Following the massive global success of the Japanese 48 groups and South Korean ‘Produce’ series groups, the idol culture (偶像文化) has been making waves in China since 2018. An idol is a well-rounded entertainer marketed to be a soloist or a group with astonishing visuals, talent, and personality. Idol culture has dominated mostly the Chinese youth who give passionate and dedicated support to these idols. Popular C-pop groups like Nine Percent, Rocket Girls, UNINE, THE9, and BonBon Girls 303 are formed by idol survival shows and paved the way for the idol phenomena in China.
Idol Wave in China’s pop culture
The Chinese “Idol Wave” stems from idol survival shows like iQiYi’s Idol Producer or Youth With You and Tencent Video’s Produce 101 China or Produce Camp. An idol group is formed through the votes of fans who select their top picks to debut. With the power of audiences, their support, and participation in watching and voting to play a big role in the popularity of idol survival shows. The final lineup of trainees will debut and be promoted as an idol group for a limited period of about one to two years. After their promotional activities as a group, these artists eventually come back or sign a new contract with respective agencies with brand new opportunities that await them.
Many incredible and popular artists have found immediate success in being an idol and/or actor after debuting from the final lineup. Many little fresh meat male idols or 小鲜肉 (xiǎo xiān ròu) have emerged from Chinese survival show programs through the love and support they had received in their pre-debut days. Former member X-NINE’s Xiao Zhan, former member Nine Percent KUN (Cai Xu Kun), and former Rocket Girls members Meng Mei Qi and Wu Xuan Yi have become some of the most popular artists in China after participating and winning the idol show programs.
Idol trainers or mentors
These shows have ultimately gained immediate support domestically and internationally because of popular idols like EXO’s Lay, UNIQ’s Wang Yibo, Seventeen’s The8, f(x)’s Victoria Song, and Blackpink’s Lisa. These artists showcase their expertise and experiences in their fields as idols as they become trainers or mentors for the contestants. They’re also in charge of evaluating the skills of the trainees at the beginning of the show, ranking them from A to F. The popular mentors train these contestants by dividing them into different classes depending on their evaluations. Eventually, the letter-based classes will stop after the trainees finish filming the theme song of the show. These trainers oversee and give feedback to the groups on the performances of trainees and their groups in practices and their actual show performances.
Many contestants from China and overseas trainees compete in these reality shows in hopes to become an idol. The reality survival show showcases their charms, talents, and journey to become multi-talented idols. These contestants come as independent trainees or from entertainment companies who compete in individual evaluations from trainers and group performances evaluated by the national producers or voters.
Popular huí guō ròu (回鍋肉) or “twice-cooked pork” trainees rejoin these survival shows after not being able to debut or win in previous survival shows. Contestants from previous South Korean or Chinese idol survival programs who join these shows already have existing fanbases. Produce 101 trainees Justin/Huang Minghao and Zhu Zhengting and Super Idol trainee Cai Xu Kun were able to make it to the final debut lineup. These trainees are usually admired by the audience for their perseverance and determination of their dream to become an idol.
Chinese members from K-pop groups like WJSN’s Meng Mei Qi and Wu Xuan Yi, UNIQ’s Wenhan, and Gugudan’s Sally/Liu Xie Ning participate in the idol survival programs, showcasing their praised skills, visuals, and talent by trainers. With their existing fanbase, many of their international and domestic fans tune into the program to support their idols. These talented idols were able to debut in groups and open a new chapter of their successful idol careers in China.
Promising actresses like The Untamed’s Chen Zhuo Xuan, Thailand show 2gether’s Nene/Zheng Naixin, and Find Yourself’s Yu Shu Xin from Produce Camp 2020 and Youth With You 2. Debuting in BonBon Girls 303 and THE9, they prove that they can both excel as actresses and idols.
The success of idol survival programs and the rise of the idol wave are made possible with the large audiences who anticipate these shows every year. The theme songs of idol survival shows have a common theme of being rooted and picked by the national producers, so their dreams can be achieved. Produce 101 China’s “Pick Me” and Idol Producer’s “Ei Ei” manifest this theme on their lyrics “Pick me pick me up” and “Hey you hey you hey pick me Ei Ei”.
The audience becomes national producers who have the power to select their favorite trainees that they want to debut in the group. The fate of the trainees relies heavily on the hands of the viewers. Idol culture persists in these shows as the audience do their best to support, promote, and vote for their favorite trainees. That’s why the audience’s participation in idol survival is one of the biggest reasons why the idol survival series has become a phenomenal success.
iQiyi’s “Youth” series and Tencent Video’s “Produce” series upload the popular shows on different streaming platforms online. Gaining attention and interest from local and international fans, the audience ratings have boosted into millions of viewers and voters supporting their top picked trainees. The number one ranked trainees like Cai Xu Kun and Meng Mei Qi garnered over 47 million and 185 million votes respectively at the final episode. They have the privilege of becoming the center of their groups, in terms of having the most lines in songs and parts in choreography.
With the consecutive success of the idol survival programs, these shows transformed China’s modern pop culture. The idol wave will not go down anytime soon, with a new season of Produce Camp and Idol Producer that will be released in 2021. New aspiring trainees, popular mentors, a catchy theme song, and dedicated national producers will continue to produce new promising idol groups in the current idol era of China. It’s an obvious fact that the new debuting idol group will launch continuous global influence and success in the entertainment industry.