Everywhere you look in Hong Kong – on billboards, trams, buses, and a massive outdoor TV screen in Causeway Bay – you will see the city’s trendiest boy band: Mirror.

Fans of Anson Lo taking photo in front of a truck with their idol painted on it. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

And when you look closely, you may be surprised by how many images are not direct advertisements for the band or for the brands it sponsors. They appear because of the combined efforts of dedicated fans.

A significant example occurred on April 30, the birthday of Keung To – one of the most beloved members of the group – when his fans offered free tram rides to all Hongkongers for the entire day. In Causeway Bay, advertisement panels continuously played celebratory messages from the fans to their idol.

It’s not just Keung with a dedicated army of followers. Whenever an individual Mirror member releases a new single or celebrates a birthday, his exclusive fan club will publicise their idol, usually in the form of outdoor advertisements, to reach a larger public.

The fan-funded advertising campaigns are not restricted to Hong Kong. After Anson Lo released his single “Megahit” last September, local media reported that his fans had launched campaigns in seven cities across the globe. In London, for example, they rented an outdoor advertising panel at Westfield Stratford City shopping centre for three days.

Tram advertisement sponsored by Keung To’s fans club to celebrate the idol’s birthday. File photo: HK Tramways.

Some recent fandom campaigns in Hong Kong have been charity-driven. Anson Lo’s fan club donated anti-epidemic supplies to charity organisations when the city was battered by the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak in February.

And last November, the fans of Mirror’s Jeremy Lau – better known as “Jer” – celebrated his birthday with an exhibition of artwork and an excursion to clean up Shek Pai Wan beach on Lamma Island.

A charity sale store set up by Keung To’s fan club in a shopping mall at Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Peter Lee.

Supporters of three Mirror members, Keung, Ian Chan and Edan Lui, donated presents 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 he has taken note of the increase in charitable events led by Cantopop fans. “They are conscious about how to improve the reputation of their idols and increase their exposure,” he said.

‘Bottom-up’

For over a decade, Leung said, there were no new Hong Kong pop stars who became household names. Mirror was the exception.

Fan funded advertisement promoting a new song by Ian Chan, a member of Mirror. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Since last year’s Ultimate Song Chart Awards Presentation, where Keung To secured two awards by popular vote, there had been a series of media events promoting Mirror – “some of these are [commercial] formulas, but some are bottom-up.”

He cited Anson Lo’s birthday on July 7 when his fans rented a large advertisement board next to Tsim Sha Tsui’s Star Ferry Pier. According to HK01, the cost was around HK$100,000.

Leung said the rental created a “spectacle” for a whole week as countless fans paid visits to the pier to check in on social media.

“What differentiated [Mirror] from past [singers] is the level of participation by their fans,” he said. Although band members might at first not be familiar to many, the group quickly become a popular choice among advertising clients as “they knew there will be fans gathering in front of the billboards taking photos.”

‘Political projection’

Not every member enjoyed a broad following when Mirror debuted in November 2018.

Eunice Pang, who has been a staunch supporter of Jer since early 2019, told HKFP only a handful of fans showed up at his events or performances at that time.

Jeremy “Jer” Lau and his fans. File photo: Supplied.

While some, such as columnist Chip Tsao, suggest that Mirror’s rise was a “political projection” by pro-democracy Hongkongers after the 2019 protests fizzled, Kenny Leung said this was not exactly what happened.

“If it is a political projection, you can project your [political aspirations] onto whoever is out there,” he said. Instead, Leung said there was an atmosphere in society which was eager to “break free from old conventions and innovate” and this contributed to the Mirror phenomenon.

A supporter of Keung To taking photo of a miniature doll of Keung. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

After the 2019 protests, Leung said many Hongkongers saw the undesirable side of the established music industry. Many famous Cantopop stars such as Eason Chan and Miriam Yeung were either “somehow bound to the old system” or demonstrated their willingness to cater to the mainland market.

When people craved a new generation of popular icons, Leung said, Mirror were there to fill the gap with their clear message to “bring on another new age” – as they sang explicitly in their song “Warrior.”

When Keung declared “We will become Asia’s first” and Jer shouted the phrase “Hong Kong, keep it up!” at the Chill Club awards presentation ceremony in April last year, their comments resonated with many Hong Kong Cantopop fans.

And the band also has talent to back up its message.

Cantopop comeback

Given the sterile local music scene over the past decade, many Hongkongers – including Eunice Pang – turned to foreign popular culture instead. The rise of Mirror and Jer’s music in particular prompted her to revisit Cantopop as a whole.

“In the earlier days, I would say things like, Cantopop is nothing but ballads,” the 18-year-old said. Until Mirror came along, she mostly listened to English and Japanese popular music.

“I didn’t listen to much Cantopop then because their numbers never became a hit and no one was talking about them.” Now, Jer’s songs touch her emotions in a way that no foreign music can.

Mirror members performing together. File photo: Supplied.

Kenny Leung agreed that Mirror had inspired locals to start listening to new Cantopop releases again, rather than the older Hong Kong classics or overseas work. Mirror’s rise helped them see that Hong Kong artists are also producing quality music.

Apart from showing support for her idol, Pang said fan events were an opportunity to meet and socialise. “It felt like a reunion with friends that you haven’t met in a long time.”

Fans come from all backgrounds and 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 shared interest in Japan, Cantopop, band music, movies and art in general.

She said when they chatted about Cantopop, the scope of discussion usually extends beyond the 12 members of Mirror. “[Jer] keeps on telling us to listen to more [Cantopop music].”

Fans taking picture with decorations set up by Keung To’s fan club in a shopping mall at Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

So Pang has been paying more attention to Cantopop singers such as Hins Cheung and Alfred Hui and sometimes indie creators like Serrini as well.

Leung said Mirror’s popularity has brought the city’s overall music scene back to life, with more collaborations among the boy band’s members and others in the industry.

The group’s success had shone the spotlight on other musicians who performed with Mirror or were part of the creative process. Singer-songwriter Gareth T., who started releasing original songs in 2018, had seen a sharp rise in popularity since composing for Keung To.

‘Renaissance’

As Covid-19 restrictions ease, Mirror has scheduled a 10-day live concert between July 25 and August 4. Scalpers have reportedly been selling the tickets for up to HK$440,000 each.

Kenny Leung said he hoped people’s willingness to spend would not be limited to Mirror only.

Jeremy “Jer” Lau. File photo: Supplied.

When asked whether Mirror signals the revival of Hong Kong’s music scene, Leung said Hongkongers are only “standing at the start line of the renaissance.” The local music industry could not be described as thriving if only Mirror’s shows were sold out and not those of other local singers.

Leung hopes people will develop greater acceptance for different genres of music, “which goes beyond Mirror.”

But Pang said she was not worried that Mirror would steal the show from other local musicians, who were also in demand.

She had tried to buy friends tickets for other singers like Serrini, C AllStar, Jay Fung and Rubberband. “All of their tickets are so hard to snap up!”

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.