Mirror, Mirror on the wall, can Hong Kong boy band beat the blues and win back disappointed fans?

[Doctor LI Meiting was interviewed by South China Morning Post on 19 February 2023]

By Edith Lin and Jess Ma

  • Lacklustre performances, missing members and an apparent devotion to ad dollars have put off fans
  • Critics say Mirror must work hard to bounce back, as new local stars emerge and global acts return

Saleswoman Freda Cheung* used to start conversations with customers by chatting about her favourite Cantopop boy band Mirror, its latest songs and commercials.

“The band has been in the city’s collective memory over the past three years,” said the 20-something. “It brought me happiness and diverted my attention from the Covid-19 pandemic and the social unrest of 2019.”

Her “happy bubble” burst after an accident at Mirror’s concert last July, when a giant LED screen fell and hit two dancers, injuring one critically.

The band stopped performing for two months. Since returning to the public eye, however, it has been dogged by criticism of lacklustre performances, flagging energy and chasing the money from advertisement deals and promotional events.

Cheung’s enthusiasm for her idols has dimmed. With Hong Kong reopening after three years and Covid-19 pandemic arrival restrictions scrapped, she said: “I want to prioritise travelling.”

Suddenly, a question being asked in Hong Kong is: What has gone wrong for Mirror?

The 12-member band shot to stardom in 2018 through ViuTV’s reality-TV talent programme Good Night Show – King Maker, attracting an army of loyal fans of all ages and walks of life.

Now there are concerns that the days of fans queuing up for hours for tickets may be over and its international ambitions might not take off.

Out of nine public appearances by the band since last October, when it launched the ballad “We All Are”, the Post found that all members showed up at the same event only once.

Missing members were either sick or occupied with other work, a sharp contrast with their first two years, when the whole group turned up most of the time.

Most members also endorsed fewer brands on their Instagram accounts between last October and January, compared with the four months before the accident.

The two most popular members, Keung To and Anson Lo Hon-ting, saw their endorsements shrink from 16 to about six.

Competition is heating up too, not only from newcomers in the city but also the return of concerts by global acts such Korean girl group Blackpink and Irish pop band Westlife.

Mirror’s latest appearance was at an event last Saturday to launch an international campaign by pharmacy chain Watsons. Keung, 23, was absent when the group performed the advertising single “Go Green” for the first time.

That left freelance editor Mavis Tse*, almost 30, feeling dismayed. A fan since 2020, she said she was disappointed with the band’s recent lack of “sincerity”.

“Their only group song this year was an advertising song. I feel they have become an ad-driven boy band and hardly do anything together without a paymaster,” she said.

The Post reached out to Mirror’s management company, MakerVille, on its strategy for the band and future plans, but did not receive a reply.

Time to get its act together

Critics said the group had to get its act together to thrive amid increased competition in a reopened world.

All was not lost, they added, as Mirror bagged several prizes in the year-end music awards last year.

But they warned that the band had to work harder to offer fans at home and overseas fresh and varied performances and not appear to be focused only on landing advertisement deals.

Rudi Leung Chi-sing, director of advertising agency Hungry Digital and a music critic for more than 30 years, said Mirror now faced a more diversified market with other celebrities emerging as commercial darlings.

One such example is singer Michael Cheung Tin-fu, 26, also known as MC, who made his debut at the Hong Kong Coliseum, the city’s top concert venue, after joining a label two years ago.

“The boy band’s market share can be diluted with more alternatives on endorsement … but big brands will not easily give up on them as they guarantee hit rates,” Leung said.

He also said advertisers would continue to feature local stars to attract Hongkongers, as the city still needed time to bring back tourists.

But he agreed that Mirror could not only rely on advertisements to keep their fame, especially if it hoped to go international, a target MakerVille announced last April.

Leung said the band would have to release songs in English and appear in more TV programmes and films that combined local and international elements to compete with the entertainment industry in South Korea and Thailand, which both exported plenty of dramas.

“The content has to be able to cross the border, but I can’t see that from the band at the moment. Going international needs songs and visuals, resources and commitment.”

Leung said Mirror risked losing its local fan base if it went for the lucrative mainland Chinese market, given the past experience of other artists.

Many young local fans have shown their disapproval of singers they felt were chasing the huge mainland market for fame and profit, such as Mike Tsang Pei-tak, who performed in some reality singing shows there last year.

Mirror has faced increasing criticism of the quality of its performances, especially after being caught singing out of tune and dancing out of sync.

Its best known member Keung, 23, who once vowed to become Asia’s next top singer, was widely panned online for his solo appearance at a music awards ceremony.

Internet users were brutal in attacking his performance of the hit single “Spiegel im Spiegel”, when he flapped his arms and jumped down to the crowd crying out: “Everybody jump!”

Carrie Lui*, in her 20s and once proud to be a fan, has given up. She sold most of the Mirror merchandise she amassed over the past two years, including magazines, posters and dolls of her favourite boy bands.

“As a fangirl, I look for quality performances, not laid-back dance moves and out-of-tune songs,” she said. “Falling for them doesn’t mean that I’ll tolerate everything.”

Who is Mirror, really?

Li Mei-ting, a cultural studies lecturer at Chinese University, said management company MakerVille had to address Mirror’s lack of a strong, defining identity for the band to flourish.

“Mirror’s image is palatable across all ages, but audiences may not be able to see who they actually are,” she said.

“I want to know what’s their link to the local community? Their previous hit single ‘Warrior’ carried the message that they are a new, rising generation, but that image hasn’t been sustained.”

She also cautioned that the group’s career could not develop by relying on advertisements.

She said the perceived incompetence of Mirror’s recent performances reflected management decisions more than the band’s lack of talent.

She said: “The problem for Mirror is that there is no time for them to even rest under their schedule, as members jet off to attend the Paris fashion week or film advertisements. How can they have time to train?”

Li said fans who followed international pop stars could not help but project standards achieved by Korean or Japanese groups onto the local boy band.

“We should ask how our local labels nurture their talent,” she said. “What kind of stars do we want to produce, and are we willing to make the investment for it?”

* Names changed at interviewees’ request.

[Read more]: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/society/article/3210729/mirror-mirror-wall-can-hong-kong-boy-band-beat-blues-and-win-back-disappointed-fans