Friday, June 19, 2020

Important Lessons in Life from Wang Lei

Gossip mill: Getai singer Wang Lei becomes hit online influencer ...

The most inspirational person for me in this lockdown has been Wang Lei.

In case you are one of those who live along Bukit Timah road and never watched Ch 8 in your life, Wang Lei is a famous Hokkien Getai performer who found himself without a gig during the COVID-19 lockdown and totally reinvented himself as an online fishmonger who uses a combination dirty jokes and vulgarity-laden tirades to pull in a ridiculous a large five-figure international crowd. His online performances were so big that he has since been getting gigs to perform not just in Malaysia but also in China.

I will try to share some snippets of his off-colour humour although I must add that an English translation does not really do justice to his Hokkien jokes because some things are just better when told in the original language.
  • A troll kept asking him whether he sold squid when he was trying to sell cod-fish to the audience. He got fed up and told him to whip out his penis, barbeque it and eat it (implied) if he really wanted the taste of squid so badly.
  • A lady troll who kept annoying him for the past two days went absent for the last session, so he pointedly asked her after she logged on whether she was absent because she was having her periods yesterday.
  •  A troll asked him whether he was a virgin, he went on a tirade in Cantonese which ended with him calling the troll a "stupid c*nt".
  • After three trolls attacked him on the chat group, he invited all them to come out to participate in a threesome.
Follow this link for a compilation of his jokes.

If I am a business journalist, I believe that we can learn from Wang Lei on what we can do in a crisis like COVID-19. To understand how large his 60,000 online crowd is, I know do fairly well commercially as a trainer when my previews get an attendance rate of just 150 per session. 

Wang Lei has since become an international phenomenon with fans from as far as China and is already getting bookings for live performances there. 

Here are some lessons from Wang Lei :

a) The hardest part of a down-turn is enduring a drop in status.

Wang Lei was a major force in Hokkien Getai and has launched many successful Hokkien albums. When his revenue dried up in the COVID crisis, he made a fateful decision to become a fishmonger to help his friend sell fishes to eager fans. This is a major drop in status because he was technically a successful artiste prior to this latest pivot. I think if a Hokkien Star can become a Fishmonger, graduates without work can become swabbers. 

In this downturn, I am starting to see lawyers lose their jobs and top-flight graduates getting a starting pay a fraction of last year's starting salaries. To put food on the table, many Singaporeans would have to find work that is beneath their station or qualifications.  We can learn from Wang Lei and see this perhaps as a stepping stone to bigger things. 

For me, I still get a lot of queries on why I did not become a lawyer. Relatives ask whether I wasted 4 years of my life.  Becoming an investment trainer is clearly a drop in status. Wang Lei does not care so neither should I.

b) Measure what matters, then act aggressively to ramp it up.

At one point, Wang Lei was asked by his manager to tone down his vulgarities during his streams because he is, after all, a successful singer who launched many albums. He tried doing it at first, but audiences began to drop out which affected his income quite negatively. Then he ramped up his use of expletives and the live audiences just kept coming back asking for more. 

Apparently, a lot of China guys enjoy listening to Hokkien expletives -  and I thought they switched to Mandarin ages ago.

I am facing the same dilemma as a trainer. Right now, I have three different previews, all designed for different audiences with different commercial rates of success. My business partner knows what works and what does not and, over time, I would have to drop the weakest format in favour of the strongest if my numbers do not improve. 

As it turns out, my weakest commercial presentation is also the most informative for intermediate investors ( If you are free tomorrow sign up at this link). 

c) If you want to thrive, ignore the critics.

I'm not surprised that Wang Lei rubs people wrongly, but I don't understand why the English-educated types have been bashing him on mainstream media for being vulgar and a disgrace to the nation. If you don't enjoy his humour, go watch KIN on Channel 5. I am glad Wang Lei does not give a damn about his critics so long as $68 codfish can find enough buyers ( my mum says it is quite a good deal ). 

I get a decent amount of flak for being the Patron Saint of leveraging REITs. For me, I am sure that teaching leverage with the full knowledge that it is "dark art" makes it compelling for many of my students, many who do not even intend to use leverage in their portfolios. I think it's good to know about things even if it is dangerous. So I won't stop even if Uncle Chua would come back from the grave to haunt me. In fact, inspired by Wang Lei, I'd probably kick his butt. 

Maybe one day, some business professor will create a case study on Wang Lei, I think his actions are teachable moments for many of us who face drastic pivots in our professional lives this crisis. More importantly, as an artist, his success renders the argument that "artists are non-essential" nugatory.

If you cannot be an artist, just become a fish-monger lah.

In fact, become the fish-monger thousands of fans would listen to. 

Do whatever it takes to put food on the table and tell your critics to f**k off. 

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