“Bilibili fans never look back, and are forever young.” This is a slogan among users of Bilibili, a site similar to YouTube. From the very day of its founding in 2009, the video platform branded itself with a strong sense of youth appeal. Started as an online ACG (Anime, Comic and Games) community, the platform has evolved into an ever more comprehensive and diversified realm mixing and matching all youth cultures and subcultures. On Bilibili, almost everything can be re-edited and recreated to target a completely new audience group.
The past decade has seen an explosion in appreciation for popular culture among Chinese born in the 1990s and later. The generation that grow up with the Harry Potter series witnessed the ending of the seven-year epic Games of Thrones in 2019, and the heroic finale of this stage of the Marvel Comic Universe. In the meantime, new indigenous cultural icons have arisen, like Nezha and Wandering Earth, with the potential to create new China-based content universes.
In this sense, the end of the decade is a good time to look back at the pop culture adored by a generation of youngsters. That’s how Bilibili’s New Year Concert, a cultural carnival, became such a hit compared to all the other New Year’s Eve galas on numerous TV stations in China. This success made the company’s market valuation grow by 5 billion yuan ($720 million).
Li Ni, COO of Bilibili and producer of the concert, said, “This evening gala originated from our attention on this special date, December 31, 2019. The generations born in the 80s, 90s, or 00s have entered a new stage of their lives at this moment. This makes it impossible for us to look away from this day so essential to our users.”
Breaking the dimensional barriers of different cultural groups
The company originally served the kawaii ACG cultural niche, focusing on all things cute and Japanese, but the evening gala showed how far Bilibili has expanded its breadth. The content covered a wide range of interests, presenting segments from a rock band, a symphony orchestra, influencers, rap singers and an elderly artist that appeared in a patriotic TV series.
The concert was designed to break down the barriers of different subcultures and generations. One musical number presented popular cultural icons like Harry Potter and characters from the Game of Thrones performing music backed by a symphonic orchestra.
Chief director Gong Peng said, “My original idea was just that I wanted to create something special. We realized that symphonic music has not been presented at an evening gala in such a comprehensive way before. This is a first. When we start to select performances, we discovered that the theme songs of Games of Thrones and Harry Potter had a strong symphonic style inherently. The only problem was whether using a symphony orchestra was way too elegant, and unacceptable to audiences.”
“When designing the show, I realized that fans of these shows might belong to different subcultures,” he said, noting some viewers liked two-dimensional comic books and animated videos, while others liked live-action movies and TV stars. “I never thought of what media would refer to this as ‘breaking dimensional barriers’ [between the 2-D and 3-D media], it just turned out that way unexpectedly,” he said.
Apart from the orchestra, traditional Chinese instrumental elements like the pipa (Chinese lute) were added to the theme song of Western classics like the Godfather.
Paying tribute to the good old days
The opening of the gala paid a special tribute to the most popular video game of the younger generations, the World of Warcraft, with a group dance entitled Returning to Azeroth. The dance started with a school boy sitting in front of the computer. He was typing on the keyboard to log in to the game. Then the Dark Portal of Azeroth, an important gateaway from the video game, was revealed.
A dance featuring characters from the video game followed, featuring fan favorites like Anduin, Sylvanas, Lich King Arthas and Pandaren. Though the costumes weren’t perfect, the scene brought tears to the eyes of many from that generation, because the World of Warcraft was an important part of their lives for fifteen years, from childhood to maturity.
Yang Liang, the general planner of the concert, said organizers aimed to incite the collective memories and feelings of the audience.
“You can call it a group creation. Based on the concept of ‘collective feelings and resonance’, the planning team, the director group, all the uploaders, the artists, the orchestra, gave full play to their talents. Eventually we put them together. Everyone has got something to say, and we collide.”
The show was not only designed for people born after 1990, but also for other generations. “We found the kichiku (a Japanese word for auto-tune remixes) content about the patriotic TV series Drawing Sword was the most popular on the platform — it is unique,” Gong Peng explained. Drawing Sword is a classic Chinese TV war show set during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The show was popular amongst the generations born in the 1960s and 70s.
“We must have an alternative, more innovative expression of patriotism, and patriotism for young people,” Gong Peng said, explaining how this part of the show was born.
“I love watching kichiku videos on Bilibili. In fact, new wave disco musicians in the 90s were already making music videos in a kichiku style,” said the keyboard player of the rock band New Pants at the concert. The band won the championship of this summer’s hottest variety music show in China. On their album Dragon Tiger Panacea, released in 2006, the fun, innovation and trendiness of new wave music was exploited to the fullest, with unfaded appeal a decade later.
Also presented at the concert was the 52 year-old Zhang Qiang, known as Sara Chang, a pop culture icon and disco queen since the 1980s. “We believed that people who are over 35 might be interested in Zhang’s part of the show, because this is a song they used to hear when they were young. We included it to satisfy the tastes of this group,” Gong said.