Opinion: Keung To is Hong Kong’s shining star - and we can’t let him burn out

  • The musician has shot to superstardom in the last year as the face of a Canto-pop revival, and it’s a lot of pressure for one person to face
  • Some have suggested he become the public face of the Covid-19 vaccination scheme or perform on the mainland to spread Hong Kong culture
Dannie Aildasani |

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People are putting too much pressure on Keung To, putting him in a difficult position. Photo: @keung_show

Even if you’re not a Canto-pop fan, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Keung To - or seen his face in ads across the city.

The 22-year-old musician is everywhere: his group Mirror recently played a series of sold-out shows, he can be seen advertising Big Macs at McDonald’s, and recently fans bought promotions, including on the sides of trams, wishing him a happy birthday.

While he’s been in the industry for a few years, after debuting on a reality show in 2018, it seems like he’s really shot to prominence this year, following his wins at Commercial Radio’s Ultimate Song Chart Awards Presentation.

He’s become the face of a Canto-pop revival in Hong Kong. It’s a great deal of pressure for anyone - especially since it involves potential political implications.

Some suggested that he become the face of Hong Kong’s struggling Covid-19 vaccination scheme , and that seeing a beloved star endorse the jab may encourage others to follow suit.

Keung To breaks Canto-pop records

It’s also been suggested - by lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, no less - that he perform on the mainland to “spread Hong Kong culture” and widen his fanbase. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, especially a young person suddenly grappling with superstardom.

It’s put him between a rock and a hard place, because publicly making a decision in either of these scenarios will inadvertently tie him to a political camp, whether he likes it or not.

For example, if he does agree to promote the coronavirus vaccination scheme - even if the underlying intention is purely to push the city towards herd immunity and end the pandemic - many people will think he’s supporting the government (and by extension, Beijing). This is because the issue of vaccination is tightly intertwined with politics in Hong Kong.

Keung To's fans are so committed that they crowdfunded money for billboards for his birthday. Photo: SCMP/May Tse
Similarly, if he makes a statement declining the offer, he’ll be called unpatriotic, and people will view the decision as a rejection of the government (which will him favour with the yellow camp, but not with the establishment).

In general, it’s not out of the ordinary for a celebrity to take sides on a social issue; in the US, it’s common for people to speak out about Black Lives Matter and feminism, for instance.

But that’s the US, and Hong Kong is a totally different playing field.

Keung To scoops up four awards at Chill Club Music Awards

Not only is Keung dealing with the normal pressure of being a singer, such as the hours of practice, interviews, and performances, but the specific political environment in which he’s risen to fame is placing undue pressure on him.

A recent post on Instagram - in which he said “I’m tired of everything” - concerned his fans, and his manager released a statement saying that he needed some rest.

Who can blame him for feeling overwhelmed? He is the first celebrity that Hong Kong has been REALLY excited about for a long time, and that just happens to be at a time when we’re battling the aftermath of months-long anti-government protests and a worldwide pandemic.

He’s someone happy, talented, and pretty that people can rally around - giving them a sense of belonging as Hongkongers. Rather than trying to push him into being something more, we need to back off, and let him be. Otherwise, he will burn out, and we’ll all be responsible for it.

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