Accidental fame is not something you can brush off easily, and a 27-year-old Russian man nicknamed Lelush learned that the hard way. Due to a small lapse in judgement, he ended up on a popular reality TV talent hunt called Produce Camp 2021 aka “Chuang” – created by Chinese tech giant Tencent – and had to endure months of “torture.” From 90 local and overseas contestants, the show’s 25 finalists had battle it out to be one of 11 eventual winners who will go on to become part of an international boy band called INTO1.
Luckily for Lelush, he didn’t make it to the final cut of 11 when the winners – Liu Yu, Santa, Rikimaru, Mika Hashizume, Nine, Lin Mo, Bo Yuan, Zhang Jiayuan, Patrick, Zhou Keyu, and Liu Zhang – were announced on April 24.
You may have heard his story if you follow entertainment news from China, but if you haven’t, here’s a lowdown of Lelush’s outrageous story.
Who is Lelush?
Vladislav Ivanov picked the name Lelush after Lelouch Lamperouge, a character from his favourite Japanese anime series Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. Hailing from Vladivostok, Ivanov is actually a fashion marketer and part-time model who’s fluent in English and Chinese.
He originally arrived on an artificial off the coast of Hainan – the film location of Produce Camp 2021 – to become a translator for his friends: two Japanese artists who joined the show. However, when he arrived on the show with them, he was often mistaken for another contestant by staff because of his good looks.
Despite his looks, Ivanov is a serious introvert – he’s been approached by several talent agencies but has refused to sign on because he doesn’t like to be on screen. At one point, Ivanov actually sent an SOS to his friend saying he couldn’t stand it five minutes after arriving on set in Hong Kong for a modelling gig.
How did he get signed onto the show?
Because he speaks Chinese and has good looks, the director of Produce Camp 2021 has repeatedly tried to get him to sign onto the show. While he declined at first, he only said yes after getting bored on the island – according to his friend, Ivanov thought that joining the show could help change his introverted personality.
Ivanov has made it clear on-screen that it wasn’t his choice to sign on, and that he’d been persuaded to take part by the show’s director.
According to the show’s contract, he was obligated to follow through with the rigorous regime. Over the course of several months, all contestants were filmed 24/7 practising dance routines and songs. “Dancing and singing every day, I’m really exhausted and now starting to regret my decision,” said Ivanov.
Their phones were also confiscated until they were eliminated, and anyone who wanted to leave early would face steep fees to break the terms of the contract.
“Becoming a member of a boy band is not my dream as I can’t sing and dance,” said Ivanov during a broadcast, “I hope the judges won’t support me. While the others want to get an A, I want to get an F as it stands for freedom.”
How did he get stuck on the show?
All the contestants on the show have been giving their all to impress the judges and audience – except Ivanov. In fact, he expected to be cut by the first elimination round, but his reluctant performances and dark humour made him a favourite among his fans who called themselves “sun si” (bamboo shoots) – a pun that also means pranksters.
Even though he’d joke about escaping from the studio or giving clumsy and off-key performances, the audience lapped it up; his angry expressions have even become a viral social media emoji. Ivanov’s nonchalance has actually won him legions of fans who see him as a welcome change from cookie-cutter Asian youth idols. His sun si even financed billboards across Chinese cities to vote him into the top finishers.
Despite his worst efforts, Ivanov stayed on in the show, fed up with endless rounds of singing and dancing. He had repeatedly said that he didn’t want to continue, and even implored the audience to stop voting for him so he can go home. Some skeptical viewers had even theorised that Ivanov was putting on a nonchalant attitude to stand out from a crowded field. He was unable to withdraw because of the exorbitant penalty fee for breaking his contract.
This was how Ivanov become an accidental pop sensation in China, trapped in a show where his reluctant performances kept getting him votes.
And then there were memes
Needless to say, Lelush has spawned countless memes and hashtags as the new symbol of “sang wenhua“, a youth sub-culture centred on pessimism and apathy.
Freedom at last
Finally, on April 18 after appearing in 10 weekly episodes since mid-February, Ivanov’s fan club announced that they would “respect Lelush’s choice” and halted their campaign to vote for him. Ivanov got his wish on April 24: he didn’t get enough votes to make the final cut for the boy band.
“Thank y’all for your support. I am finally clocking out,” he told his 1.5 million Weibo followers. The happy Ivanov also posted a meme of himself clad in a bright yellow hoodie the next day, sporting a rare smile.
Who else could be so overjoyed at losing?