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K-pop no more? How Mirror led a Canto-pop comeback: as Korean and Mando-pop dominate, the 12-piece Hong Kong boy band became an icon of local pride

Canto-pop boy band Mirror is making waves across Hong Kong. Photo: @mirror.weare/Instagram

In the middle of a Hong Kong shopping centre, hundreds of people are excitedly screaming and chanting. But this is not a recent democracy protest.

Instead the crowd has gathered for the latest boy band frenzy sweeping the troubled city, where many are desperate for both a happy escape and a source of local pride.

Mirror member Edan made an appearance at a cinema recently and his fans swarmed around him to show their support. Photo: @edanlui_fansclub/Instagram

The occasion is an appearance by Edan Lui, one of the 12 members of local band Mirror who have taken Hong Kong by storm, who has arrived to promote an animated kids’ movie screening in local theatres.

A glass-shattering scream erupts as he takes the stage and the placard-waving crowd goes wild.

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Among the excitable fans is Chan Yuk-kwai, 74, who decided not to tell her daughter that she would be spending her Saturday trying to catch a glimpse of a man her grandson’s age. Until recently, Chan admitted, Cantonese opera was about the only music she consumed – but Mirror awakened something new.
Popular Canto-pop star Keung To turned 22 in April, and his fans crowdfunded money for billboard and tram stop advertisements in Causeway Way, Hong Kong, to celebrate. Photo: May Tse

She has spent months devouring what she can find about the troupe, often bombarding family chat groups with selfies when she spots a billboard featuring the band’s uniformly good-looking members.

“This upsurge is a miracle,” she beams, contrasting the excitement of Mirror-mania with the months of depressing political and coronavirus news. “They are my source of positive energy and happiness.”

Protesters chant slogans and gesture during a rally against the national security law in Hong Kong, in July 2020. Photo: AFP

Hong Kong has had a tough couple of years. Huge democracy protests convulsed the city in 2019, followed by a crackdown in which Beijing has swiftly moved to remodel the finance hub in its own authoritarian image.

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The city has also remained closed to the outside world for most of the pandemic and has only just emerged from its worst recession in decades.

Mirror offers some much needed relief as well as belief that the city’s Cantonese culture is still thriving.

Beyond’s songs, like Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies and Glorious Years, are iconic to Hongkongers. Photo: @beyondband.lover/Instagram
Hong Kong once used to churn out pop stars who were devoured by fans across Asia. But in the last few decades it has been overshadowed by Chinese mainland and Taiwanese pop acts singing in Mandarin, as well as the meteoric rise of K-pop.
Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, Andy Lau and Aaron Kwok – more affectionately known as The Four Heavenly Kings. Photo: @andysunwan/Instagram
Mirror have emerged as the most popular Cantonese pop act since the superstar male performers of the mid-1990s, dubbed the “Four Heavenly Kings” by the local press.

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Its official Facebook fan page boasts 140,000 followers while a tongue-in-cheek rival page called “My wife married Mirror and left my marriage in ruins” boasts more than double that number.

The Facebook group “My wife married Mirror and left my marriage in ruins” has been rapidly growing in members. Photo: Facebook

“While society is feeling suppressed, people’s awareness of supporting local things has also increased,” Melody, an administrator of Edan Lui’s fan club, said. “That drives the motivation to support a home-grown boy band.”

ViuTV’s programme Good Night Show has been churning out popular groups like Error and Mirror. Photo: @ahfa0908/Instagram

The band came out of a 2018 TV talent show and while many democracy supporters have embraced their upbeat lyrics, the group steers well clear of showing any political colours.

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Public gatherings of more than four remain outlawed in Hong Kong – ostensibly to guard against the coronavirus, although the city has had no major local outbreak for more than two months. Protests are all but illegal. But police show little appetite for taking on Mirror’s fans.

Local boy group Mirror member Anson Lo appears in front of his advertising billboard outside Tsim Sha Tsui star ferry pier in Hong Kong, on August 7. Photo: Felix Wong

A few hours before Lui’s mall appearance, a huge queue of fans had formed on the city’s harbour to take selfies next to a new McDonald’s advertising board featuring Mirror band member Anson Lo.

Police officers showed up, but soon moved on after advising the fans to save enough walking space for others.

Fans of local boy group Mirror member Anson Lo pose in front of his advertising billboard outside Tsim Sha Tsui star ferry pier in Hong Kong, on August 7. Photo: Felix Wong

Amy, a medical worker in her 40s, posed for a picture holding two cups of a special pink McDonald’s drink that Lo has endorsed.

“Many people in Hong Kong have many grievances that can’t be easily unloaded,” she said, asking to use a pseudonym. “They gave us the ‘wow factor’ – that Hong Kong still has such great young talent.”

Mirror held a concert in Hong Kong in May. Photo: @mirror.weare/Instagram

Pride in Hong Kong’s distinct Cantonese culture and language is intimately bound up in the city’s democracy movement.

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The growing “mainlandisation” of Hong Kong has long fuelled some of the political anger that exploded two years ago.

China’s authoritarian leaders have a long history of suppressing local identities and have vowed to make Hong Kong more “patriotic”. But there are constant signs of pushback.

The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam and Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, pose with the members of Hong Kong’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games delegation during the flag presentation ceremony in Hong Kong, on July 8. Photo: Xinhua
During the Olympics, when Hong Kong won a record six medals, there was an explosion of patriotism – not for China, but for the athletes representing the city.

At one shopping centre gathering, China’s anthem was booed, triggering a police investigation.

 

Fellow band My Little Airport have also built a huge following through their distinctly Cantonese lyrics peppered with local slang, as well as clear nods of sympathy to the democracy movement.

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The indie group has little of the corporate backing of Mirror, but tickets to two of their upcoming performances nonetheless sold out in just minutes.

Mirror’s performance at their concert stunned their fans. Photo:@mirror.weare/Instagram

Kitty Ho, a cultural commentator and recent Mirror convert, said the boy band had allowed Hongkongers to realise they can still produce “Asia’s best” music acts.

Hongkongers, she said, don’t need to look overseas to find musical inspiration: “These 12 men, coming right out of [the city], are capable too.”

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  • Following Covid-19 struggles and political upheaval, the 12-piece united Hongkongers with upbeat lyrics from hit songs like Ignited, Warrior, and One and All
  • Mirror’s rise is reminiscent of 1990s stars like Andy Lau – while local pride grows following the city’s record-breaking medal haul at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics