Three rags-to-riches Douyin celebrities share their unlikely road to fame
The wanghong (网红, internet celebrity) is a phenomenon so big it has its own issue at TWOC (not to mention, its own economy). One of the most interesting products of increased internet penetration and the rise of social media in China, it has enabled ordinary individuals, including those from rural and working class backgrounds, to become stars with relatively little start-up capital and training.
Popular short video app Douyin (TikTok) is now home to many of China’s wanghong, three of whom joins host Sima Nan on this special Spring Festival episode of TWOC TV to discuss their unlikely routes to stardom and how they try to balance fame with regular life.
The first guest, Chen Limei, also known as 腰子姐 (“Kidney Sister”), is the owner of a Heilongjiang barbecue stall that now attracts visitors all over the world, after after a video of her signature greeting “来了老弟” (“You’re here, brother”) went viral overnight. She has since been invited to act in films, the “Folk Spring Festival Gala” (an internet alternative to CCTV’s Gala, featuring grassroots talent), and has hired a talent agent. She tells TWOC TV, though, that her real dream is to expand her beef kidney-grilling business.
The episode continues with Lu Chao, or “真好哥” (Zhēn Hǎo Gē, “So Good Brother”), an ex-security guard and ex-waiter famous for his ability to find silver linings. In August 2018, he lost his smartphone, which contained hundreds of songs he’d recorded, and uploaded a video where he seemed to be holding back tears, saying “I’m on a footbridge; I’m the only person here; so good!” The catchphrase has become iconic, and Lu discusses how optimism remains a guiding principle to his life.
The final guest is Jiang Tao, the “God of Laughter,” a wanghong known for his distinctive high-pitched laugh on Douyin. In addition, he produced and starred in a recent film, 《求求你爱上我》 (“Please Love Me”), and makes several shows. Jiang shares his journey into the film industry and how he aims to make viewers laugh despite the harshness of life, adding that he tries to stay grounded by going back to the countryside to farm and take care of his widowed mother.
The episode concludes with the three wanghong, who have previously acted together in a movie, discussing the culture of internet celebrity, short video apps, and their impact to ordinary people such as themselves.