Tencent is Suing the Winners of Its Own Hit Talent Show, “Produce 101”

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11:39 PM HKT, Thu August 16, 2018 2 mins read

It’s the show that gave us “China’s Beyoncé” and a contestant whose singing ability was derided as a “car crash” on the mic, but now pop idol group-creating show Produce 101 has become embroiled in a new controversy, even though it wrapped up its run in China over a month ago. Tencent’s video arm, which helped produce the show and streamed it on its platform, has confirmed that its suing several of the winners.

So what’s going on?

Although the romanticized view of talent shows such as Produce 101 is that they pluck complete unknowns out of obscurity and catapult them to megastardom almost over night — generating “omg, it could be me!” vibes as they do so — the reality for a lot of the major Chinese shows is that the contestants on our screens are already fairly established performers. Maybe not megastars, but maybe not previously undiscovered diamonds in the rough either.


Take the second series of The Rap of China. As we noted in our round-up of the female contestants on the hit hip hop show, many of those taking part are acts who have released songs, been signed to record labels, and often been featured on other talent TV shows. If performers have existing deals in place with labels and/or management companies, those can come into conflict with the contracts the shows want contestants to sign — the restrictive nature of which Beijing rapper Saber alluded to in our recent interview.

In the case of Produce 101, there was some confusion when Mei Qi and Xuan Yi finished as the top two on the show, thus making it into the planned Rocket Girls pop group, because they were already part of Cosmic Girls, a South Korean and Chinese singing act also known as WJSN. Ultimately, Mei Qi and Xuan Yi’s management, Yuehua Entertainment, decided to pull the pair from the proposed new group, citing “unreasonable and unmanageable scheduling”; Zhang Zining, another contestant who made the cut for the final girl group, was also withdrawn by her management, Maverick Entertainment.

Tencent, perhaps understandably, are not best pleased and have now announced that they are suing Yuehua Entertainment, Maverick Entertainment, and the three artists involved for breach of contract.

Where that leaves the rest of the Rocket Girls group is kind of unclear, but it seems like it may have been for the best that “China’s Beyoncé” Wang Ju didn’t make the cut, at least for the sake of her career. You certainly have to feel a bit sorry for the singers involved, who were presumably at the mercy of their management companies on this.

The whole affair has also pulled the curtain back a little on what is often going on behind the scenes with shows like these, shows which are already under scrutiny in China for their encouragement of the “fan economy“.

Update: It seems the threat of legal action was enough to make Yuehua and Maverick back down. After Tencent’s announcement, multiple media outlets are now reporting that the companies have come to an agreement and all three performers will be present at Rocket Girls’ forthcoming press conference for their new album this weekend. Phew.

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