Everywhere you look in Hong Kong – on billboards, trams, buses and a huge outdoor TV screen in Causeway Bay – you’ll see the hottest boy band in town: Mirror.
And when you look closer, you can be surprised at the number of images that are not direct advertisements for the group or for the brands it sponsors. They appear through the combined efforts of dedicated fans.
A significant example occurred on April 30, the birthday of Keung To – one of the group’s most beloved members – when his fans offered free tram rides to all Hong Kongers for the whole day. In Causeway Bay, billboards streamed celebratory messages from fans to their idol.
It’s not just Keung with a devoted army of followers. Whenever an individual member of Mirror releases a new single or celebrates a birthday, their exclusive fan club will publicize their idol, usually in the form of outdoor advertisements, to reach a wider audience.
Fan-funded advertising campaigns are not limited to Hong Kong. After Anson Lo released his single “Megahit” last September, local media reported that his fans launched campaigns in seven cities around the world. In London, for example, they rented an outdoor advertising board at the Westfield Stratford City shopping center for three days.
Some recent fandom campaigns in Hong Kong have focused on charity. The Anson Lo fan club donated anti-epidemic supplies to charities when the city was hit by the fifth wave Covid-19 outbreak in February.
And last November, fans of Mirror’s Jeremy Lau – better known as ‘Jer’ – celebrated his birthday with an art exhibit and a trip to clean up Shek Pai Wan beach on the Lama Island.
Supporters of three Mirror members, Keung, Ian Chan and Edan Lui, make a donation gifts and money to different children’s charities at the end of last year, according to HK01.
Cultural commentator Kenny Leung, also known as “Ah Fruit,” told HKFP that he has taken note of the increase in charity events organized by Cantopop fans. “They are aware of how to improve their idols’ reputations and increase their exposure,” he said.
‘From bottom to top’
For more than a decade, Leung said, no new Hong Kong pop star has become a household name. The mirror was the exception.
Since the presentation of the Ultimate Song Chart Awards last year, where Keung To won two awards by popular vote, there have been a series of media events promoting Mirror – “some of them are [commercial] formulas, but some are bottom-up.
He cited Anson Lo’s birthday on July 7 when his fans rented a large billboard next to the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui. According to HK01, the Cost was around HK$100,000.
Leung said the rental created a “spectacle” for an entire week as countless fans took to the pier to check in on social media.
“What differentiates [Mirror] the past [singers] is the level of participation from their fans,” he said. Although the band members might not be familiar at first, the band quickly became a popular choice among publicity clients because “they knew there would be fans who would gather in front of the billboards to take pictures”.
Not all of the members enjoyed large followings when Mirror debuted in November 2018.
Eunice Pang, who has been a strong supporter of Jer since early 2019, told HKFP that only a handful of fans showed up to his events or performances at that time.
While some, like columnist Chip Tsao, suggest Mirror’s rise was a ‘political projection’ by pro-democracy Hong Kongers after the failed 2019 protests, Kenny Leung said that wasn’t exactly what had happened.
“If it’s a political projection, you can project your [political aspirations] on whoever is out there,” he said. Instead, Leung said there was an atmosphere in society that was eager to “break free from old conventions and innovate” and that contributed to the Mirror phenomenon.
After the 2019 protests, Leung said many Hong Kongers saw the undesirable side of the established music industry. Many famous Cantopop stars such as Eason Chan and Miriam Yeung were either “somehow tied to the old system” or demonstrated their willingness to meet the needs of the mainland market.
When people yearned for a new generation of popular icons, Leung said, Mirror was there to fill the void with their clear message to “bring in a new era” – as they explicitly sang in their song “Warrior.”
When Keung said “We will become the first in Asia” and Jer shouted the phrase “Hong Kong, keep it up!” at the Chill Club awards ceremony in April last year, their comments resonated with many Hong Kong Cantopop fans.
And the group also has talent to support its message.
The return of cantopop
Given the sterile local music scene of the past decade, many Hong Kongers – including Eunice Pang – have turned to foreign popular culture instead. The rise of the music of Mirror and Jer in particular prompted her to revisit Cantopop as a whole.
“At first I was saying things like, Cantopop is nothing but ballads,” the 18-year-old said. Until the arrival of Mirror, she mainly listened to popular English and Japanese music.
“I didn’t listen to a lot of Cantopop back then because their numbers never became a hit and nobody was talking about them.” Now Jer’s songs touch his emotions in a way no foreign music can.
Kenny Leung agreed that Mirror had inspired locals to start listening to new releases of Cantopop again, rather than old Hong Kong classics or overseas works. The rise of Mirror helped them see that Hong Kong artists also produce quality music.
Along with showing his support for his idol, Pang said fan events are a chance to meet and socialize. “It was like a reunion with friends you haven’t met in a long time.”
Fans come from all walks of life and all ages, but never run out of things to talk about. Pang said Jer’s fans are more or less in tune with each other, with a common interest in Japan, cantopop, band music, movies and art in general.
She said that when discussing Cantopop, the scope of the discussion usually extended beyond the 12 members of Mirror. “[Jer] keep telling us to listen more [Cantopop music].”
Pang therefore paid more attention to Cantopop singers such as Hins Cheung and Alfred Hui and sometimes also to independent creators like Serrini.
Leung said Mirror’s popularity has revived the city’s overall music scene, with more collaborations between boy band members and other industry players.
The band’s success had shone the spotlight on other musicians performing with Mirror or part of the creative process. Singer-songwriter Gareth T., who started releasing original songs in 2018, has seen a surge in popularity since composing for Keung To.
As Covid-19 restrictions ease, Mirror has scheduled a 10-day live concert between July 25 and August 4. The scalpers reportedly sold the tickets for up to HK$440,000 each.
Kenny Leung said he hopes people’s willingness to spend isn’t just limited to Mirror.
When asked if Mirror is signaling the revival of Hong Kong’s music scene, Leung said Hong Kongers are just “standing on the starting line of revival.” The local music industry could not be described as thriving if only Mirror shows were sold out and not those of other local singers.
Leung hopes people will develop a greater acceptance of different genres of music, “that goes beyond Mirror.”
But Pang said she was not worried about Mirror stealing the show from other local musicians., which were also requested.
She had tried to buy friends tickets for other singers like Serrini, C AllStar, Jay Fung and Rubberband. “All their tickets are so hard to get!”