An illustration of the three members of TFBoys for an article about their rising popularity and emotional impact. (Illustration by Julie Chow, University of California, Berkeley)

The Music of TFBoys Resonates With the Youth of China

This popular band skyrocketed to the top of the charts by providing its audience with genuine connections and passionate music.
May 4, 2021
8 mins read

Though they may seem unreachable, love for a pop idol can sometimes be religious. To celebrate their Chinese idols’ birthday, a fan group rented billboards at the center of Times Square, bought a cruise ship named after the group, rented a helicopter decorated with the band’s headshot and covered subway stations with advertisements — all in one band’s honor. The amount of money spent by these fans matches their enthusiasm: boundless. You must be starting to wonder what group deserves this level of support — and why?

These “kings” — Karry WangRoy Wang and Jackson Yee — make up one of the hottest bands in China: TFBoys.

It is fair to consider their success unprecedented or even unimaginable. This band thrives beyond the realm of music. The recognition TFBoys has received also reaches films, theaters and even TV reality shows. They are ambassadors of some of the world’s most well-known brands including McDonald’s, Nike and Gucci.

In a particularly impressive feat, TFBoys just broke the Guinness World Records for the most viewed paid concert. The band has sparked an inextinguishable wave of fire among nearly all age groups in China since the group released its first album in 2013. Let’s examine why TFBoys has achieved such nearly unfathomable popularity in such a short amount of time.

The emotional values instilled by TFBoys are tremendous. People fall for TFBoys because they can be easily and securely connected with, especially by teenage listeners, as the group’s music is filled with the most common elements of young people’s lives. From albums like “Manual of Youth” to songs such as “The Rest of the Summer,” much of their music depicts the thoughts and feelings experienced by a young person in China.

For example, “Young,” one of the group’s most popular songs, portrays the confusion and wonder a teenager is highly likely to face when transitioning from childhood to adulthood, demonstrated by lyrics such as: “Softly singing out a song, like a novel, the lyrics express my tininess and loss.”

Most of their songs are also filled with wholesome, figurative imagery that unveils the brightly stimulating sides of humanity and conveys a strong sense of positivity. For instance, the song “It’s You” literalizes the freshness and pure beauty of youthful love and enables people to sense the heart-beating feelings tangibly through poetic lyrics such as, “When I try to put up the beautiful fireworks in the sky, will your eyes have sparks flying?”

Such images are also evidenced in many other TFBoys songs, such as “Pamper”: “I don’t know what love is because I am still so young. However, I am defeated by your smile.” The candid and detailed articulation of the feelings, plus the liveliness of the melody, engages and empathizes with the audience.

Though TFBoys’ music shares a certain degree of similarity with other groups that cater to the same demographic, the innocence of the band members embeds another critical layer of emotional authenticity into their songs. While TFBoys’ music is mostly related to the lives of young people, those from a more mature age group can still easily be impressed by the group’s positivity and energy.

Immersing oneself in TFBoys’ music can lead to the enhancement of one’s mood, as explained by the psychological definition of “priming,” or a phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.

In addition to its relatability and evocation of certain emotions, the music of TFBoys also guides its listeners to think positively and pay attention to the intrinsic values of critical things in life. The song “Firefly,” for example, encourages people to think about themselves as a “firefly,” which are creatures that can shine without any external force, as demonstrated by its lyrics: “Even though there is no sun in my life, I can still shine bright” and “I believe in the belief of firefly, which lightens the darkness and leads me to the hope.”

Some young people who are faced with immense stress in their lives may find an outlet and guidance from TFBoys’ lyrics and melodies. In my opinion, most of their music is conducive to enhancing one’s self-esteem and motivates people to find meaning from their life experiences — either good or bad.

Many of TFBoys’ songs also involve the theme of friendship and brotherhood. The collective presence of its three members creates indispensable values that notably elevate the psychological immersion in their music.

Similarly, the differences between their personalities further enrich this experience. Yee is the most introverted, while Roy Wang is much more outgoing; Karry Wang — no relation to Roy Wang — falls somewhere in between the two. The interaction between their voices in a song creates an artistic dynamic that often adds more interpersonal colors and extends the amplitude of emotions. Additionally, their engagement in diverse fields, including film and TV reality shows, further strengthens the brand of TFBoys even though the members participate in these activities separately most of the time.

Last but not least, the bond formed with their fans is exceptionally strong because listeners have the chance to witness TFBoys’ growth from the ages of 12 and 13 — the ages of the TFBoys when they released their first album — until now. The emotional investment from their fans expands across time.

I’ve asked one of TFBoys’ enthusiastic fans why she is so passionately “obsessed” with TFBoys. She replied that the meaning of TFBoys in her life already exceeded the relationship between an idol and a fan. Through her “virtual interaction” with TFBoys, she found companionship in her alone time, inspiration when she was down and warmth and love when she felt disappointed about the world. At the end of our conversation, she smiled with two wet eyes and said, “They are my best friends and I want them to get the best.”

Benjamin Chen, Columbia University

Writer Profile

Xiaobin (Benjamin) Chen

Columbia University
Economics and Psychology

Benjamin Chen is an economics and psychology student at Columbia University. He is always motivated to innovate and change the world for the better. He is driven and guided by values, principles and love.

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