In an industry which has long prized women for being younger, slimmer and girlish, Wang Ju is an anomaly. Indeed, the contestant on pop show Produce 101 is being labelled a “new icon in female liberation”.
Who is she?
Born in Shanghai, Wang tried her hand as a primary school teacher after graduating from university. She later joined talent agency, Esee Model, in a model management role. It was here that she came across the pop show Produce 101, which sent a casting director to look for people to audition for the debut season. Wang signed herself up.
Premiering in April, Produce 101 is an online talent show produced and distributed by Tencent. A remake of the hugely successful South Korean pop show of the same name, the series sees 101 contestants battle to get into “China’s next big pop group”.
Currently in her ninth week in the competition, Wang is second in the overall rankings – not bad for someone who was derisively compared to an “old aunt” in the show’s opening weeks.
In her own words
One of the things fans like about Wang is that she is outspoken. In an interview this month, she took a defiant tone: “Some people say girls like me cannot be idols. But what exactly are the standards for being a girl idol? I’ve eaten up all the standards.” When one of the show’s judges asked her whether she wanted to return to the skinnier look of her younger days, she replied: “I wouldn’t want to go back. The standard of being beautiful is to be yourself. I control my own life. Having an independent spirit is too important.”
Her style on stage – often rapping in English and devising her own lyrics – is mixed with a gender angle in which she touches on female independence (“You don’t have to put a ring on my finger, I can buy my own”).
Asked on Saturday about her prospects, Wang played on a similar theme, telling the voting viewers that “you now have the chance to redefine China’s number one girl group.”
Wang has been clever in nurturing her image in a way that has launched her from relative obscurity to suddenly becoming one of the internet’s highest-profile celebrities.
Echo Wu, head of the new Wang Ju fan club explains: “I think we’ve always lacked a female role model who is confident and dares to challenge conventional standards.”
Sometimes nicknamed Juyonce and Juhanna – in reference to US pop icons Beyonce and Rihanna – Wang Ju has also attracted a devoted following among China’s gay community.
One fan told website Danlan: “Everything Wang Ju has been through, we gays have been through.”
Even the usually conservative Global Times has labelled her a “cultural phenomenon” who is “worthy of attention”.
Evidently her bulldozing of stereotypes has had widespread appeal.
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