One-hit wonder

Are there too many girl bands in China ?


China’s latest ‘boy band’ is made up of five ‘androgynous’ girls

One dream, nine friends, three core beliefs, one heart. That’s the explanation for how Guangzhou girl band 1931 got its name. But three years on and the dream is already over.

Last month YY Media, the company that created 1931, announced the group’s dissolution. “The girl band 1931 under YY Media will officially cease operation on December 29,” said a legal document, a photo of which was posted to the group’s official Sina Weibo account.

1931 was created in 2014 as a so-called idol band – groups that are accessible to fans through daily shows, social media and “handshaking sessions”.

YY invested Rmb500 million ($77 million) in training and promoting the nine girls in the hope it would rival the country’s largest idol group – SNH48.

And 1931 wasn’t alone, some 200 other female idol bands were created over the same period as the internet made it easier to disseminate music and build a fan base.

But with 1931’s closure many wonder about the future of such groups – many of which have attracted large amounts of investment. One industry website, Entertainment Capital, estimates companies spend an average of Rmb60 million launching the groups. Sohu produced a list showing many of the companies behind the groups have raised hundreds of millions in funding.

“The average annual income [from a girl band] is less than Rmb10 million. This means the majority of female idol groups are still in the stage of burning money,” said Entertainment Capital.

The goal for all of these band’s is to replicate the success of SNH48 which was founded in 2013 with the help of Japanese music producer Yasushi Aikimoto (see WiC321).

Aikimoto is considered the pioneer of modern idol bands having established the hugely poplar AKB48 in Tokyo as a band “you can meet”.

Girls are chosen for their marketability as well as their performance skills. The troupe – which is always larger than 48 – performs nightly at their own theatre and fans are encouraged to vote for their favourite members. Girls that rank well are given greater prominence in the shows and earn more.

There is also a website where personal details such as height, star sign and blood type are listed, alongside photos and ways for fans to interact – for instance, when the band members livestream, fans can buy digital gifts to send to their favourite idol. The effect is part variety show, part beauty pageant, part dating site – and in the past up to 70% of fans have been male.

1931’s mistake seems to have been to be a slightly homelier version of SNH48. The original audition ad called for “sweet” girls rather than beautiful applicants and the group’s website also had a more accessible feel – with the girls posting short comedy skits and videos of their everyday life.

Analysts disagree about why it failed. Some suggest YY followed SNH48’s model too closely and thus was eclipsed by them.

Other say it didn’t follow it closely enough in that the 1931 troupe was smaller and thus gave less opportunity for fans to vote on their idols’ progress.

By contrast, the SNH48 franchise has spawned sister groups in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Chongqing and Shanghai.

Fans can vote to move their favourites up the ranking order inside the regional group and ultimately into a national “top 16” which records the lead song on the group’s main album. New members are also added each year to boost the sense of competition.

And fans are encouraged to buy their favourite idols’ merchandise when they attend the nightly concerts. Some diehards are known to go at least twice a month.

Many still believe there is a future for girl bands.

Mengmeng Da, arguably the next most popular idol group after SNH48, has a fixed number of members and tries to be more Chinese and less Japanese in its aesthetic.

And then last year there was the arrival of FFC-Acrush – a “boy band” comprised of five androgynous women. The band gained 750,000 followers on social media before it released a single song.

Heterosexual women refer to the gentle, fine-featured “boys” as their husbands and write them love letters. The attraction is partly to do with their looks and partly the idea they would treat women well.

Simon Cowell take note…

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.