Updated: Aug 26
Hong Kong boy band Mirror is the voice of a city under crackdown — Quartz
Maybe the name of the band is meant to show the city what it could be- happy. Wait. This might be thinking too deeply about something far more simple. What this 12 member Canto Pop boyband-Mirror- is doing is bringing some much needed happiness to a once vibrant city. It’s been tough going for Hong Kong.
In 2019, it became a punching bag for the angst that ignited the 2019 pro-democracy/anti government riots that crippled Hong Kong. Before it had time to breathe, the coronavirus struck. Right now, everything is trying to find its feet again in stops and starts. Part of this rebooting of Hong Kong is Mirror, a group of individuals, who, not unlike One Direction, were handpicked from a television talent show to form a boyband.
The music might not be everyone’s cuppa yum cha and the idea of a Canto Pop boy band with more than a soupçon of copycat inspiration from K-Pop idols like BTS is hardly a groundbreaking idea. But with tourism having come to a halt, Mirror is about the only thing in Hong Kong today that’s attracting an extremely wide local audience. Why? The easy answer is that like every other boyband and going back to the days of the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync et al, here’s a buffet of choices for local fans to idolise in this singing and dancing baker’s dozen performing catchy and safe, homogenised dance-driven Canto Pop material.
Their music might not be as creative nor topical to what was produced in the Seventies by Sam Hui, the Grandfather of the musical genre, but what Mirror does is offer entertainment value at a time when Hong Kong was- and let’s be blunt- suffocating under the weight of ageing and fat cat Canto Pop idols churning out more of the same from the formulaic dim sum factory of yesterday. Whereas these veterans would only appear to promote a concert or a movie, Mirror and their “Harry Styles”- the very popular Keung To- already armed with sponsorship deals from brands like McDonald’s- make themselves accessible.
There’s no need for them to go into hiding to recover from the latest round of Botox or other products from the fountain of eternal youth. They ARE youthful and their youthful exuberance is infectious. How long will this last? Long enough for the band and everyone around them to own a few apartments and have a financially secure future. Whatever the naysayers might say- and there are almost none- Mirror has given Hong Kong what the government nor anyone else has been incapable of giving the city: Good vibes and a healthy dose of positivity. Of course, there are already local copycat groups quickly being formed and put together to ride on the coattails of Mirror, but there’s always nothing like the original even if this originality has been seen and heard before. During the thirtysomething years since the emergence of Mirror have been those Canto Popsters gasping for air and one last bite of the financial cherry while overstaying their welcome. But when there’s no one else new to take their place...well, until now, that is. Suddenly, even to more mature local audiences who grew up with “idols” like the “Four Heavenly Kings”- Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, Andy Lau and Aaron Kwok- and the countless ‘live’ television awards shows where the winners were predetermined months in advance, the Hong Kong entertainment industry had become bloated and tedious.
To many, Mirror is a refreshing change. Will this manufactured act bring anything really new to the Hong Kong music scene? Maybe. Or, just like the Nineties, this will simply be a younger and new version of everything that’s come before for a different audience. The one difference might be seeing once powerful terrestrial television station HKTVB, and the also ran ATV, both teetering on the brink of disaster, fold as the last thing Hong Kong needs are more beauty pageants and talent searches. Plus, both television stations are showing their age. If content is king, one really doubts that either station are holding exactly strong hands. The popular new player in town right now is ViuTV, a Chinese channel on NOWTV, the “birthplace” of Mirror, and which is the new Go To channel for new Hong Kong. ViuTV is a not unexpected, but a smart and timely business model that’s not unlike a hit making pop factory with a variety of choices for different customer segments- games, competitions, merchandise, interactivity etc.
The channel also helped bring the other popular boyband in Hong Kong known as Error into the mix. Error is less glam and more chow fan. It works. The Canto Pop buffet table is offering up local audiences another choice.
With almost no tourism and five star hotels looking at staycations to keep those bottom lines afloat, where does Western music fit in Hong Kong 2021? It’s precariously placed. For the foreign musician who has made this city their home for a decade or longer, it’s now ten years later. Hong Kong is very quickly becoming less and less international. Hopefully, this trend doesn’t continue. What made this city great and gave it a pulse was it being a vibrant global gumbo mix. One hopes that the Hong Kong Tourism Board is not only listening, but has relevant answers. One is not exactly holding their breath for this to happen when the organisation doesn’t even have the courtesy to reply to emails offering help. Not a good move. The next ten years are going to be interesting as some things can change whereas so much can stay the same. Only time marches on. Personally speaking, the riots of 2019 showed just how much Hong Kong had changed overnight. Alarm bells were going off loudly. There were lessons to be learned during those days and the time for new plans to be put into place. During these days of uncertainty from one day to the next, change is the order of the day pretty much everywhere in the world- change and looking at new business and creative opportunities. The old ways are gone forever. New ways of working in the new abnormal are already happening. One doesn’t need a mirror to see this.