On December 19, Irish boyband Westlife livestreamed their first-ever online concert on Chinese social app WeChat’s short video and livestreaming platform, WeChat Channels, drawing over 28 million viewers and generating over 160 million likes in just three days. During the two-hour livestream, the singers were also said to have received 300,000 yuan ($47,100) worth of virtual gifts from their zealous Chinese fans, although this number has not yet been confirmed by WeChat Channels’ marketing team.
To cater to its audience, Westlife performed a cover of Chinese singer-songwriter Pu Shu’s “Ping Fan Zhi Lu,” a song about young love and soul searching. A clip of the performance was later uploaded to Westlife’s official WeChat Channels account under the title “Easter Egg.” As of now, the clip has been liked and shared over 200,000 times, receiving close to 80,000 comments.
The concert was a huge hit among Chinese millennials, notoriously self-conscious of their impending old age and irrelevance to the point of being tongue-in-cheek, who claimed that the livestream had brought back memories of high school English classes, where many of us had our first encounters with English songs. One of the top comments, and a personal favorite, was a dark, wistful wordplay that could be loosely translated into “When I first listened to the group, I was a senior in high school (gao san). When I listen to them again, I already have high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol (san gao).”
A word cloud processing tool developed by WeChat Channels service provider Baizhun.cn identified “youth,” “nostalgia” and “memories” as the top keywords associated with the concert. When asked why nostalgia was so important to the concept of the concert, and why they picked Westlife and not a newer band that is more appealing to China’s younger generations, WeChat’s marketing team diplomatically answered it was because the group already did a tour in Shanghai back in 2006, that they wanted to come back again in 2022, but the pandemic added a lot of uncertainties to their plan. Therefore, livestreaming seemed like a great alternative. The marketing team added that Westlife has always been very popular in China, especially among those born between the 1970s and 90s.
Yin Yue Xian Sheng, a Chinese-language music industry magazine, attributed the band’s popularity in China to the rise of teenpop in the late 1980s and 90s. “The group members’ pretty faces and voices were very appealing to younger female fans,” it wrote. “Moreover, the slow tempo and simple structure of their songs make them an excellent teaching tool for English teachers.”
The Westlife concert is yet another example of Chinese social apps’ foray into the music industry. This year, on July 26, Hong Kong actor and musician Andy Lau was invited to livestream a concert on short video platform Kuaishou. Three days later, Taiwanese pop superstar Jay Chou livestreamed his concert on a competing app, Douyin. All three concerts drew tens of millions of viewers and were branded as huge marketing successes.
Unlike Douyin and Kuaishou, upon which livestreamed concerts are reused, edited and algorithmically recommended across the network in the form of user-generated content (UGC), WeChat Channels, on the other hand, ensures the longevity of its content by having users like and recommend it to one another. “WeChat Channels uses its own user base to filter out and share content,” wrote the Yin Yue Xian Sheng article. “The idea is that, if your friends like a piece of content, there is a good chance that you will like it too.”
In October this year, WeChat Channels, joined by parent company Tencent