Oh boy! Another youth sensation
Youngsters dream of fame. Entertainment executives dream of making a fortune. Here is where they meet.
Resistance is futile. How can a girl possibly not fall instantly in love with five impish boys and, thus smitten, reach for the "like" button?
Surely, this is part of the calculation of Yue Hua Entertainment, which seems to have timed and choreographed to perfection everything related to the singing and dancing group YHBOYS.
And so it was that five boys, aged 10 to 13, were unfurled in China in a three-and-a-half-minute video called Brand New World a few weeks ago, as the country was awash in the saccharine sentimentality of Valentine's Day.
Little surprise, then, that 24 hours or so after YHBOYS first saw the light of day, their video was reported to have been viewed more than 10 million times. They now have more than 27,000 followers on Sina Weibo.
Getting an early start in show business is not exactly new. After all, American child star Shirley Temple made her debut at the age of 3. But the sudden appearance and instant success of YHBOYS has raised some eyebrows in China.
First, there is the name, with some suggesting it has an uncanny resemblance to TFBoys, a Chinese teen boy band put together by the Beijing company Time Fengjun Entertainment, and which gained rapid popularity, essentially through the internet, after issuing its debut promotional video Ten Years, in August 2013.
However, for every person who raises questions about Yue Hua Entertainment's commercial intent with the latest gaggle of youngsters, there seem to be 100 others who cannot get enough of them and eagerly await more videos - and the merchandise that is doubtless on its way.
To bring the group together, seven boys from Jiangxi and Hebei provinces, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Taiwan were chosen from more than 3,000 candidates who applied in an internet talent search, says Du Hua, founder and chief executive of Yue Hua Entertainment, which has been creating Chinese pop idol groups since 2009.
Five of those boys appeared in the video released last month; the two others will appear in two videos to be released on the internet this month. Eventually, more boys will be added to the group.
The recruitment process and getting the boys ready to appear in public took more than two years. Having invested so much time and effort in bringing the YHBOYS together, Du has laid big plans for them. In fact those plans appear to go well beyond China. A Twitter account, @YHBoysGlobal, was set up for them, although for the moment it has just a few hundred followers.
Plans are also afoot for a YHGIRLS group whose members will be between 16 and 18 years old.
"There is huge potential for developing Chinese pop groups. More than 200 pop groups are set up every year. China has a huge population, but only a dozen or so new groups appear each year, and most of them fizzle out, Du says.
"These seven boys are not just good looking but also talented, some playing instruments, such as the guitar and piano, and some dancing hip-hop and speaking English. We want them to be role models for Chinese youngsters."
The members of YHBOYS and their parents contacted for this article declined to be interviewed, but it is apparent that at least one of the boys, who is 11, is already well into his show business apprenticeship.
Zhang Minghao, born in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, made his TV debut when he was 9, performing on Go! Baby!, a variety show produced and aired on Anhui Satellite TV in which youngsters take part in quizzes and show off various talents. Zhang has since appeared in other variety shows aired by Hunan Satellite TV and Beijing TV. Last April he starred in a movie, After School, directed by Liu Yijun, whose theme is school bullying.
The other members of the group are Guo Dianjia, Li Linma, Liu Guanyi, Sun Jiakai, Zhang Enshuo and Zhang Junyi.
Another priority for the company is ensuring that YHBOYS fans get every possible opportunity to observe their training, rehearsals and the minutiae of their daily lives, which in turn becomes fodder for live-streaming on social media.
"It's all about communication," Du says. "The boys grow up and their fans are able to see the ways they are changing and how they are progressing. This kind of bond between the pop group and fans is important."