May 05, 2012

Vitas: Bringing China to China

Vitas is a Russian superstar, extremely popular in Asia, particularly China. His voice spans at least five octaves. I've written an introduction: Why Have I Never Heard of Vitas?

Audience pressing forward to stage, 
with bouquets and gifts

Some people think Vitas is so popular in Asia because Asians are used to men with high voices (eg Peking Opera), but I feel this is a simplistic explanation, and that something far more socio-psychological is going on there. In fact, I have taken great liberty to imagine why.

I have a theory that Vitas may be helping China to regain her ancient heritage and to heal her wounds. I believe perhaps the China is confused, embarrassed and sad that she lost 5000 years of culture in a few years. I think Vitas recognizes that China wants to rediscover herself: culturally and spiritually. The people feel an emptiness.

In some ways Vitas is also controversial, but I believe it actually makes him even more attractive to the Chinese.

The new face of Mercedes Benz -China

First a quick introduction: Although Russian (actually Latvian/Ukranian), Vitas commands large audiences around the world particularly in Asia, especially China, with audiences as large as 50,000. In 2011 MTV Asia awarded him Best Foreign Artist, and he became the face of Mercedes Benz China. Also that year, Vitas entered the Guinness Book of Records, Russian branch, for having the most fans.

Here is Vitas's most famous song, put on the internet in 2001. It was Vitas's introduction to the world. Asia discovered it on the internet around 2005. Many believe that the red scarf is religious symbolism.

 Opera #2

"My house has been built but I am alone here
The door banged behind my back
An autumn wind is knocking on the window. . ."



From videos of recent performances in China, I see that Vitas has become less idiosyncratic and more "Chinese": he uses a lot of Chinese dancers in the background, often traditionally dressed or in a modern equivalent. His audiences still love his strange costumes, "alien" persona and dazzling sets; but there are no more bathtubs of goldfish (his Opera 2 video 2001), or aliens in huge animal-like bright yellow costumes with black spots, bobbing up and down behind him (Opera 2 Remix concert). He grew up. He seems more conservative, less interested in pushing boundaries or in an "individualistic" eccentric persona that is more western.

What he grew up to be, seems to me influenced by what suits his Chinese audiences. A glittering tuxedo fits his style better now, while lines of colorful dancers in Chinese costume circle around him. He is beginning to introduce Chinese songs into his repertoire.

in tuxedo, with Chinese dancers 
China Changchun Film Festival 2010

The Chinese demand the "full experience" from their entertainers, great colorful spectacles, and Vitas distills and turns their own experience back to them. Reappropriating things like color symbolism; references to the glory of the ancient land (the song "Tibetan Plateau"); ancient culture, customs, spirituality and religion; and a sound like stylized opera- all reminding them of 5 millenia of culture, once forbidden them to express- combining old China and new China. Now that the Chinese have permission to look back, Vitas helps get China in touch with her pride in who she used to be. But from a handsome young Westerner (Russia is Western for China).

He throws back to them an intensified, rose-colored version of themselves, reaching their collective unconscious. His style has an edge of the sentimental, which perhaps also appeals for this purpose. I see Vitas with a role in the "new" China. He was the right person at the right time in the right place. The way I see it, he is bringing China to China, old and new.

I have taken much liberty with my guesswork. Please let me know anything that I have gotten wrong!

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