An online flashmob is pleading with the producers and the audience to let a Russian man, who never wanted to be a pop star, leave a popular Chinese talent show. The young man, known as Lelush, is bound by contract – and his fame.
Some people are looking for fame all their lives and suffer due to not being able to achieve it. But the story of Vlad Ivanov – better known as Lelush – seems to be the complete opposite. The 27-year-old man from the city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East claims he’s being tortured by unwanted popularity in a foreign country.
Lelush doesn’t smile or greet fans whenever he gets on stage in the Produce Camp 2021 (Chuang 2021), a hit talent show on Chinese TV. He seems to be deprived of any particular singing or dancing talents – and he’s not even trying. Worse still, he’s literally begging to be released from the compound at the resort island of Hainan where the all-male participants stay and refine their skills. One of his songs was even called ‘Let Me Go Home’.
But every bleak performance only wins Lelush – whose nickname was inspired by the ‘Code Geass’ anime series – even more love from the Chinese audience. The Russian clearly stands out among the over-enthusiastic competitors from China, the US, Ukraine, Japan and elsewhere, who are eager to do everything to please the viewers and get their votes. He has been branded a provocateur, “a breath of fresh air” and even a protester against “Chinese normality” by local internet users.
The young man can’t easily leave the show because the contract – which he apparently signed without reading – calls for a huge fine in the event of him quitting. It’s the audience who are now in control of his fate.
The Russian will only be set free if viewers stop voting for him. But the fans of Produce Camp apparently don’t live by the motto of “if you love something, let it go.” They propelled Lelush all the way to the final, which is scheduled for April 23. And if he wins there, Lelush will become a member of a boy band slated for a massive world tour.
Being a popstar was apparently never Vlad’s goal, and has publicly said that the show is “such a cringe.” He came to China to study to become a designer at the Shanghai University.
A student is always in need of money, so the handsome Russian had been taking up all the jobs he came across, including work as a model, a cosmetics salesman and a teacher of Chinese to expats. The latter role got him on Produce Camp where he had been helping the Japanese competitors as a translator and a tutor.
All of a sudden, it turned out that the show was short of performers and Vlad was asked to fill in an empty slot. He swiftly agreed, thinking that he’d be kicked out in the very first round.
That plan didn’t work out too well. The seemingly resigned Ivanov has been giving interviews explaining how trapped he feels – but even those have been viewed through a positive lens. One of the many YouTube videos about Vlad is called “What I’ve learned from Lelush?” – and despite telling the entire story of his plight, it commends the man for being so ‘natural’ in his desire to leave.
While some Russian youngsters who’ve learned about the show have too been enjoying the ‘memeful’ situation, many others did not find it amusing. A hashtag #FreeLelush, calling for the young man to be released from the show, has been started on social media. “A human being is not a toy,” some commenters on Twitter argued, calling the situation “absurd.” The hashtag’s supporters believe that keeping a person on the program against his will is disrespectful not just to the Russian, but also to his rivals, for whom victory seems way more important.
Это уже не смешно, пустите Влада домой!Я очень опечален и возмущён. Это могло показаться забавным на какое то время, но ситуация приобретает всё более абсурдный характер. #свободулелушу#freelelushpic.twitter.com/fiWt9YEh4H
— 08HWO (@Yanh_Hyung) April 15, 2021
It’s not clear if the demands of the social media users will be heard. Some reports suggest that Lelush would eventually have an option of not signing the contract to join the boy band even if he is among the winners.
The young man has already said that he was not planning to leave China when he finally parts ways with Produce Camp. His dream was to start a Russian-style clothing brand in the county – and this is where his fame could really come in handy.