Celebrity Spotlight is a monthly column where we introduce a famous individual from China (or of Chinese heritage) that you should know more about.
Wang Yibo has quickly become one of the most famous men in China.
Starting out as a member of Chinese-Korean boyband Uniq, Wang spent four years with the group while cutting his teeth on the silver screen. His breakthrough appearance came alongside Xiao Zhan in xianxia (Chinese fantasy) TV series The Untamed in 2019, making him a household name in China and bringing him international recognition.
He followed up his starring role in that smash hit series with a number of appearances on variety and TV shows in China, and has become perhaps the most marketable celebrity in the country, with his face plastered all over advertisements on billboards selling everything from cheap goods store Miniso to a line of Audi cars bearing his name.
In short, Wang Yibo is a celebrity you absolutely have to know when it comes to China. This is the story of his indomitable rise.
As a youngster, Wang Yibo was fascinated by dance. Born in Luoyang, a city perhaps best known for being close to the Shaolin Temple, Wang fought his way into the founding line-up for boyband Uniq after impressing with his resilience and, of course, his dance moves. Chosen from 30 trainees, he initially practised with members of the band for three and a half years, beginning when in 2011 when he was just 14.
The band finally debuted in 2014 under Yuehua Entertainment, also home of notable pop stars like Meng Meiqi and Xuanyi, both from Rocket Girls 101. Comprised of five members, with three from China (Wang Yibo, Zhou Yuxuan and Li Wenhan) and two from South Korea (Kim Sung-joo and Cho Seung-youn), Uniq enjoyed huge fame in China, and even had their own TV show on Chinese streaming platform iQIYI called The Best Debut, which ran with the intention of introducing the group to the world. You can see Wang showing off his floppy blonde hair and his basketball skills in the show:
The band’s music appeared on the Chinese soundtracks for major films such as The Penguins of Madagascar and TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and they stuck together for around four years before going on hiatus (though the band have not exactly called it quits just yet). Their biggest song was “EOEO,” which currently has 11 million views on YouTube and shows off the band’s intricate dance skills.
During his time with Uniq, Wang was also cutting his teeth on the silver screen…
Wang Yibo’s breakthrough into acting came while he was a member of Uniq, with an early role in romantic drama MBA Partners in 2016. He followed that up with a part in fantasy drama A Chinese Odyssey Part Three by feted Hong Kong director Jeffrey Lau, before joining the cast on TV romance Love Actually.
Around this time, he also kicked off his variety show career, appearing as a judge on the massively popular Yuehua Entertainment reality show Produce 101. During the show, Wang wowed viewers with his dancing skills, while also revealing the work that he had put into his craft as a youngster, reportedly dancing six hours a day at one point.
After his turn on Produce 101, he starred in Gank Your Heart, an esports drama that was part of a wave of such shows as the genre took off in China.
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But it was his next TV appearance that would change everything.
Wang Yibo’s big break came when he appeared in xianxia drama The Untamed. The TV show, based on a BL (“boys love”) web novel, was an enormous hit and even secured a release on Netflix, bringing the Chinese tale to audiences all over the world. The show was so rampantly popular that it spawned sequels, video games and even a six-member boyband.
Wang’s co-star on the show was another former boyband member, Xiao Zhan, with fans of the pair treated to a duet from the two of them, as well as heated glances and ardent chemistry between the pair.
Such moments caused a lot of discussion.
Among the various controversies that the release of The Untamed raised was the fact that the original story that it was adapted from was explicitly a Boys Love, homoerotic tale. Producers Tencent chose not depict this romance explicitly in the show, but fans took their own depictions to fan art site AO3, including stories that imagined Xiao as a sex worker experiencing gender dysphoria.
That irked fans of the two leads in the show, leading some to launch a coordinated reporting attack on the website, which wound up getting the site blocked in China.
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The incident made fans of the two stars infamous, and divided much of the audience who enjoyed The Untamed into different fan factions, according to 38jiejie, including Wang Yibo-only fans and Xiao Zhan-only fans. Both of these groups now seem to be at each others throats at any given opportunity, and have been known for calling out either of the celebrities for exhibiting uncivilized behavior.
While Xiao Zhan was beset by a series of related scandals, Wang was quick to move on from the show however, with a spate of new projects releasing over the course of 2020.
One of Wang’s most viral outings of the past few years was his appearance as a judge on talent TV show Street Dance of China 3. After coming to most people’s attention for his long-haired, elegant and morose appearance on The Untamed, he suddenly gained virality for his popping and locking, appearing alongside the likes of GOT7 member Jackson Wang as well as another K-pop star in Lay Zhang.
Fans loved the chemistry between the three Mandopop stars, in particular the two Wangs — Jackson and Yibo — as shown in this clip below:
Following his appearance on that show, endorsements featuring the star started to appear everywhere. He became a Nike partner, a key face for Audi, an ambassador for Winter Sports Olympics in China for 2022, and even released a song promoting China’s newest five-year plan in early 2021.
TV show appearances are still coming thick and fast, such as his starring role in The Legend of Fei, which got 4 billion views in around a month, while his solo music spots continue to roll out. In summation, Wang Yibo’s rise shows no sign of slowing down, with the star firmly place as one of the most bankable, most marketable faces in Chinese entertainment today.
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