In 2017, online video site iQiyi released The Rap of China, a ‘rap battle’ reality show. It was such a success that in addition to racking up billions of views for the platform, it brought more of China’s underground street culture into the mainstream.
Unfortunately, the winner of the contest then earned unwanted headlines for the series with an alleged affair with a married starlet (see WiC393). He was also accused of glamourising drugs with some of his earlier lyrics, and the show became too hot for the censors to handle.
When the second season finally aired in 2018 – after repeated delays – the show’s tone had changed markedly. No more raps that hinted at violence or thuggery – instead contestants rhapsodised about love, dreams and peace.
The producer even changed the name of the format to China’s New Rap, explaining that the rebranding heralded a new era for the nation.
Audiences weren’t as keen on the show’s reincarnation, however. Ratings for the new offering fell to just 5 out of 10 on Douban (the TV series and film review site) compared to 7.2 in its earlier format.
Even the producers admitted that it had lost its way.
“A lot of people diss us, saying that a show about rap only talks about peace. It’s meaningless. We are sorry. We didn’t have guts and were too scared to be real. We lost faith and the show lost its touch with reality,” the production team apologised on weibo.
But the same team is now back again, trying to tap into hip-hop culture for fresh commercial success. Its new offering Fourtry stars two of the celebrity judges from the earlier rapping contest – Kris Wu and Wilbur Pan – who are tasked with opening a streetwear boutique popup in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district.
To help them, A-list starlet Angelababy lends her merchandising skills and massive social media following (she ranked third on our Top 30 KOLs ranking last October, with 100 million followers on Sina Weibo and 7.3 million on Instagram; see www.weekinchina.com/kol).
She is joined in the show’s Tokyo fashion shop by 17 year-old actress Zhao Jinmai (who last year starred in the blockbuster The Wandering Earth).
Fourtry has done well in the ratings – it is one of the most watched variety shows in eight out the 12 weeks since it first aired on iQiyi in December.
Its maker iQiyi is also pitching Fourtry as a platform to showcase homegrown designers. Throughout the show, Wu reminds the audiences that domestic streetwear brands are just as attractive as foreign labels and deserve more of the spotlight (of course, the host is also one of the faces of brands like Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari and Lancome in China).
That said, WiC detects that homegrown labels have struggled to get much airtime on the programme – and likewise that the host aren’t necessarily aware of who they are either. For instance when the designer of Chinese streetwear brand Sankuanz Shang Guanzhe made a surprise appearance at the Tokyo shop, both Wu and Pan admitted that they had never heard of him.
Similarly, more established streetwear brands from China like Chen Peng and Mark Fairwhale (owned by domestic apparel giant Septwolves; see WiC91) made only fleeting appearances on the show too.
In fact, the only domestic label getting frequent mention was Fourtry, which is an entirely new brand that has been trademarked by iQiyi.
“If you think about it, a show that aims to promote Chinese streetwear goes on to pay an exorbitant amount to get a bunch of A-listers to go to Tokyo to open a shop, but in the end no one remembers anything but the brand Fourtry,” laughed a sharp-eyed critic from a fashion industry blog.
For iQiyi, the show is proving a commercial success. In addition to all the product placement revenues – a Vivo smartphone logo crops up in almost every shot; the IKEA furnishings in the celebrities’ Tokyo apartment is prominent too – Fourtry is promoting new ways for iQiyi to combine e-commerce with entertainment. For instance, audiences can use augmented reality technology to snap up products that are featured on the show, meaning that e-commerce is embedded in the show unlike any aired before.
The spending power of Wu’s fanbase also helps: millions of devotees are quick to buy anything he endorses (see issues 432 and 437). If Wu is seen in Fourtry streetwear, you can be sure his fans will be buying it too.
The result: iQiyi has pioneered a sort of ‘dramatic infomercial’, that draws both on Wu’s starpower and the audience’s known predilection for smartphone-based shopping.
Offline, iQiyi has opened a flagship store in Shanghai to further promote the streetwear brand. On opening day, hundreds of fans queued up outside. Limited edition T-shirts with the Fourtry logo sold out in less than an hour.
More merchandise is in the works: iQiyi has signed collaboration deals with brands like sneaker firm Warrior to mass-produce products under the Fourtry name and likewise with designer Kikc. Entertainment Capital, a showbiz blog, revealed that iQiyi has registered as many as 300 types of products – including snacks and mobile games – under the new Fourtry brand.
The new business model suggests that iQiyi, sometimes described as China’s version of Netflix, wants to be far more than just a content creator.
“In the past, the branding effort has usually come after a show has aired and the licencing part of the business generally contributes little to the bottom line. But Fourtry has completely overturned the IP [intellectual property] licencing process. The brand’s merchandise is the heart of the show, coupled with online and offline retail operations. This process also subverts how content is produced,” Entertainment Capital commented.