‘Eliminate me from the contest’
The author is head of the JoongAng Ilbo China Institute.
It was only by coincidence that 27-year-old Vladislav Ivanov appeared on Chinese reality TV show “Produce Camp 2021.” His friend asked him to be a Chinese interpreter and guide for two Japanese contestants. When he arrived at the filming location in Hainan, the production team suggested he compete. Ninety young men from China, Japan, Russia, and Taiwan were to compete to form an 11-member boy band, and there were not enough contestants.
Ivanov didn’t know how to dance or sing, but he accepted the offer, thinking it would be a new experience. While studying in China, he had already worked as a store clerk, peddler, model and Chinese interpreter. Soon, he regretted his decision. He could not use a computer or smartphone and had to practice dancing and singing in an isolated location. He could not leave because of the heavy penalty for breaking the contract. The only way out of the camp was to be eliminated from the program.
Ivanov went by “Lelush,” a name he had taken from Japanese animation series “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion.” When other contestants desperately sang and danced to stay in the show, Lelush’s performance was half-hearted. Instead of being eliminated, China went crazy for him. News about him was shared every day.
Contestants were eliminated every week since the show started mid-February, but Lelush had more than 2 million fans. Out of despair, he asked fans to eliminate him if they loved him. In an interview, he said he didn’t want to dance and was very tired and pleaded to be allowed wanted to go home. But he advanced to the final in late April. He said that even if he won, he would not want to pursue the career, and he was eventually eliminated. He said that the “F” grade he got meant “freedom.”
Why did China go crazy for Lelush? Many think he represented the culture of “sang,” which in Chinese means a “sense of loss and frustration.” The culture refers to a life without dreams. Chinese people born in the 1980s and 90s cannot afford to get married or buy homes, and work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Lelush’s grumpy, tired face became the symbol of China’s “sang” culture.
Lelush reminds me of Korea’s “N-po” generation that has given up on so many things, including dating, marriage and having children.