From Jan. 19 to April 6, Chinese video-streaming platform iQiyi’s reality show “Idol Producer,” in which 100 young Chinese men are selected to display their artistic talent and compete for nine positions on a team to kickstart their careers in show biz, got over 2 billion views.
Those candidates, who wore heavy makeup with chic hair styles and behaved in an adorable, innocent and feminine way, have attracted a total of 180 million votes from their supporters, most of whom were young females. The show has seen ever-increasing popularity on various social media platforms in China.
The feverish love for young, doll-like men with flawless skin and gentle, soft voices from Chinese women has become a hot topic online. They have even been classified as “puppy dogs” by female netizens. People start to wonder whether the mainstream aesthetic for men has changed in China, and Chinese men, who have been recently accused of failing to reach the standards of Chinese women, have felt pressure to become feminesque heartthrobs.
In fact, the craze for young, sweet and effeminate men began to take shape last year, when millions of girls downloaded an online game to “raise” or “feed” their pretty virtual boyfriends. Many of them chose to have several online “relationships” at once in order to enjoy the feeling of being the boss in a heterosexual relationship.
Of all possible causes of such a shift in taste, economics must play a prominent role.
In the past decades, more Chinese women have received higher education and have more choices in the job market. As a result, they are entitled to more freedom in the consumer market. According to data released by JD.com, the amount of money spent by women quadrupled from 2014 to 2017. In buying their clothes, cosmetics and accessories, women have also gradually become the economic bedrock of their idols.
Dedicated fans of “Idol Producer” spend their savings on votes and buying their idols’ favorite products. Those fans expressed their joy after spending money on their favorite men.
Economic empowerment has also changed women’s demand from men. Instead of behaving obedient and relying on their men, women have become picky in choosing their partners. An article that received millions of views in 2017 claimed that Chinese middle-aged men were no match for Chinese women, as the men were usually “sloppy,” “lazy,” “greasy” and had a male chauvinistic mindset. But in “Idol Producer,” “most candidates were mild-mannered, sweet and had strong self-discipline,” said an article on popular WeChat platform Doctor X.
“Looking good is the only rule” has become a popular online saying. People believe that those who look pretty love to spend time and energy on appearance management, which means they tend to have a more positive attitude, be less lazy and even have more money or are willing to earn more money. By appreciating pretty-looking men and letting men to rely on women, those women believe they can take control of their body and love life.
(The author is a Shenzhen Daily reporter/editor.)