Chinese entertainment companies and talent agents have been trying to create a home-grown megastar boy band for years. Now, it seems that they have finally succeeded, with a teenage boy band called The Fighting Boys, who sing about homework, winning a Nobel prize, and occasionally, songs like “We’re the future of Communism.” (Check out the video above to get an idea.)
So exactly how popular is this band?
Well, the world record for most reposts of a Weibo post (it’s China’s equivalent of Twitter) is held by Junkai Wang, lead singer of The Fighting Boys (also known as TFBOYS). In 2014, Junkai posted a video of himself singing about growing pains, and it has been shared over 150 million times since.
The band debuted in 2013 and quickly exploded in popularity, gaining mostly female fans at lightening speed. Its fans are very devoted. Last year, some of them bought a video ad in Times Square and flew a hot air balloon over the Thames river in London to mark band member Yuan Wang’s 16th birthday.
TFBOYS learned from successful boy bands from South Korea and Japan, which have long dominated the Chinese boy/girl band market. The three boys from TFBOYS started young and appeared on reality TV shows to build their public profiles, measures that K-pop and J-pop (Japanese pop culture) perfected in the creation of pop idols they export abroad. TFBOYS have done that too: They’ve got fans in South Korea, Thailand and a host of other Asian countries outside China.
But what’s interesting is that TFBOYS took a different path after they broke through, one that might be uniquely Chinese.
“If you examine their songs closely, you’ll see a change of themes. They went from teen love, or puppy love, which is still taboo in China, to more pro-nationalism themes. ” says Jin Zhao, a Chinese journalist.
TFBOYS sing uplifting, patriotic songs. And mainstream Chinese media praise them for it. Commercials capitalize on their image as model young men. Even in tabloids, stories about them often focus on what outstanding students they are in school.
This wholesome image has helped them grow even bigger. To some degree, they’re China’s answer to Justin Bieber: young, fresh and cute. Except while fans might obsess over Bieber’s love life, in China, they care about how well the TFBOYS perform in school.