Chinese “idol” superfans are nationalist activists

Omar Adan

Global Courant

Thanks to the efforts of their fans, artists like South Korean band BTS have their faces all over China (where they are known as “idols”) – from the subway Unpleasant media articles And brand collaborations.

In 2016 Chinese fans of Jackson Yee (aka Yi Yangqianxi), a former member of the popular Chinese boy band TFBoys, celebrated their idol’s birthday in style. They partied on a cruise in Shanghai, bought a video ad in Times Square, and flew pie-shaped hot air balloons over London and New York.

A Jackson Yee idol balloon. Photo: Twitter

- Advertisement -

As in other East Asian countries, idol fans in China are transforming from passive consumers of products into promoters, striving to personally increase the popularity, reputation and business value of their idols. This development added an estimated ¥100 billion (£613 million) to the Chinese idol market in 2020.

Research in 2015 And 2018 found that Chinese idol fans now also act as one of the key digital forces in cyber-nationalist activism, supporting core values ​​of the Chinese state such as positive energy and patriotism.

In an article published earlier this year my co-author Ting Luo and I analyzed the ways idol fans co-opted nationalism in their response to the Covid pandemic.

We looked at more than six million posts about the pandemic from December 2019 to December 2020 on Sina Weibo (a Twitter-like social media platform in China) that contained advertising messages about idols. Through in-depth interviews with idol fans, we uncovered the ways they engaged with mainstream discourse to publicize and glorify their idols.

These nationalistic expressions are often triggered by political incidents and events. The most notable example is theDiba Expedition.” Following the 2016 Taiwanese elections, fans organized to flood the Facebook pages of Taiwanese politicians with emojis and memes, for example.

- Advertisement -

Idol fans are both organized and disciplined. Our evidence shows that they also used discussions around the Covid pandemic to promote their idols.

How the pandemic affected fan behavior

In Weibo posts, idol fans argued that their idols’ albums, songs, and movies were linked to the pandemic. Many claimed to have contributed to pandemic efforts and engaged in charitable work in the name of their idols.

These activities are typical of the chart-beating behavior of fandoms, performed to increase the popularity of their idols.

- Advertisement -

The Korean boy band BTS is popular in China. Photo: Global Courant Files/AFP

Idol fans examined in our study and others understand the logic of celebrity rankings on Weibo. This is when artists need enough posts, reposts and likes to be on the trending page, increasing their profile with the wider audience. Fans often post and comment on Weibo to create positive images of their idols.

The public images these fans have built up are also nationalistic. Idols are seen as role models, who make a positive contribution to society, even in difficult times. In idol fans’ social media expressions of national pride and adherence to state rules during the pandemic, they posited their idols as loyal to the nation, the people and the party-state.

As one fan told us:

We want to make our idol appear as a first class performer. To achieve the goal, we need proof that our idol is invited and participates in performances/shows by the official media or the state. (Without state recognition) No matter how well an idol’s album sells, people would consider the idol no more than an online influencer.

Idol fans often interpret “nationalism” as loyalty to national identity and adherence to state policies and rules. Many of them deliberately demonstrate this understanding in their social media fanposts. For example, fans of idols took an active part in the state-led campaign on China’s National Day of Mourning, expressing their national pride while citing their idols in the messages.

They also deliberately respond to political and social events as a way to promote their idols’ nationalist ideals, as shown in the chart below that tracks fan posts during the Covid pandemic. (Author provided. No reuse).

‘Nationalist’ messages about idols

In addition to commercial strategies such as subway advertising, music streaming and crowdfunding, these fans see participation in events organized by the state and official media as recognition by the state.

Such “official stamps” can provide material benefits as well as political status and reputation for their idols, ultimately increasing their popularity.

Our research has shown that idol fans engage not only with the commercial logic prevalent in Japanese and Korean K-pop/idol culture (more publicity yields more commercial value), but also with the political logic propagated by the state in China (more “official stamps” bring more political value and commercial value in return).

The skillful deployment of nationalistic strategies in their daily lives prepares idol fans so that the mantra of “love of idols” can quickly change to “love of the state.”

John Wang is a lecturer in digital sociology University of Lancaster.

This article has been republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Like it Loading…

Chinese “idol” superfans are nationalist activists

Asia Region News ,Next Big Thing in Public Knowledg

Share This Article