It was probably one of the biggest entertainment scandals to hit last month – Kris Wu (吴亦凡), a former member of the South Korean band EXO, was accused of having a string of casual relationships with women who were left feeling hurt and used.
Yet, what ended up drawing the most attention was not Wu’s arguably questionable lifestyle. Instead, it was what Wu’s fans were doing to support their idol: They posted malicious comments on the Sina Weibo account of the woman who first posted the accusations, and they declared their devotion to Wu, no matter what.
This incident has led people to believe that fervent fans are so protective of their idols that they can easily become aggressive.
In fact, it has been said that, recently, the idol worship some fans practice has become like religion. Fans are like pilgrims following a strict set of rituals – closely watching for any news concerning their idol, organizing fan bases and activities for their idol, and even spending their money to buy hundreds of copies of their idol’s albums to contribute to the sales totals.
“The internet-based model of ‘making a star’ is changing China’s economy,” financial writer Wu Xiaobo told GQ magazine.
According to Wu, the traditional path to stardom was to first produce a good album or film, then receive media coverage, and finally get heightened exposure by becoming part of a trending topic. But the new model is completely different: Stars gather fans who are attracted to their looks and personalities and leave the rest – the marketing and media coverage – to their devotees.
A changing demographic
Not all fans appreciate the way celebrity culture is changing. Rolink Han, currently a student at UK’s Sheffield Hallam University, used to self-identify as a hard-core fan of Tang Yan, the actress of TV series My Sunshine (《何以笙箫默》,2015).
Han said she resents fans who are quick to jump into quarrels. “They are too devoted to their idols to even think rationally,” she said.
Han was drawn to Tang when she was still in the starting phase of her acting career back in 2010. Together with a large number of other fans, Han has organized various promotional activities, like parties for Tang’s birthday, over the past few years.
When asked what about Tang impressed her, Han said simply, “She is pretty and friendly.”
Today’s popular idols, like Tang and former EXO member Lu Han, are mostly quiet and well-behaved. This may seem at odds with their target demographic: young people born in the 1990s and later, a generation largely depicted as rebellious and unconventional. But Li Songwei, a doctor of psychology at Peking University, has an explanation.
“The generations born in the 1970s and 1980s were brought up under the heavy restrictions perpetuated by mainstream culture, which is why they are more eager to challenge conventions and vent their oppressed feelings,” Li told GQ magazine. But the younger generation is different. “The post-1990 generation already lives in a relatively free cultural environment. What they long for are things that are purely beautiful, positive and innocent.”