(My friends could tell if I’m at the onset of a new fandom. Maybe it’s like seeing the signs of a new romance. I tweet and talk about it a lot. And then I write. So here’s my fifth–and counting–Meteor Garden 2018/Dylan Wang-related post.)
I honestly didn’t expect to like Meteor Garden 2018. And more so, to end up becoming a fan of Dylan Wang He Di.
I’ve never been a fan of anyone like him. The boy is not even 20 years old yet and it feels like having a nephew (that’s why friends and I call ourselves Didi ahyi). And MG2018 is his debut work so it’s akin to starting out on a new slate as he charts a yet-unknown course in the entertainment industry.
When I became an Arashi fan, they were already six years into their career. I had variety shows, films, dramas and music to catch up with. Other artistes I have become a fan of were already building their body of work when I discovered them too.
But with Didi, it’s a blank slate.
Sure, his debut role as Dao Ming Si is already a big deal seeing how it has made successful careers of others who previously played the iconic character. And with Angie Cai behind this project, there was no way it could fail, after all, she has made stars out of unknowns before including Jerry Yan, Didi’s Dao Ming Si predecessor.
But from hereon, there’s a whole world of possibilities open for Didi and I hope that the choices he makes will help him reach his full potential as an artiste. As the winner of an idol competition, we pretty much know where he is headed: he will act (which he has shown more preference for) and sing (he prefers rap, but his slow rock “Don’t Even Think About It” is very impressive than his hop-hop, but maybe because I’m not a fan of hip-hop).
Perhaps he can learn lessons from his predecessors Jerry and Matsumoto Jun, who played Domyouji in Hana Yori Dango, on how to handle fame, the challenges that will surely come, the odds he has to overcome and the bittersweet taste of success.
Be like a bamboo
There’s a Chinese proverb that says: Be like the bamboo, the taller it becomes, the deeper it bows. No one likes an arrogant celebrity. Name one cocky celebrity who remains famous, successful and well-liked enough to continue getting jobs. Anyone? No? None? Exactly my point.
Sure, talent can guarantee getting a break in the industry, but it’s not what gives longevity to a career. It takes luck, a smattering of pixie dust, guangxi (connections) that is so important within Chinese circles, and humility. Talent and being at the right place at the right time don’t mean anything if the person is arrogant and a pain to work with.
Humility is of course not a trait of Dao Ming Si but Jerry is perhaps its epitome, something I witnessed first hand when I interviewed him many years back in the backstage of Taipei Arena. His handlers were the ones who, while nice, were fussy. They fussed over his hair, his clothes and his bare face (couldn’t take photos because he was not made-up yet, something I didn’t understand since he looked good even without make-up but then these entertainment people have their own standards). They fussed over the questions I was going to ask. They fussed over him while Jerry sat there taking everything in with a shy smile. He was nice and having seen superstar complex in some celebrities I have personally encountered, I could tell his humility was genuine.
Jun, on the other hand, looks very stand-offish. He gives off a snobbish, scary vibe and that is probably because of his facial features (in person, he looks so unreal, like someone who jumped off from the pages of a manga). But over the years and through glimpses of his personality through their variety shows, concerts and behind-the-scenes, and despite his flashy fashion, he appears to be someone down-to-earth and even self-effacing, always deflecting the spotlight to his members, co-stars or friends.
So far, Didi has handled his newfound fame in a cool way although there is a marked change in the way he behaves at airports. Some fans have observed he used to be cheeky before but now looks more tempered.
I’m pretty sure it takes a lot of balancing act not to let the loud screams and the public adulation get into anyone’s head, but it also tests one’s personality. The screams fade and the adulation can get diverted to a younger, more humble celebrity if one does not know how to take care of the privilege one has been given. Being humble also applies to the fandom, don’t be so arrogant (and ignorant). Fame is not forever.
Keep your eyes on the goal
There will be lots of things competing for attention: producers wanting a piece of the pie, managers dictating what to do, brands offering tempting deals but often with near-impossible caveats, the media poking into private lives, fans demanding fan service, the public with their unrealistic expectations. It can be overwhelming and if one is unprepared for it, it would be easy to lose sight of the most important things.
Jerry (and his F3), for example, were obviously unprepared for the sudden fame that came in the wake of Meteor Garden. Based on their interviews and accounts from that heady moment in their personal history, they didn’t have adequate preparations on what to expect, much more, on what to do. Songs and dramas followed, obviously cashing in on their new-found fame. Strike the iron while it was still hot. They went on a very successful tour to several countries, and launched a musical career that, let’s face it, not all of them were suitable for. Some ventures were successful and memorable, some weren’t but it was merely a reflection of the lack of a long-term plan laid out for them; one proof is the name “F4” that would later run into copyright problems with the Japanese creators and force them to regroup as “JVKV.” The four were merely thrown into the tricky waters of the entertainment industry and it was up to them to sink or swim. We have heard stories on how Zai Zai and Ken had to grapple with depression (something that Ken talked about in my interview with him in Taipei many years back) while Jerry seemed to have retreated further into his shell due to the public interest where every little action was placed under the microscope and scrutinized. And this was even before the era of social media, so imagine the scrutiny that celebrities face now–it is magnified and intensified 100 times over.
On the other hand, when Jun (and Arashi) finally got the much-needed boost in their career thanks to the Hana Yori Dango effect, they were already six years into it. By then, some would have given up, but they’ve persevered up to that certain point, even treating Jun’s HYD work as a chance for them to get some work too, i.e. singing the theme song. All they probably were hoping for was to have the single enter the Oricon charts, not knowing that it would just be the beginning. Given the mileage they already had in the industry by that time, at least they knew how things worked and what could go wrong. It would also have been easy to get overwhelmed by the attention that they suddenly were enjoying and just go for broke. Or they could just have focused on Jun’s fame to carry the group (just as what many idol groups do by focusing on a “center”). But thankfully, they didn’t and just went on their own pace steadily, making sure that every single member of the group was in the same cadence so no one would be left behind. The other members soon got their breaks (Nino with his Hollywood debut, Ohno and Aiba finally getting their lead roles in dramas, and Sho going into newscasting). And that is why a group whose members share equal fame and success was born, no one more famous than the other. That could only be because they have stayed focused on their goal, that whatever they do individually should benefit the group, that group >>>>> individual, a philosophy that has proven very beneficial to Arashi up to this day.
At least Dylan doesn’t have the burden of being in a group and making sure that the success is shared or spread out. Even if the new F4 work together, they also have their own studios (not sure, but I don’t think they all share the same management). Also, Dylan (and the new F4) have probably been equipped with adequate preparations and warnings by Angie and her team on what to expect more or less so they’re not really going blindly into this like their Taiwanese predecessors. I’m not worried too that fame would affect Didi’s mental state. He looks like a well-adjusted kid, and still a boy at heart with the way he behaves like a three-year-old on the set. Watching him reminds me of a child who is on his first trip to Disneyland, everything is an object of wonder. Besides, he comes from a generation that is already used to public attention thanks to social media so I don’t see him getting angsty over losing his privacy (when asked in a recent interview what were the changes since he became famous, he said matter-of-fact: I”m more busy, no more private life.”). That is not to say it is okay for fans to overstep boundaries (already, there are lots of speculations on his private life as well as cameras following him everywhere, including a visit to a hospital that blew up and somehow ended up with wild rumors of him getting plastic surgery) but he looks like one who could handle the scrutiny. Still, it would also be good for him in the long run if he sets boundaries as early as now so fans would know where they stand and not abuse his goodwill and fan service.
The only other thing left to do is to stay focused on what he wants to be. What exactly are his goals? At this stage, it would most likely be his agency steering the direction where he should go since he does not have enough experience and weight to navigate the industry or dictate the terms yet. Which brings us to…
Experiment and explore
Dao Ming Si is a very iconic character any actor who plays it not only is guaranteed fame, but also runs the risk of being typecasted. But this is something that I’m glad Jun has consciously avoided by trying out other roles that were not Domyouji-like and instead gave him the chance to showcase his thespic talent and work with more experienced actors.
Didi may not have much room to maneuver yet since he is just starting. He would have to build his acting capital first to be able to choose which roles to do next. But given the nature of C-ent, which may be a huge market but also has loads of equally talented and handsome actors, it would be to his benefit if his handlers are careful about his next steps. This is something that his studio appears to be doing, given the delay in announcing his follow-up acting project after MG2018, putting him instead in variety shows that are obviously geared to make him more familiar with the viewing public. So far, so good. (He hinted that his studio is gearing towards more modern dramas than wuxia, although he would naturally like to have that opportunity in the future too.)
In time though, he should be allowed to experiment with different roles to showcase his acting chops. For someone who didn’t plan on becoming an actor, Didi sure showed a lot of potential in his debut role, giving the character a lot of nuance. While he is undoubtedly very handsome, it’s his eyes that make him more than just a pretty face. They are very expressive and he should continuously work on them because they will be his primary asset that could bring him acting recognition in the future. Good looks can only take one so far, it’s talent that will take him to higher places. To do this, he would need to explore and challenge himself, and continue pushing the envelope. He is only 19 years old. Imagine what he can do in five, 10 years.
Take not only praise, but criticism
In order to grow and develop his craft, Didi would have to listen not only to praise, but to criticism.
There is a tendency to tell stars what they want to hear but the truth is, not everything they do will receive praise. Sure, there are people who thrive by being praised, nothing wrong with that. But criticism should not be taken as something negative because there is such a thing as constructive criticism. One who is emotionally weak and sensitive to criticism has no business working in an industry that is harsh and makes everything–including, and especially, negative feedback–public.
Didi has so far shown his feisty personality when he gets in a pinch (that variety game show where his Chengdu accent made his answer “wrong” for example), but is smart enough to be a sport and laugh about it.
On the other hand, Jerry has a timid personality and from the outside, looks like someone who will crumble easily to any negative feedback. For sure, he has received so much criticisms over his acting and singing over the years. However, he has not allowed those to put him down and the fact that he’s still active in the industry is enough proof. He even recently showed willingness to step into unchartered territory, including being in a dance reality show where his shyness is still evident (despite years in the industry!). But it only goes to show that he’s made of stronger stuff than what he lets on.
Jun, meanwhile, has been vocal about welcoming criticisms so he could improve, especially when it comes to his work as Arashi’s concert boss. (He also lurks on Twitter to read feedback from fans, despite not having a public account.) Perhaps his exposure on variety shows, where they were constantly embarrassed and criticized at such a young age, thickened his skin. But it has served him well and has even given him the credibility to mentor others. It should serve Didi well too.
Have a life
…away from the stage, klieg lights and the screaming fans.
Many celebrities talk about “emptiness” when a drama or film work ends, of having difficulty letting go of a character. Granted it is part of the artistic process to get attached to a character, but the empty feeling they get and which they need to fill up by taking up new hobbies or doing something else only proves that the commensurate fame is not the answer to everything.
The trappings of success can be a double-edged sword and it’s easy to get lost in the whirlpool of a glamorous life of a star. But they should never confuse this life as their reality and keep on projecting or acting like they’re on camera or in public 24/7.
The stage ain’t their home, the fans ain’t their family, the hangers-on ain’t their friends, the awards/records do not define their life. None of these things would probably be around or would still matter years on when new and younger people have come to take their place in the galaxy of stars. Because see, fame is not forever and they have to nurture the things that truly matter so that they have something to go home to when it all ends, and one day, it will.
They don’t even have to wait for that one day to come to get their feet back on firm ground. Jun, for example, related previously on how just a few hours ago, he was performing with Arashi before 55,000 screaming fans in Tokyo Dome but a few hours later, he was at home alone washing his underwear. Way to bring home the reality that nothing lasts forever and the sooner they accept this, the better for their well-being in the long run.
It’s also nice to fill that life outside showbusiness with people who have been there before they became big shots. I’m not really sure with Jerry because he keeps his private life, well, private (and Didi could learn this from him too), but Jun is surrounded by friends from middle school (plus he has “childhood friends” in Arashi), practically people who knew him before he hit his stride. It’s not wrong to gain friends along the way of course because it’s best to have friends than enemies, but as one gets popular, it becomes harder to strike new friendships without questioning motives. Whereas those people who have been around since Day 1 know the person behind the celebrity before the spotlight was trained on them. It would be great if Didi could keep those friends because they could also serve as his anchor and a constant reminder of his foundation as a person.
Authenticity is such an overrated concept in the entertainment industry that markets the image of celebrities and puts them in boxes for the public to consume. I can just imagine the gazillion do’s and don’ts meant to avert any PR disaster that could end a career. Somewhere along the way, there would be compromises made, maybe even lies too.
The thing is, there will be a day of reckoning, as what we have seen so many times. A scandal happens and a layer of the onion is peeled, revealing a far less appealing personality behind the carefully crafted public image. Fans leave, advertisers cancel contracts, work stops. The stakes are simply too high.
Sure, it is ironic to be authentic in a world that creates illusions and sells dreams. It’s all about marketing, but there should also be truth in advertising. Staying true to one’s original core as much and as close as possible would save a celebrity from a steep fall later.
I like how Jerry hasn’t really changed through the years, not to say that change is not a good thing. But if he has turned out to be more like Van Ness and became this outgoing, gregarious person, pretty sure it would have been painful to watch.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t say Jun has changed from the dorky kid he was because he is still a dorky adult. I’d say his personality has developed through the years. He went through his rebel phase (Gokusen), became a tsundere (HYD), mellowed down (Smile), turned soft (ChocoJun) and became this fluffy adult with the occasional nuts that he is now. They call it character development in films. I call it growing up.
Didi in so many ways reminds me of the young Jun, especially when he is savage with his answers or just goofy. He’s never shy unlike Jerry. But he’s still building his personality and he needs to go through many things, including making wrong decisions or committing mistakes, because that’s the only way to learn and grow.
Not everyone will like you, but that’s okay
In the process of growing up and spreading his wings in the industry, Didi would learn what his seniors have gone through. Not everyone will be a fan, and not every fan will stay. But that’s okay. He debuted as Dao Ming Si. He will live, survive and thrive.
© Orange Jasmine Purple Yam (blogging since 2001). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the contents in this site without permission from the author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Orange Jasmine Purple Yam with appropriate link to the original content.