What Happened: Lucas Huang has become the latest Chinese celebrity reprimanded for bad behavior. On August 25, the Hong Kong-born member of boy bands NCT, SuperM, and WayV announced on Instagram and Weibo that he would be pausing all promotional activities and conducting “deep self-reflection” after alleged ex-girlfriends accused him of cheating and gaslighting them. According to the complaints, the 22-year-old took advantage of fans romantically and financially, and then lied about not dating anyone else. Following the news, Huang’s agency SM Entertainment suspended the release of his single “Jalapeño,” which was scheduled to drop today.
The Jing Take: Chinese netizens were quick to blast the star on social media. On Huang’s apology post on Weibo — which has garnered over 96,000 comments and 965,000 likes so far — fans expressed their anger and disappointment, questioning the sincerity of his apology. Meanwhile, the hashtag #SMrespondstoLucasHuangincident has gained 200 million views, with users pressuring SM Entertainment to pull him out of his bands and protect NCT’s other members (of which there are 22, excluding Huang). Interestingly, his Instagram followers were more sympathetic, sharing their continued love and support.
In contrast, luxury brands have been slow to respond. Guerlain, which appointed Huang as its skin care ambassador this year, has kept its Weibo posts up of the actor advertising its premium honey products; under these, netizens have urged the brand to terminate its contract with the artist as he “brings bad influence to the public.” Similarly, Maison Margiela has yet to delete posts of Huang with fellow WayV member WinWin promoting its Grand Slam Bag. Gucci is the exception, quietly scrubbing images of the idol from its Qixi campaign.
Over the past few months, China’s entertainment world has been rocked by controversy, from Zheng Shuang’s surragancy scandal, to Kris Wu’s detainment over alleged rape, to Zhang Zhehan’s insensitive selfie at a Japanese shrine. And just this week, famous Chinese TV anchor Qian Feng was accused of sexual assault, ramping up the country’s #MeToo movement and discourse around accountability.
As such, this latest incident is a reminder for brands not just to do due diligence on their KOL appointments — although there is only so much that can be done — but to quickly respond when disaster strikes. The recovery of Louis Vuitton and Prada (linked to Wu and Zheng, respectively) shows that brands can be relatively insulated from their ambassadors’ personal problems. Decisive action is important too as Chinese authorities increasingly crack down on idol culture and criticize platforms that make stars out of “unworthy individuals.” It’s one thing to have a brand appointment go astray; it’s another to inadvertently get on Beijing’s bad side.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.