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“Never give up:” A Hong Kong boy band has emerged as the voice of a city under crackdown

A participant holds sheet music of Hong Kong's protest anthem during a protest in 2019.
Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
City notes.
  • Mary Hui
By Mary Hui



Their music has rung out in a courtroom, in prison, on television, and at live concerts. For a society reeling from an authoritarian crackdown against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, this may seem an odd time for a boy band to take a city by storm.

And yet Mirror, a pop group of 12 fresh-faced singer-dancers, has done just that.

This month, it drew thousands of fans to a live concert series, tickets to which sold for as much as HK$231,800 ($30,000, link in Chinese). Combining catchy beats, layered lyrics, and a hearty dose of pizzazz, the two-and-a-half year old boy band has emerged as a source of entertainment and escape, but also a reflection of the city’s political consciousness.

One hit song that has found particular resonance is “Warrior,” which debuted in March. Mixing Cantonese and English, the song  speaks of marching on to embrace a new era, of seizing opportunities amidst upheavals, and harnessing the power of the mind so “even mortals can fly.” The song ends with a verse in English, a battle cry of sorts:

never give up never give up
never give up I got it I’ve got a warrior heart
never give up never give up
never give up I got it I’ve got a warrior heart

It’s this spirit of fighting and persevering against all odds that appears to have struck a chord with Hong Kongers as they grapple with the rapid dismantling of freedoms under Beijing’s campaign of repression. It was hearing the song from prison in March, where the activist and former journalist Gwyneth Ho is currently detained on a national security charge facing life imprisonment, that made her cry for the first time since her detention (link in Chinese). One line in particular, roughly translated here, hit her: “I won’t die / I won’t retreat.”

Mirror is also particularly relatable for many Hong Kongers because the band grew out of a reality television talent show in 2018, so fans feel they have been on the boy band’s journey from inception to viral stardom. For its part, the boy band is aware of its role in shaping Hong Kongers’ political imaginations, even if the current political climate means band members aren’t explicit about their political stances.

In an interview (link in Chinese), a Mirror member said that the group’s songs could inspire Ho and others to continue their fight. And at the end of a recent concert, another band member yelled (link in Chinese) “Hong Kong add oil!”—a phrase that while not explicitly political is associated with the protest movement and means “keep going.”

“In today’s Hong Kong, there are lots of things you can’t say. With the national security law, anything you say can be targeted,” said John Mok, a Hong Konger pursuing a doctorate in sociology, and who attended the recent Mirror concert. Seeing Mirror express itself through music, however, is a source of inspiration. “It gives people hope…they can see Hong Kong as an identity can be preserved or developed. Even if the political sphere is very restricted, on the cultural side there is still some breathing space,” he said.

In many ways, Mirror’s uplifting music is at once a response and antidote to the daily deluge of bad news in Hong Kong. On any given day, there is a new iteration of state repression: a journalist convicted of using a public data base; activists arrested and jailed; potential exit bans on Hong Kongers; a ban on the annual Tiananmen vigil which would normally take place on June 4. In a way, listening to Mirror is also a type of resistance, a form of light-filled expression at a time when the freedom of expression is being forcefully restricted. That’s especially the case when the city’s protest anthem, “Glory to Hong Kong”, has effectively been banned.

“The Mirror…phenomenon proves that even though things are so bad, this place refuses to play the role of a city of sadness,” Evelyn Char, a Hong Kong-based writer, wrote in a recent essay (link in Chinese) after attending the boy band’s concert. “We still have the ability to laugh, the ability to goof around, the ability to connect. In the darkest of nights, we hope. What this mirror reflects is the strength of Hong Kong’s resilience.”

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