Boasting sold-out concert halls, heaving fan meetings, and posters with their faces plastered on every street corner, Cantopop idol group Mirror has become a core part of Hong Kong's cultural zeitgeist over the past years.

With Hong Kong plagued by a growing sense of unease following political unrest marked by massive pro-democracy protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, many citizens have shifted their attention onto local talent, leading to the resurgence of Cantonese pop music, also known as Cantopop, into the mainstream.

Fans take pictures of posters featuring members of male idol group Mirror in Hong Kong on May 27, 2023. (Kyodo)

Makeup artist Ivy Li, who has been a fan of Mirror since its debut in 2018, said the 12-member band had revitalized Hong Kong, bringing a sense of purpose and cheer back into the once "lifeless" city, where people felt disconnected from their communities, particularly during the pandemic.

"During COVID, there wasn't much for people to distract themselves with, so we focused all our attention on Mirror," Li said.

With public gatherings and travel becoming largely restricted, many had to seek new ways to stay entertained and engaged while staying close to home, leading to a rise in support for local talent.

Mirror first became known in 2018 when Hong Kong broadcaster ViuTV released the first season of "Good Night Show -- King Maker," an elimination-based talent reality show in which the 12 frontrunners of the show eventually joined to form the idol group. They are now in their 20s and 30s.

However, it was not until recently that the group skyrocketed to superstardom, achieving widespread fame that has led them to become household names.

Members of male idol group Mirror perform at a fan event on May 27, 2023, at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong. (Kyodo)
Fans cheer for Hong Kong male idol group Mirror at an event on May 27, 2023, at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. (Kyodo)

In the past three years, Mirror has witnessed a surge in popularity, gaining a following of loyal fans who have spent both their time and money to show their dedication to the band.

In April, over 10,000 people gathered at Causeway Bay to celebrate the birthday of Keung To, with his fan club sponsoring a full day of free tram rides by shouldering about HK$2 million ($255,000) of the costs, according to local news reports.

In July, fans celebrated the birthday of another member, Anson Lo, by throwing a large-scale celebration that included free ice cream and rides on local transport. Fans also reportedly paid upwards of HK$100,000 ($12,750) to rent a large advertising billboard in Tsim Sha Tsui in downtown Hong Kong.

"We don't want anything in return. We're just happy to support our idols and to see them succeed," said an office worker in her 30s who preferred to be known only by her surname Chan as she waited patiently outside of a building in May, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mirror members as they left dance practice.

Chan, alongside a few of her friends, had arrived several hours earlier to see their idols in person, if even just for the few seconds it would take for them to enter and exit the building before and after rehearsal.

The fan said that she wanted to use her presence as a way of showing physical support to the idols, adding that she had also contributed her own money to buy advertisements for her favorite member Lo.

Anthony Fung, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies pop culture, attributed the success of Mirror to its ability to connect with fans.

"Mirror provided an opportunity for people to celebrate and re-establish relationships" as COVID had made it difficult for people to see their friends, Fung explained. "Fans really want to be in touch with idols and to reach out to them in public activities."

Mirror members (from center L) Ian Chan, Jeremy Lee and Keung To walk through an aisle between fans at an event in Hong Kong on May 27, 2023. (Kyodo)

Fung likened the style of Mirror to the hugely popular South Korean boy band BTS, making a comparison between their rigorous auditioning process as well as grueling dance and vocal training.

"Mirror might be the first (Hong Kong) band that is close (to BTS) in terms of aesthetic," said Fung. "Hong Kong has really lacked these kinds of idols for a long time. That's why the impact is so big."

In the past two decades, people's interest in Cantonese music has fizzled in Hong Kong as the South Korean entertainment industry has become an international phenomenon.

But the popularity of Mirror has led to a resurgence of the Cantopop genre as the band combines the best of both Cantonese music and K-pop worlds, pairing catchy lyrics and beats with Korean pop-esque dance moves.

"I think that Cantonese music has a unique charm in that we can tell several stories through its lyrics," said Jer Lau, a Mirror member who is known for his songwriting and lyricism.

"At the end of the day, Cantonese is our mother tongue. We can't lose sight of it," member Edan Lui added. "This is part of our culture...we can't let it disappear."

Jeremy Lee (far R, facing camera) and other members of idol group Mirror perform at a fan event in Hong Kong on May 27, 2023. (Kyodo)

The idea of anyone being able to achieve their dreams, if they only try, is perhaps what most resonates with Mirror fans.

Li, an avid supporter of Keung, said she was moved by his dedication and work ethic throughout the first season of the reality show.

"Having watched him go from being an ordinary person to becoming an idol, I felt that he was really worth supporting," she said.

Lau recalled an interaction in which a fan -- someone who also found passion in singing -- told him of feeling hopeful after seeing members compete on the show.

"From competing in the show as a normal person, to debuting as a band and finding success within that...I think that we were really able to fulfil their dreams on their behalf. I think that's why people have supported us until now," Lau said.

Fans of male idol group Mirror get excited at an event in Hong Kong on May 27, 2023. (Kyodo)

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