The divorce between actor Wang Baoqiang and his wife was arguably the biggest celebrity scandal to grip China in 2016. For much of last year nothing came close to the social media fervour Wang caused by publicly shaming his wife (who’d cheated on him with his agent).
But just as 2017 was about to end as a drama-free year for the country’s celebrity couples, married actress Li Xiaolu grabbed headlines after the 35 year-old was photographed leaving the Beijing home of popular rapper PG One in the small hours. Married to actor Jia Nailiang and the mother of a 6 year-old daughter, Li had reportedly spent a night with PG One, who is 24. Other photos also showed the two linking arms in the dark. The pictures were published by Zhuo Wei, China’s “No.1 Paparazzo” (see WiC9), and they instantly went viral.
All parties instantly went into damage control mode. PG One, who gained fame on The Rap of China, one of the biggest hit TV shows of last year (see WiC378), was the first to issue a statement, explaining that he is a close friend of the couple. He also apologised to Jia for “not acting with decorum” by appearing too intimate with his friend’s wife.
Li, too, wrote, on her weibo saying that her meeting with PG One – albeit in the middle of the night – was actually a business meeting because she is producing a film about hip-hop, a genre that has started to gain momentum in China. She ended the post by saying she will nevertheless do some “self-reflection” on her behaviour.
Her husband, meanwhile, broke his silence by publishing an open letter on weibo urging onlookers to give the couple space as they deal with what is ultimately “a family matter”.
Jia’s plea, obviously, has been ignored. The latest scoop by China’s No.1 Paparazzo prompted a landslide of speculation about his marital status. Many surmised that Li and Jia have secretly parted ways. Others were quick to assume that Li was cheating on her husband, and many threatened to boycott her movies and shows in the future.
While the couple tried to sort out their issues, swathes of their fans directed their wrath at “the other man”.
Hip hop is not a pop culture the Party’s propaganda officials would like to encourage. For decades the genre has largely stayed underground and it remains a frequent target of state censors in recent years.
PG One’s alleged affair with Li has made him a target of practically all the major state-run media outlets.
His lyrics have been singled out as being lewd and misogynistic. For instance, his song Christmas Eve was chided for its obscene language where he boasts about forcing himself on a woman while he also raps about the use of “pure white powder” (not, presumably, talcum) .
The China Women’s News, which is published by the All-China Women’s Association, posted an opinion piece on social media saying that the lyrics were “offensive to women”. It also accused PG One of “instigating drug use among youths and publicly insulting women”.
The song didn’t go down well with the Communist Youth League. The powerful political group, which is in charge of grooming young Party cadres, complained on its official weibo that the song contained “degrading and out of line” lyrics which “encourage teenagers to use drugs” and “insult women”.
Xinhua took it a step further in its own online commentary: “Vulgarity cannot be branded as an individual character, and infamy cannot get you money. This kind of singer disrespects the industry and the audience… Even though he is the former champion of a singing content, he does not deserve his own hip-hop stage. We should also say no to those who provide a platform for spreading such vulgarity.”
The beleaguered rapper later explained that the obscene lyrics were inspired by “early exposure to hip-hop culture” and the “deep influence of black music”. But, he also concluded he may have erred as “the spirit of hip-hop should always be peace and love.”
But the apology did little to pacifyeither the media or internet users.
“First he talks about doing drugs and then he sings about forcing himself onto women and now he hooks up with his friend’s wife. There is nothing redeemable about this man,” one netizen thundered
“What does insulting women have to do with black music? Strictly speaking, this is racial discrimination,” another said.
“While the hip-hop culture is indeed an integral part of the American black culture – and sex and drugs are often cited in the hip-hop music – to use ‘black music’ as a shield is simply not acceptable,” Jiefang Daily, a newspaper run by the People’s Liberation Army also weighed in.
For iQiyi, all the controversy surrounding the rapper could be damaging. The online video site, which is already gearing up for the second season of the reality TV competition The Rap of China that made PG One famous, could find the show being axed if the censors deem it – and its contestants – too unsuitable for younger viewers.
Industry insiders say the scandal could even derail the development of hip-hop in China.
“It remains to be seen whether the second season of The Rap of China will get the government’s approval after all the scathing commentary from the state-run newspapers. This affects not only PG One as an individual, but the entire hip-hop culture. From now on, media watchdogs and police would pay close attention to all the hip-hop performances and related shows. Investors who put capital in the hip-hop variety shows and artists should be careful,” a columnist wrote on Hexun, a portal.
People’s Daily concurred. “It is more important to think about how hip-hop culture should be guided than to criticise individual singers,” the state-run newspaper warns.
For PG One, the scandal has proven to be hugely costly.
Already, all his songs have been pulled from the major music streaming platforms. Similarly, all his appearances have been cancelled and a nationwide tour has been postponed indefinitely. Endorsement deals – he is the ambassador for McDonald’s and Estee Lauder – have been called off too.
Li, too, has found her career unravelling.
The actress, who was the youngest ever star to win best actress at the prestigious Golden Horse Awards, has already seen all her scenes edited out of an upcoming TV series. Even her guest appearance on a variety show was pulled at the last minute.
And her upcoming performance on Dragon Satellite TV’s Spring Festival Gala show next month has also been cancelled…
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