While hip-hop is banned from Chinese public representations, a talent show tries to reinvent the Western-influenced subculture. ”Street Dance of China” is the new Youku’s success that brought urban culture into the mainstream
With the spreading of talent shows in the PRC, Chinese are digging up new generations’ passions such as acting or dancing. However, there are many subcultures that are striving to burst into the mainstream.
After the huge success of iQiyi’s reality show ”The Rap of China”, a brand-new online show brings the urban culture on the Chinese stage. It is called ”Street Dance of China” and it is the country’s first-ever talent show that centers on a dance style that evolved outside regular dance studios.
”Street Dance of China” – 这！就是街舞 in Chinese – is the new Dragon’s online success where four celebrity team leaders are called to select dancers from 390 contestants to join their crews, which will then compete against one another.
Debuted on the online video platform Youku – subsidiary of Alibaba – last February, the show already gained over 1.3 billion views collecting an extraordinary enthusiasm from the audience.
The reality series is produced by Youku and Star China and sponsored by the short-video app Douyin. It earned a rating of 8.3 out of 10 on Douban – China’s film and TV rating platform – and gathered over 100 million views within the first couple of days, making it the platform’s latest most successful production.
© Youku. Four judges are chosen from the Chinese star system to recruit dancers among 390 participants and build the strongest team.
The celebrities of the show are the boy band TFBoys member Yi Yangqianxi, Taiwan singer and TV host Show Lo, former Super Junior member Han Geng, and ex-EXO singer Huang Zitao. According to Lu Wei – director of the show – they all represent four different generations with a different interpretation of the street dance.
Although it hosts millennials’ favorite icons, the success of the format also lies in the representation of such a modern style of dance to which many young Chinese started to be curious about and eager to learn the culture.
Until now, street dancing in China has been the domain of elderly ladies performing synchronized jigs in parks revealing a social aspect of the dance in the country, as well as a traditional but revolutionary sense of freedom. Dance, in fact, has always followed the change of the society and has been often the object of attention by Chinese governments.
In particular, due to its non-traditional and sometimes heavy themes, modern dance has struggled to take off in the Middle Kingdom in the past. Although free and expressive forms of dance aroused abroad in the late 19th century, it was not until the PRC opened up to the West in the early 1980s that modern dance really began to establish roots in the county.
Although China’s street dance scene took root in the 2000s it was not until recently that it exploded into mainstream culture. Nowadays, there are over 5,000 street dance studios in the country, and the style is officially recognized by a level-based certification test.
Since then, professional dancers started focusing on cultivating the younger generation that now represents both the artists and the audience of what is called ”the renaissance of Chinese culture”. The Dragon is now more open to foreign influence, therefore creating the ideal environment to develop new subcultures as well as new forms of dance.
There is no question that modern dance has been on the rise in recent years, shown by an increase in funding, audience education and volume of companies and festivals. However, this art developed differently from the rest of the world and some of its expressions, highly related to street culture such as the hip-hop genre, found obstacles in China.
The great Asian country lacks the racial conflicts and the ”gangsta” street culture that made the hip-hop a social and cultural force abroad, so while the genre took root in China, rappers started to focus increasingly on sensitive themes such as pollution or economic inequalities ending up upsetting Beijing.
© Youku. Supreme has been selected with other famous brands such as Adidas, A Bathing Ape, Lhu Urban, and Off White for the digital format ”Street dance of China”.
As a result, early this year, according to a directive by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television of the People’s Republic of China, actors with tattoos and hip-hop artists will no longer be able to appear on Chinese TV including artistic exponents of any non-mainstream subculture or representatives of decadent cultures.
Nevertheless, even if this regulation directly affected the popular rap talent show of iQiyi, ”Street Dance of China” managed its own way to combine the genre with the government’s decision by taking from the hip-hop culture only the positive values.
”Peace, love and respect, these are the values we want to express through this show. These are also the values shared by the younger generation today,” said Lu Wei. ”What we need to do together is to make street dance healthy and tell everyone that hip-hop is a very positive form of dance,” added Hu Haoliang, one of the participants.
Since many contestants are break dancers, an art that has direct associations with the hip-hop culture, they must often cover their tattoos and dye their hair because of the ban, however, despite rap, street dance has no lyrics that might be considered as offensive and is thus safe from the ban.
Since its debut on Chinese online video platform Youku in February 2018, ”Street Dance of China” has already gained over 1.3 billion views. The talent show managed to gain over 100 million views within the first couple of days, making it the platform’s most successful production in a year and a half.
Although street dance was actually introduced to China over three decades ago and many street dance competitions have been held since then, none of the previous performances have ever been so influential as the talent show.
The huge success that came from the whole format not only pushed street dance into the mainstream but it also created a brand-new world of KOLs, who belong to the dance industry rather than show business. In fact, many of the dancers have become real Chinese celebrities as a result of appearing on the show.
The format relates to a huge number of contestants, which makes it harder for audiences to become emotionally attached to particular dancers. However, among the emerging personalities, there is Jin Xiaojun – Jin 小菌 – who already collected almost 500 thousand followers on Weibo.
Jin Xiaojun has become one of the most innovative KOLs in China. The hip-hop dance instructor, in fact, uses Chinese social media to showcase his dancing. But he expresses his true creative spirit dancing all around the world and sharing unique clips, which combine dance and travel.
© Bilibili. Jin Xiaojun, Jin 小菌. The 28-year-old hip-hop instructor from Shanghai is one of the audience’s favorite participants.
With dance performances shot from the edge of Colorado’s Grand Canyon or under the New York City subway, his Little Red Book – Chinese social e-commerce platform – profile follows the trend of travel bloggers by telling stories of dance and music through videos every week.
Even though female consumers are still dominant on the platform, Jin Xiaojun represents the masculine alternative to Chinese influencers. Moreover, Little Red Book intends to grow beyond a mere shopping platform into a full lifestyle community, therefore, from Jin Xiaojun’s profile, millennials not only find tips to recreate styles from the show but they are also able to copy the dance moves they see on it.
Thanks to the ”Street Dance of China”, new subcultures, as well as new music genres, became viral in China. Sportswear and innovative dance moves are the distinctive traits of a new ”Chinese-black” culture, able to glue millions of people to the screen.
The talent show has thus demonstrated again to be the most successful format to reach the Chinese audience while defining the KOLs of tomorrow.
Because the show has been so well-received in China, Youku will soon distribute it throughout other Southeast Asian countries. Moreover, ”Street Dance of China” received so much attention that the other Chinese video site, iQiyi, replicated the format with its own street dance show, ”Hot-Blood Dance Crew” – 热血街舞团 in Chinese.
Whether or not the development of minority culture through talent shows will continue to succeed in 2019, which of these two online formats will win the rating battle? And is street dance going to set a new trend among Chinese millennials?
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