Almost Real: The Fleeting Fame of Hunan’s Imitation Idols

Campy knockoff bands offering cheap fun echo the discontent associated with China’s billion-dollar music industry.

On July 29 at the Taskin City Plaza, Changsha’s second-largest shopping complex, in the central Hunan province, the vibe was electric.

It looked like a concert featuring any other red-hot idol: ear-splitting cries from a sea of delirious fans mingled with deafening music from the stage. Those at the back stood on the tips of their toes, their phones reaching for the air, lest they miss a single moment of the performance.

The livestreamed show started at 8 p.m., but spectators besieged the stage an hour earlier to get as close as possible. They were all there to see ESO, a local band.

The band’s name itself is a product of China’s shanzhai culture — used to describe anything fake or an imitation, particularly fashion goods. ESO was formed as a satirical knockoff of the hugely popular EXO, a South Korean-Chinese boy band that heralded the age of the idol in the Chinese mainland.

Comprising Lu Ha, Huang Zicheng, and Lin Junjue, ESO’s performances often brim with irony and self-deprecation. And at the concert, it was glaringly obvious.

ESO’s six young members performed in tuxedos. With their awkward dance moves, uncoordinated formations, and clear lack of professional training, the performance was more reminiscent of outdoor karaoke.

But the fans didn’t care much. Between songs, someone in the crowd called out “kiss kiss!” And the band’s shortest and slightly rotund member turned around to smile, put two fingers to his lips, and coquettishly blew two air kisses. It evoked another wave of ecstatic cries. Continue to read the full article here

– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.