iQIYI‘s online show “Idol Producer” takes 100 out of 1908 trainees from 87 entertainment agencies all over Asia, and picks 9 winners by public votes to form a new boy group. The entire trainee-to-idol process spans four months, includes closed training and recording sessions as well as multiple competitive rounds of selection and elimination.
In the 12 days from March 26 to April 6, the top 20 trainees grossed over 100 million votes. Cai Xukun, who came first, receive 47.64 million votes in total.
In a past hit talent show “Super Girl”, the number of votes won by the champion Li Yuchun in 2005 was only around 5 to 6 million. In the meantime, the idol industry has involved rapidly where Chinese fans have self-organized to form voting, commenting and advertising groups. Evidently, what awaits these young stars who just came of age is definitely a more welcoming era to idol culture.
No doubt, the popularity of Idol Producer has surpassed all other topics in the industry. After Cai Xukun won the championship last night, “Cai Xukun’s center stage debut” quickly reached the top of Weibo’s hot topics chart where 11 out of the top 15 topics were about the show.
It is true that the show is suspected of copying or imitating in its format, and unlike “the Voice of China” or “I am a Singer”, the show doesn’t cover a wide audience. For the idol industry, however, Idol Producer has triggered not only explosions of hearts of fangirls everywhere, but also of the underlying capital in the direction of the industry’s future.
The slogan of the show is “the harder you work, the luckier you are”. Only citizen producers, the name given to all viewers by the show, will know whether this cliche slogan rang true, but what rang loud and clear was the incredible marketability of these soon-to-be idols.
Before the live broadcast in the afternoon of April 6th, fans came gathering outside the stadium to support their idols. They tried to outshine one and another in a display of flowers, food, related merchandise, posters and more. Of course, fans of the PD Zhang Yixing (PD is short for Producer), who is one of the mentors and a popular idol himself, couldn’t lose in this showdown to the rising stars either.
On the surface, these are simple gestures by the fans, but what lies beneath is the fundraising capacities of the respective parties. The voting rule of Idol Producer is that, the iQIYI VIP (paid members) can cast two votes per day where non-VIPs only have one vote. Every bottle sold by the sponsoring beverage brand also spots a voting code. According to a trainee fan, they raised 500,000 yuan ($79,340) for their idol in the final round alone. The money was used to purchase iQIYI VIP accounts, sponsoring beverages and securing other voting methods.
In addition to voting and fundraising, on the birthday of the trainees, fans will also create a birthday fundraising link for purchasing various gifts for their idols. And yes, fans have started creating and selling photo books and other related merchandises themselves.
In the past, many frowned upon the future of China’s idol industry. After all, it is still difficult to classify “idol” as an independent career path apart from actors and singers in China because its positioning in the industry had been unclear. Even the idols themselves share similar woes – this is why many left their former idol groups to go solo as actors and singers.
Different from Lee Soo-man of South Korea’s S.M. Entertainment, Johnny Kitagawa who leads the Japanese idol kingdom Johnnys and Yasushi Akimoto who created the idol groups AKB48 and Nogizaka 46, most of the companies creating idols in China are in the industries of film, video, live broadcast, and even gaming.
Now, however, things are changing.
In China, more millennials are choosing a bachelor lifestyle, the emotional needs of this demographic must be met. Young idols somehow have become a source of emotional fulfillment for this special demographic – the show is extremely popular among girlfriend-fans and mom-fans, categories of fans based on their self-conceived relationship to the idol. The business model of idols ingratiating their fans has undoubtedly met the needs for a considerable number of people.
Through the continuous promotion of mass media, people have begun to accept the existence of the idol culture. As for the idol-creating companies, more talents will soon come to the fore with enough capital.
One could say that the boys of Idol Producer have caught the second express train to the Chinese Idol era just as the first wave of passengers like Kris Wu, Lu Han and the TFBoys are now moving away from their idol identities.
The value of Idol Producer not only lies in waking up the fandom economy, but also in letting people see the value of these idols who were chosen vote by vote. One essence of the idol culture might be the glamorous packaging of the idols, but what people anticipate more is still the fairy tale of how ordinary kids become superstars.