12th May 2021 – (Hong Kong) Mirror is a ‘manufactured’ Hong Kong Cantopop boy music group formed through the reality talent show King Maker on ViuTV. The group consists of twelve members: Keung To, Ian Chan, Anson Lo, Edan Lui, Alton Wong, Anson Kong, Frankie Chan, Jer Lau, Jeremy Lee, Lokman Yeung, Stanley Yau and Tiger Yau. They debuted on 3rd November, 2018 with the single “In a Second”.

Since their debut, the group has won various accolades and popular awards including “Group of the Year”. Their 2020 single “Ignited” won Top Ten Songs of the Year at the inaugural Chill Club Music Awards held by ViuTV. The group also won Ultimate 903‘s bronze award for Group of the Year. Mirror is considered to help renew interest in the Cantopop genre as they tried to mimic K-POP singers to the likes of K-Pop boy band BTS by engaging in purportedly suave dance moves with full make-up on their face.

Since the group’s debut, six members have debuted individually, most notably Keung To, who won Ultimate 903‘s 2020 My Favourite Male Singer. Jer Lau was awarded Best Newcomer Gold Prize at the same award show. The members have also participated in various drama series, reality shows, and films.

Anson Lo’s Instagram.

Their appearance in the almost inanimate Cantopop scene has revived interest in the local music scene. Their recently held sold-out concert at KITEC in Kowloon Bay between 6th and 11th May has caused us to wonder why the existing generation of Hong Kong teenagers and even adults in their 30s going gaga over a K-pop copycat group with no originality in ideas.

As noted by Lee Gyu-tag, a professor of arts and science at George Mason University Korea:

“Korean music labels tend to believe that the emergence of copycats proves the pre-eminence of the original K-pop singers. Knock-off groups usually cannot beat out or replace K-pop artists in terms of music and other features. But their attempt to emulate shows that K-pop is their ‘reference’, leading people to think the genre is something of quality and original.”

In the world of K-Pop, China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia have now started to delve into this music genre. Most to all look like BTS in some form or another, sometimes with the same amount of members.

The main concern is not their copycat music genre but their girly appearance that has distorted the Western concept of an ideal macho or boyish idol made famous by Justin Bieber more than a decade ago.

According to a reader on Quora, Ley Cim, she said that Westerners almost always perceive all male K-pop idols as girly, because western male celebrities seldom seem to wear the type of makeup or the type of clothes that they do. From an outsider’s standpoint, BTS seems very ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ as some say. However, that kind of appearance is the norm for Young Male Kpop idols (singers), and reflects the appeal and emphasis of androgyny in that aspect of Korean pop culture. BTS is obviously no exception, complete with the makeup, jewellery and fashion. She said this may make people unfamiliar with K-pop (westerners, outsiders) confused, and may compel them to make fun due to the cultural difference.

This ‘girly’ appearance though, unfamiliar as it may be to others, is often perceived as attractive by young women and girls in Korea. Hence, it is very widespread and expected in male idol beauty standards. Furthermore, people have gotten very used to them looking the way they do.

This may be surprising to many, but while this ‘girly’ appearance is encouraged and appreciated, alongside acting ‘cute’, masculinity amongst K-pop guys is also highly expected by the Korean populace. This expectation can be shown in a variety of ways such as the attitudes they display regarding mandatory military service and the way male idols sometimes display subtle homophobia.

As such, she does not think Korean girls like girly boys: Kpop guys aren’t PERCEIVED as being completely effeminate. As stated earlier, this applies to BTS as well. If a Korean girl saw a guy that acted in a way they perceive is ‘truly girly’, for example James Charles or people who ‘talk gay’, she would very likely be disgusted.

Some fans may defend their favourite K-Pop boys who wear some makeup on stage and consider them attractive. However, commercial make-up brands like Charlotte Tilbury who sponsored Anson Lo from MIRROR seems to promote gender blurring by encouraging men to wear lipsticks and make-up in Hong Kong. Even the new Dior campaign for men seems to be moving towards this direction with their ‘K-pop boyband’ models spotting handbags and fashion sense that are no longer masculine.

According to medium.com, selling androgyny for sex appeal is not new to mainstream music. Everyone from Bowie to Boy George to hair-metal did so. Even Lord Bieber and One Direction get dolled up for shoots, though nothing remotely as radical as G-Dragon or Seventeen. Still, most makeup-wearing western acts came, shocked and left without greatly changing the status quo. Many had a feral component to their sexiness, a kind of danger by association. Korean men use makeup on a daily basis, but improved job prospects are only part of the equation. “It is about competition, but not only for job interviews.” There is a “self-satisfaction” that comes from looking good in the mirror and appealing to the opposite sex. In short, a need to preen as human as hitting the john, although what constitutes “handsome” in South Korea today might incur homophobic slurs elsewhere.

Seoul may be the male makeup capital of the world, but it remains to be seen if Hong Kong women will start to develop infatuation with waif-like men wearing heavy cosmetics carrying feminine bags.

Anson Lo for Charlottee Tilbury

Dior campaign 2021.