Most people don’t know the name of the champion of Hunan TV’s 2003 Super Boy, which is considered China’s first commercialized TV music talent show. In the last 10 years, music talent shows have become one of the most celebrated forms of TV entertainment in China.
Talent shows like The Voice of China, The X Factor, Chinese Idol, and Super Boy are bombarding TV audiences.
Apart from providing entertainment, these shows also reflect the country’s cultural and societal transformation as it strides toward modernity. But despite their commercial success, experts are skeptical as to the potential of TV music talent shows to boost the country’s struggling music industry.
Zheng Xin, professor at the School of Journalism & Communication at Nanjing University, says a grassroots-oriented rather than elite-based culture is emerging in China. While individuality and personal opinions are now tolerated and celebrated, audiences still yearn for a collective recognition of their own identity.
“The popularity of music talent shows is inevitable in an era in which audiences seek out ‘idols’ with a similar social background to their own,” says Zheng.
Luo Gang, professor in Chinese literature at East China Normal University, agrees.
“When participants who belong to the same class as them take the spotlight and succeed, it resonates with mass audiences.”
Luo adds that the new generation is changing its attitude toward showing off talents, which is also fuelling the phenomenon. Chinese tend to be shy and are reluctant to demonstrate their talents due to a traditional value of humbleness. But recent decades have witnessed an increasing willingness among young Chinese to show off their talents, highlight their individuality and be unique.
Wu Mochou, for example, from 2012’s The Voice of China expressed strong willingness to show off her talent on stage.
“We are entering an era in which the demonstration of talents can be consumed like a product,” says Luo.
According to the Chongqing Economic Times, more than 22 music talent shows are scheduled on various TV stations across the country this summer. Beijing Youth Daily reported recently that The Voice of China, broadcast by Zhejiang Satellite TV, has generated more than 100 million yuan in net profits since the show completed airing last year, mostly through concerts and commercials.
But Shen Lihui, president of Modern Sky, a record company, doesn’t think the booming business of music talent shows is a cure for the music industry, which has long been haunted by a lack of innovation and unequal profit distribution.
“Music is nothing more than a platform, or a tool, for entertainment,” says Shen. “These shows are not helping to fundamentally tackle the problems in China’s music industry.”
Wang Lei, a veteran music producer and critic, warns of the risks entailed in TV music talent shows.
“No matter what form they take, talent shows are just shows at the end of the day,” Wang told Beijing Daily recently. “The monopoly of TV stations in signing and marketing artists is suffocating the industry.”
Song Ke, a renowned music producer, acknowledges these problems but also believes that music talent shows are pushing the industry in a new direction. While record companies do not have the financial resources to promote new artists, TV music talent shows have become an alternative for discovering new talents.
“TV shows have an obvious edge in promoting music artists among the public,” Song told CBN Weekly.