Russian man ‘held hostage’ in Chinese talent show finally returns home
Lelush can finally go home.
The Reluctant Russian Star of Tencent’s Core Idol Survival Show Product Camp 2021, whose real name is Vladislav Sidorov, thanked his fans on Weibo for their support when the show ended last weekend. After 3 months, Lelush’s “hostage life” on the show is finally over.
Lelush has become the most talked about candidate on Product Camp 2021 This year. The show pitted 101 young male contestants against each other in pursuit of a spot in a multi-talented boy band. Still, Lelush was a mediocre performer and made it clear he didn’t want to be there. Instead, he was a breath of fresh air in the mind-numbing landscape of variety shows, the type of contestant audiences had never seen before – someone who didn’t even want to be on the show in first place and who has shown absolutely no passion for anything his peers on the show are passionate about.
“Lelush first caught my attention because of her refreshing personality,” says Yiyi, a Lelush fan. “He’s the only one out of 101 contestants who doesn’t even pretend to try.”
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Unlike other aspiring pop idols, Lelush’s appearance on the show was purely coincidental. He was first called on set as a translator to assist an unprecedented number of international applicants this year, thanks to his quadrilingual proficiency in English, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. Noticed by the creators of the series for his beauty, Lelush joined Product camp in order to fill a quota of international candidates and, he says, to experience new things. It was until it went viral – and was forced by its fans to stay on the show until the finale.
Lelush’s screen time in the show’s early episodes was minimal, only coming across as negligible laugh material because he performed so poorly, while remaining so unapologetic. After each contestant was given a letter grade based on their initial audition, the next challenge was to perform the show’s theme song, which promised contestants a chance at a new grade.
Lelush, who had been placed in Class F for his lackluster performance, delivered another pleasant and sloppy performance that successfully placed him in Class F again. His face beamed brighter than ever when the grade was announced, “F stands for freedom, I can finally go home,” he said on the show.
Also included is Lelush’s Great Escape Plan slacking off in training, actively avoiding the cameras, pretending to speak Chinese badly and refusing to wear makeup for promotions, according to the sharp eyes of the internet. In almost every snap he appeared in, he maintained a lifeless poker face alongside his sugary fellow trainees, showing no enthusiasm for singing, dancing or becoming a pop star.
But his cleverly crafted plan to escape the show backfired. The dramatic contrast between him and the other trainees made him stand out. Her sly smile when receiving an “F” went viral online shortly after the first episodes aired. Voting for Lelush has become an online fad for a group of young netizens who call themselves “sunsi”, or “ragged bamboo shoots”, which means prankster. Jokey remixes videos of himself on video streaming site Bilibili and TikTok-like app Douyin.
The disillusioned and exhausted youngsters, who straddle the show’s audience demographics, found every move Lelush made comical and refreshing. In a show plagued by over-the-top grimacing, over-the-top positivity and earnings manipulation, Lelush embodied passive-aggressive audience displeasure.
“Lelush is like me at work,” reads a post from a Weibo user about his anti-idol, “or any other worker whose soul has been withered from his corporate job.” His apathetic demeanor accurately tapped into blood culture, a sentiment popular among Chinese urban youth characterized by a lack of drive and spirit.
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“This guy is definitely golden meme,” says Zhao Bokun, 22, a Lelush supporter. “He is such a good symbol for those who suffer in silence but dare not speak.” Although he is a close follower of Lelush and the show, Zhao is critical of the endless slew of idol survival shows that Chinese streaming platforms like Tencent, iQIYI and others produce, as well as the increasingly stereotyped formula. star creation pipeline in the Chinese entertainment industry. “Everyone knows these shows are all shows and without substance,” he says. “It’s not like the capitalists pulling the strings behind all of this actually care about talent or originality, so what’s the harm in indulging in a bit of harmless practical joke.
Zhao’s antipathy to the idol industry is shared by many, as is his criticism of toxic fandom practices. “Internet capital has created a trading system with the traction an idol gets as a universal equivalent, in which fans must be milked to the last drop in the name of love,” Lin Xi, an academic who studies fan culture, said recently GQ China.
It’s hard to say whether Lelush’s popularity is a pushback against this current, an attempt to pander to it, or both. Nevertheless, the fact that the guy is easy to like and encourage is undeniable. He speaks good Chinese but remains very humble. He has no passion for performance but treats all other teammates with genuine respect. He was naturally funny without even having to say a word or realizing it. On Bilibili, Lelush’s final performance, which reenacted his audition performance of the song “Jackpot,” garnered nearly 4 million views just days after it aired.
As the show progressed, Lelush clung to his own personal ideals despite his growing popularity. “Becoming part of a boy band is not my dream,” he said during an episode, directly appealing to his fans to let him off the show and not vote him out. “Singing and dancing is so tiring, and I just want to go home. Please let me go.”
A former model and e-commerce surrogate, Lelush dreamed of starting her own clothing brand. Despite his insistence on getting eliminated, he and his new found fame seem to be here to stay.
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Lelush’s star-making movement may have started as a simple viral joke, but it didn’t take long for fan appreciation for Lelush to kick in, or “ZQSG,” popular Chinese slang that abbreviates the initials of the characters “true feelings and honest emotions”.
A subgroup of the Lelush fandom engages in the practice of Nisu, in which a male idol’s gender is reversed and consumed as the fan’s lover. Fans compare Lelush to Bao Si, the gorgeous concubine who made King You of the Zhou Dynasty teased the whole country just to make her laugh.
Lelush’s popularity is also reflected in “ships” (fandom slang derived from the word “relationship”, meaning an imaginary romantic relationship between two characters). A video featuring Lelush and Russian politician Vladimir Putin got over 2 million views on Bilibili. “Turns out the reason Lelush wants to go home so badly is because his true identity is Putin’s bodyguard!” reads the video caption.
While some followers indulged in their pie-in-the-sky fantasy, others objected to these textbook fandom behaviors, which kept Lelush on the show until the finale. “I know Lelush is actually okay with that, but I don’t think it’s ethical to keep voting for him when he clearly doesn’t care about this whole idol thing,” Olivia said. Zhang, a fan of the series. . Zhang also pointed out that continuing to consume Lelush as a personality would play directly into the hands of Tencent, the very thing Lelush supporters were trying to rebel against.
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On April 24, the date of the show’s finale, the semi-consensual saga between Chinese Internet users and Lelush ended with a happy ending. Lelush left the show placing seventeenth – meaning he’s avoiding the final boyband cut. He performed his signature song “Jackpot” again, rearranged with a flashy auto setting and dazzling lighting. Although he may have sung out of tune, he will go down as the series’ uncrowned king.
Cover image via QQ Video