The exploding market for “Little Fresh Meat” (an internet term for attractive, young male pop stars) in China has given rise to a gaggle of charming, male pseudo-celebrities, many of whom make a tidy living through their social media presence.
With the continued surge of male beauty product sales in Asia, luxury brands are now lining up to collaborate with these icons. The problem? These brands are finding it harder than ever to differentiate between sham Chinese “influencers” and those who are legitimately worth their weight in likes.
But oddly enough, this challenge has turned into an opportunity for digital marketing agencies which now use self-styled KOL (key opinion leader) calculators to predict celebrity influence across varying social media platforms.
Amid the confusion, the biggest global labels—including Burberry, Dior, Giorgio Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent—always seem to select certain names as their brand ambassadors. For these brands, choosing the right icon is essential in China’s celebrity-driven luxury market, and smaller luxury labels are smart to follow their lead.
Despite Instagram being blocked on the Chinese mainland, these globally dominant celebrities still garner huge followings in the west on the popular social network. Here from Jing Daily are six top Chinese male influencers that you need to start following now:
1. Lu Han – 10.9 million followers
Topping the list with a colossal 10.9 million Instagram followers is Chinese singer and actor Lu Han. Lu Han’s Instagram represents everything a brand could want in an ambassador to today’s Chinese youth: pleasing aesthetics, selfie-centric posts, and witty captions and trendy emojis galore.
Often referred to as “the Chinese Justin Bieber”, Lu Han began his career as a member of South Korean-Chinese pop group EXO. In 2017, the Beijing-born 28-year-old was listed as the second-highest paid celebrity on the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list.
Lu Han’s popularity and his clean-cut image make him the choice representative for many high-powered luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, L’Occitane en Provence and Lancome.
2. Jackson Wang – 10.3 million followers
Closely behind Lu Han with 10.3 million followers is Hong Kong-born rapper and singer Jackson Wang. Wang is a member of the wildly popular K-pop boy band Got7, but he recently found massive solo popularity thanks to the release of his song “Fendiman.”
Wang released his song about the venerated luxury fashion brand and the accompanying music video (filmed on the roof of Fendi’s headquarters in Italy) in tandem with Fendi’s capsule collection launch celebrating its iconic double-F logo. The day after its release, the song climbed to the top of two separate U.S. iTunes charts.
At 24 years old, Wang is widely seen as a hot new commodity for luxury brands. In 2017 he won the Tencent “Video Star Award Breakthrough Singer of the Year”, and “Fashion Music Man of the Year” at the Esquire Man At His Best Awards. On top of that, Wang is the only solo Chinese artist nominated for a 2018 Teen Choice Award.
3. Lay – 8.7 million followers
Zhang Yixing, know by the stage name Lay, began his career alongside Lu Han as a member of band EXO. In 2016, the Chinese performer released his first solo EP, which quickly soared to number four on Billboard’s U.S. World Albums chart, making him the first Chinese artist to enter the iTunes Top 60.
Lay is particularly well-known for his sizable philanthropy work. The artist has made public donations to many charitable organizations and even created an art scholarship at his alma mater in the Hunan district. He’s also worked as an ambassador for various welfare development projects in China.
This charitable attitude is well-respected among China’s younger generations and has led to interest from a variety of international luxury brands, including the French jewelry house Chaumet and the French skincare company Biotherm.
4. Z. Tao – 8.6 million followers
Huang Zitao, better known as Z. Tao, is another former member of band EXO. Following his departure from the group, Z. Tao returned to China and vowed to make his mark on the Chinese pop scene, making a heralded solo début in 2015.
The self-proclaimed “C-pop King” is famous for using his Instagram to show off his many extravagant purchases, such as timepieces by Rolex and Audemars Piguet.
In June 2017, Huang collaborated with LOEWE on its “Fire of Youth” campaign, becoming the first Asian artist invited to collaborate with the Spanish luxury fashion house. Later that year, Huang chose to be the Yves Saint Laurent’s beauty ambassador, a theme that’s become common on his trendy Instagram profile.
5. Kris Wu – 6.1 million followers
Wu Yifan, or Kris Wu, is a household name among many young Chinese people. Despite also originating from band EXO (there were nine of them in total), Wu has now established himself as a successful celebrity influencer.
A regular on the global fashion scene, Wu has worked as a brand ambassador for the esteemed British fashion house Burberry, which, in 2016, invited the pop star to join the catwalk at multiple runway shows. Wu has since been seen in the front row at other name brand runway shows, including those of Givenchy.
On May 30, Wu posted an Instagram with the caption “Proud to be the first Chinese to hit #73 in the Billboard Hot 100”, and unlike other Chinese stars, Wu posts exclusively in English on his Instagram, which garners him a large international following. Other recent posts include brand partnerships with Burberry, Bvlgari, and Beats by Dre.
6. Mr. Bags – 32,800 followers
Although Tao Liang (better known by his online persona Mr. Bags) has significantly fewer Instagram followers than the rest of this list, his loyal Weibo fans more than makeup for it. Liang is China’s third most influential fashion blogger, according to the BNP Paribas 2017 rankings, thanks to his 3 million followers on Weibo—a rabid group he calls his “Bagfans”.
His recent collaborations with labels Chloë, Givenchy, Dior, Fendi, and Longchamp have boasted record-breaking sales for all. In June 2018, Mr. Bags’ design partnership with Longchamp made 5 million RMB ($772,200) in just two hours.
As featured in the Jing Daily WeChat newsletter, on June 26, Mr. Bags launched his WeChat mini-program Baoshop, selling a limited, jointly-designed backpack from Tod’s. This marked the first time a luxury brand has globally premiered a product through a program created by and for a fashion blogger. The three hundred pieces available in the store, priced at 10,800 RMB, sold out in minutes.
With sharp, bright images of luxury, Mr. Bags’ Instagram offers his followers a peek into what life is really like in the new and ever-competitive industry of being Chinese influencer. Over the years, Liang has honed his marketing savvy better than anyone, and he’s reaping the rewards of this Chinese social media prowess.