China (创造101) in March 2018. Both shows marked the start of the ‘idol wave’ in China. 

In the next two years, more idol survival shows would dominate the Chinese entertainment scene. iQIYI released Youth With You 1 (青春有你) and Youth With You 2 (青春有你2) in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Tencent, too, released Produce Camp 2019 (创造营2019) and Produce Camp 2020 (创造营2020), the latter of which is currently airing. 

 

China’s New Idol Survival Show Era 

 

In 2018, both Produce 101 China and Idol Producer enjoyed overwhelming popularity, accumulating more than 4.73 billion views and 3 billion views respectively. Their sequels, however, have failed to achieve the same level of success.

At the time of writing, 150,000 viewers have completed Youth With You 1 on Chinese community site Douban, versus 470,000 viewers for its predecessor, Idol Producer. Additionally, the number of votes cast for the first episode of Youth With You 1 was much lower compared to its Idol Producer equivalent. 

The number of votes for the top 19 trainees on Idol Producer (left) versus Youth With You 1 (right) in the first episode (Source).

As for Produce 101 China, 510,000 viewers have completed the show on Douban, but only 340,000 viewers have finished watching its sequel. 

Groups formed from these shows have met with varying amounts of success and have run into problems regarding scheduling conflicts. 

Nine Percent, the boy group formed from Idol Producer in 2018, was known as a group that rarely met. Their second album was a compilation of tracks from solo members. Members had existing contracts with their own companies while simultaneously promoting with Nine Percent; hence, due to scheduling conflicts, members would often forgo Nine Percent activities for those of their own company. 

Rocket Girls from Produce 101 China. (Source)

Rocket Girls, formed from Produce 101 China, also faced problems after debuting. Due to conflicts between Tencent and their management company, Yuehua Entertainment, Meng Meiqi and Wu Xuanyi, who placed first and second respectively, left the group two months after debut.

Despite the problems faced by groups formed from such shows, some idols were able to ride on the momentum they gained from participating.

For instance, Cai Xukun, first-place winner of Idol Producer, swiftly rose to become one of the most popular trainees on the show, consistently ranking first place in every round of elimination. He was also the host of the recently concluded Youth With You 2.

Liu Yuxin obtained first place in the last episode of Youth With You 2. (Source)

Other trainees have also seen individual success. Liu Yuxin, the first-place winner of Youth With You 2, gained attention for her androgynous look: short hair, a cool personality, and wearing shorts instead of a skirt. Her hashtag “Liu Yuxin” (#刘雨昕#) has been viewed more than 550 million times on Weibo. In the final episode, she received more than 17 million votes.

Despite the lowering audience ratings for other recent idol shows, the success of Youth With You 2 might mark the start of a new ‘idol era’. Even Chinese netizens wondered why the show is so popular compared to Youth With You 1.

Just one day after the finale premiered, the hashtag “Youth With You 2 Finale” had already been viewed more than 2.2 billion times on Weibo. On Douban, 580,000 viewers have finished the show—more than any of the previous idol survival shows by iQIYI and Tencent.

 

The Future of Idol Survival Shows 

 

Chinese idol survival shows were received with much fanfare when they first entered mainstream popular culture in 2018. But the ensuing conflicts that the resulting groups ran into resulted in netizens doubting the success and effectiveness of these shows. 

Trainees from Produce Camp 2020 practicing for the theme song. Source

This year, however, the popularity of both Youth With You 2 and Produce Camp 2020 might signal a comeback for the idol era in China.

And this time around, Chinese idol survival shows are also gaining more traction outside of the PRC, becoming more and more popular among global audiences. Both Youth With You 2 and Produce Camp 2020 have been well-received by viewers from many different countries.

On social media, online commenters praise the two shows – and Chinese idol survival shows in general – for having a more “laid-back atmosphere” between the trainees and mentors. Web users also comment that they enjoy how the shows highlight the friendship between the trainees, rather than the feuds.

It seems that what sets Chinese idol survival shows apart from the South Korean ones is precisely why some viewers prefer them. The longer running times, for example, makes it possible to give more screen time to the different trainees and to give a deeper understanding of the relations between them.

Youtube comment on Episode 1 of Produce Camp 2020. Source

Youtube comment on Episode 1 of Produce Camp 2020. Source

Reddit comment on Episode 9 of Idol Producer. Source

With the popularity of idols like Liu Yuxin and Wang Ju who challenge conventional beauty standards, shows can also look into moving away from the cookie-cutter aesthetic that idols usually adhere to. 

Furthermore, management companies and broadcasting companies have to come to an agreement regarding what scheduling arrangement would benefit all parties and be conducive towards the idols’ physical and mental health. 

Selected trainees from Produce Camp 2020 took part in a photoshoot with Elle. Source

It remains to be seen whether THE9, the newly formed group from Youth With You 2, will be able to flourish in the time to come and avoid the troubles that other groups ran into. 

As for Produce Camp 2020, it seems set to enjoy just as much success as Youth With You 2 did – if not more. Only five episodes have been released, but the show’s hashtag already has 16.1 billion views.

A reviewer on Douban writes: “The trainees are all confident, taking opportunities to express themselves and actively showcase their talents. So much youthful and positive energy!” 

The latest newcomers to the idol reality show genre further consolidate the success of the format. Recently, Mango TV released Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风波浪的姐姐们, 2020), where female celebrities above 30 years old compete to make it into the final five-member girl group. The first episode was viewed more than 370 million times within the first three days of release and immediately became top trending on Weibo.

The number of survival shows in China right now and their growing popularity shows that audiences seemingly can’t get enough of the genre. It is an indication that, despite setbacks in the past, China’s idol survival reality show genre is still going strong and might be here to stay.

You can watch the currently airing Produce Camp 2020 and Sisters Who Make Waves here and here.

By Yin Lin Tan

 Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Yin Lin Tan is a Singapore-based writer and aspiring journalist specialized in culture and current affairs. She is particularly interested in exploring issues related to East Asia, with a special focus on China. Yin Lin can be reached at tylanin[at]gmail[dot]com.

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China Memes & Viral

Dutch Vlogger Discovers Her Boyfriend’s Photo on a Chinese TV Drama

Dutch vlogger Rianne Meijer was surprised to discover her boyfriend being somebody else’s lover in this Chinese television drama.

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The Dutch influencer Rianne Meijer has gone viral in the Netherlands and on Chinese social media after she posted a TikTok video in which she shared the discovery of her boyfriend’s photo in a Chinese TV drama.

“Remember this picture? This is a picture that I posted with my boyfriend a while ago,” Rianne says in the TikTok video, then showing a scene in Chinese TV drama in which a photoshopped photo of Rianne’s boyfriend is featured.

Although Rianne stood next to her boyfriend in the original photo, her face was replaced in the photoshopped edition featured on the Chinese TV drama.

“They look good together, it’s fine!” Rianne jokingly responded to the scene.

Rianne Meijer is an online influencer and YouTuber with some 1.5 million fans on her Instagram. She is known for often posting funny videos and photos, sometimes together with her boyfriend Roy.

The scene featuring Roy’s photo comes from the Chinese TV drama Summer Again (薄荷之夏), which premiered on iQiyi in the summer of 2021.

The scene shows a lady named Mi Ya (played by actress Li Borong 李柏蓉) talking about her relationship with a man named ‘Andre.’

On the Chinese social media site Weibo, many netizens found the incident “embarrassing” and did not understand why the staff would just steal someone’s portrait: “Couldn’t the production team even find a foreign guy to take a picture?”

Others also thought the incident was very funny: “This is the reality of our global village. You’d think nobody would find out, but it’s really not so secret.”

According to Rianne’s most recent Tiktok post update, the show’s production staff has since sent her an apology. She also writes it’s “all good,” adding: “They are so sweet and this gave us a good laugh.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Musician Song Dongye Canceled (Again) after Complaining about China’s Cancel Culture

Song Dongye was shut down by Weibo after airing his grievances at being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

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Five years after being caught with drugs, Chinese singer Song Dongye went on Weibo to share his grievances on still being ‘canceled’ and asking for another chance to restart his career. Instead, he got criticized and blocked.

Chinese folk singer Song Dongye (宋冬野) has become a major topic on Chinese social media site Weibo this week after he posted a lengthy statement on his account airing his grievances regarding how he was shut out from China’s entertainment world after being caught with drugs.

In Song’s Weibo post of October 11 titled “I Need to Say Something” (“我需要说一些话”), the singer complained that one of his performances was canceled and that he has not been able to perform since he was detained for drug use five years ago.

The Beijing singer was scheduled to hold a concert in Chengdu on October 16th, but local authorities eventually canceled the show after receiving reports about Song being a drug addict.

According to Song, it is not the first time that one of his concerts is suddenly canceled for no apparent reason. In his post, the Beijing artist shared how disappointed he is that yet another performance was called off, even though it was previously approved and was organized in compliance with all strict regulations.

It seems that Song Dongye just cannot get rid of his tainted reputation.

Song Dongye

The 34-year-old Song Dongye started his career as a musician in 2009 and signed with the Modern Sky record label in 2012. One of his biggest hits is the 2013 song ‘Miss Dong’ (董小姐) (link), after which Song’s career further flourished.

Things went sour in 2016, when Song was arrested for smoking marijuana in Beijing after someone allegedly tipped off the police. Not long after news on his arrest made the rounds, Song himself posted a statement on his Weibo account on October 25th of 2016, apologizing to everyone for violating the law and promising to better himself.

Song is not the first Chinese celebrity to have been caught with drugs. There is an entire list of celebrities who were caught doing drugs, especially in the 2014-2016 years – including names such as Jaycee Chan, Kai Ko, and Zhang Mo.

In Song’s most recent Weibo post, the solo artist explains how his former drug abuse deeply affected him and his family, and that he has never touched drugs again since his ten-day prison sentence five years ago in 2016.

Song Donye’s lengthy Weibo post of October 11, in which he shared his grievances regarding still being ‘canceled’ five years after being arrested for drug use.

Despite the fact that Song complied with court orders and became an anti-drug advocate, he apparently is still not able to perform – even though the prescribed three-year ban on performing (in accordance with regulations provided by the Ministry of Culture) has officially ended two years ago.

The musician writes that he feels wronged. As a former drug abuser, he feels it was right for him to be punished, but he also says that drug users are actually the victims, claiming that drug trafficking is the real crime. Song argues that it is very difficult to be in the entertainment industry and that it is not easy to say no to drugs when you are down, depressed, and pressured.

In his Weibo post, the artist actually suggests he has been victimized in two ways: firstly, as a depressed artist lured into taking drugs, and second, as a canceled celebrity who keeps on being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

“I can’t understand it, I’m confused,” Song writes: “I’ve violated the law, but I’ve been punished! I’ve been detained and then I also received five years of verbal abuse! I’ve been educated! I understand! I never messed up again! I got up again, and I changed! I became a better person! Is that still not enough for me to be able to make a living? Why? I’m not doing anything but playing some small offline gigs in order to get by! I’m just a singer-songwriter! What else do you want me to do? (..) Shouldn’t society give people who have broken the law another chance?”

Song concludes his post by saying that, regardless of the challenges he is facing, he will not give up on his work.

Song’s Post Backfires

Soon after Song Dongye posted his short essay on Weibo, thousands of reactions started flooding in. Many netizens did not feel sorry for the artist, but instead blamed him for “playing the victim.”

The issue triggered a major discussion on Chinese social media on whether or not artists with a bad reputation should be allowed back into the limelight.

A recent article by What’s on Weibo on 25 ‘tainted celebrities’ in China (25 ‘Tainted Celebrities’: What Happens When Chinese Entertainers Get Canceled?) shows that Chinese entertainers who previously got ‘canceled’ generally do not return to the big stage, either because they have simply fallen out of favor with most people or because they are being shunned and sidelined in the entertainment industry (or a combination of both).

Many people felt that Song Dongye was being a hypocrite, not just because they felt he was excusing his former drug use by saying drug traffickers are the real offenders, but also because Song allegedly did do multiple commercial shows over the past five years and has been actively setting up new businesses since his 2016 arrest.

For official media accounts, in the meantime, this apparently seemed to be a good moment to highlight their anti-drug informational posts.

State newspaper People’s Daily posted a series of photographs on October 12th featuring police officers who got injured while doing their work combating drug trafficking and drug use, stating that over thirty staff members of the law enforcement against drugs were killed since 2017.

The post’s message was clear: these Chinese officers in drug law enforcement were unable to get a second chance in life – why would Song, as a drug abuser, be allowed to get another chance to restart his career as a performer?

That idea resonated with many, who wrote: “We should have a zero-tolerance policy [towards drugs]. We can’t ever revive these police officers!”

Another image circulated on social media with the tagline “taking drugs and selling drugs is the same crime,” showing a musician offering money for drugs and a law enforcement officer being shot on the job (image below).

On that same day, Song’s Weibo account was temporarily suspended. The hashtag “Song Dongye’s Weibo Suspended” (#宋冬野微博被禁言#) received over 620 million views in the days following the ban.

Many people on Weibo share the view that those who chose to take illegal drugs for their own pleasure can never be a public figure again, earning money from commercial appearances.

Others wrote that Song should have never posted his essay at all since it only caused him to be labeled as a ‘tainted celebrity’ again, even though many people had already forgotten about his former drug use. They think that Song’s real problem hindering his future career now is not his 2016 offense, but his 2021 Weibo post.

Song Dongye’s post did not just affect him, it indirectly also affected other Chinese ‘tainted celebrities.’

A planned concert by Chinese singer Li Daimo (李代沫), a previous contestant of The Voice of China (中国好声音), was also canceled this week following the Song Dongye controversy.

Li Daimo continued his music career after his 2014 drug offense.

Li Daimo was arrested in 2014 for possession of drugs and was later sentenced to a fine and nine months in prison. After being released from prison, Li resumed his music career. Although his tainted past was still sometimes discussed on social media, he was one of the few artists who seemed to have made some sort of a comeback to the entertainment industry after such a major controversy.

The Song Dongye situation, however, also made people (and authorities) reflect on Li’s current career.

Over the past year, Chinese celebrities have become a target of authorities and state media have consistently been reporting on the importance of Chinese stars setting a good example for their fans.

But amid all controversy, there are also people who come to Song’s defense: “If an artist has been punished for three years, we should give people the opportunity to reappear. It might [even] be more beneficial to the anti-drug campaign.”

“I really like his songs,” one person wrote about Song: “But he did drugs, and I can’t forgive him for that.”

At this time, it is not clear when or if Song Dongye will be allowed to post on his Weibo account again. Although his Weibo page is still there, it currently says: “This account has temporarily been suspended for violating Weibo guidelines.” It is not clarified which specific guidelines Song violated with his post.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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