Liveblogging the 11.11 Gala 2017
Back in 2011, while I was editing Shanghaiist.com (RIP for now, my dearest website - and two middle fingers to the asshole billionaire who hated unions so much he brought you and your sister sites down... but I digress), my junior editor Jessica and I had the great idea of liveblogging the spectacle of the time: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala.
Well, some things have changed in 6 years! While I'm not ready to write off 2018's Spring Festival Gala yet, there's an equally big event every November now: Jack Ma of Alibaba's Singles Day Gala. That's right, China's gazillion times larger answer to Black Friday, a shopping festival, has its own star-studded event every year.
And this year, about two hours ago, Jessica and I got the bright idea to liveblog this mofo. And since we don't work for Shanghaiist anymore (and that bastard took it down anyhow), we gonna do it here. The audience is much, much smaller... but with sushi & a wine order on the way, and another friend (who will remain anonymous) allegedly on the front lines, it should be just as fun. Join us, won't you?
Elaine: Okay, so the intro to this event. It’s kind of amazing me that the first ten minutes have already made me feel like I’m in a nightmare dystopian future. One where a little girl grows up and consumes consumes consumes until she dies. Sponsored by Vivo.
Jessica: I’m feeling a lot of consumer anxiety. There are so many deals flying at me from so many different platforms. The Youku app and Taobao apps are both hitting up my phone nonstop, plus the hosts keep telling me I can win more shit.
Elaine: Holy WHAT. The first act is Jessie J singing PRICE TAG. I mean. I can’t make this up! This is not a parody of life!
Jessica: Very on the nose
Oh hello Zhang Ziyi. “She’s a mom, but most importantly she’s the brand ambassador for Pretty Feather.”
Elaine: There is an android telling jokes. AND NOW IT’S RIVERDANCE. This stuff is coming at us so fast. I don’t think I expected it to get so crazy and be so non-stop. At least there’s some moments where they have to yell out advertisements like barkers so that we have a second to catch our breath.
Jessica: This is like the Olympics of consumerism. Literally, you are competing with millions, and they are better at it than you.
Elaine: Jessica, are you actually trying to grab the red packets?
Jessica: I keep pressing buttons on my phone and missing it. But maybe I need a new phone. Do I need to buy a 双11 phone just to be able to compete? There’s just a constant stream of “#抢一亿红包#” scrolling in the comments section. The deals are flying at me so fast, I have no idea how anybody can keep up with this.
Luis Figo of Real Madrid is the only thing keeping me grounded right now.
Elaine: He’s the brand ambassador of Head & Shoulders, but he’s not doing a great job at this crazy game they’re having him play… to kick a football goal. I think there was some betting thing going on in the background? But him not making it is at least giving us time to catch up.
Jessica: The camera keeps zooming in on the foreigners in the audience.
Jessica: Now they are supporting Chinese athletics. And was that a lottery ticket? Nevermind, Blue Man Group is up and that’s all that matters.
FYI: My friend at Alibaba says that everybody calls Jack Ma 马云老师.
Elaine: I feel bad not getting a screenshot of Blue Man Group up on this blog, but at the same time it hasn’t even been an hour and we’ve seen more celebrities than Spring Festival Gala 2011 had at the time.
Also TBH, Blue Man Group’s Act is pretty disgusting. It involves a lot of spitting things out of their mouths and I’m kind of feeling super ew about it all. Is this what Blue Man Group is in the USA as well? I never saw them.
Basically the Blue Guys spat paint onto a canvas. And then they spat out some sort of clay from their mouths like a ninja villain from Naruto. And I am disgusted and kind of sad I didn't have time to really eat before I began this. Bloggable things are flying from the screen so fast that I don't really have time to grab some of my sushi dinner.
Elaine: Oh, the Cat Android Robot is up again. Good to know that it’s a recurring feature. I guess it’s giving ideas about things being sold? But most celebrities seem to be unable to guess what they’re trying to sell.
Jessica: Oh they’re doing the thing where you can instantly buy the clothes he was just wearing?! His jacket disappeared, and it can reappear in your Taobao cart if you so desire!
Now it’s robots dancing and touching each other. Oh wait, they are puppets.
Elaine: I’m just glad it’s a Chinese singer with nothing really important to say, because I am exhausted. The hosts are now talking about that specific brand of instant noodles that are basically “hotpot noodles,” because it’s time to eat.
Jessica: It’s only been an hour, and they’ve already done 4 of the 6 famous foreigner acts announced in the line up. I’m predicting some surprise guests.
So they put the girl in the box, magically give her new clothes, then transport her back to her own dining room? And now they’re playing charades. And now she’s back in the box! You couldn't make this shit up.
I’m sure Alibaba had every shred of creative and intellectual juices working up this gala over the past 6 months. That’s a hard truth to face.
So many global leaders wishing China a Happy Singles Day!
Elaine: Yeah, in the last 5 minutes before we hit 9pm, we’ve had the leaders & diplomats of how many countries wish China a good time at shopping? Because, remember, this whole thing is ALL. ABOUT. SHOPPING.
Elaine: Okay, I did not expect the Victoria’s Secret show to appear on 11.11 as well, but now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Why WOULDN’T they choose the most intense shopping festival in the world to also present themselves?
You know, other former Junior Editor Tiffany Ap is in town too covering both the Victoria’s Secret Show and Singles Day?
Jessica: Right, the Victoria Secret bit, and the bit with the Tmall cat game seem the only two things so far that are really e-commerce focused. I know Jack Ma is trying to revolutionize retail or whatever... But at this point I feel like he’s just trying to confuse me to the point where I just panic and blindly click on shit on my phone. Am I buying something right now? It’s hard to tell.
Elaine: I’m hyperventilating a bit. This was literally the script just now. “You just exercised, but you don’t smell like sweat!” “That’s because we have… Victoria’s Secret! It’s Bombshell, a limited edition scent only available tonight!”
Jessica: I need a drink.
Elaine: I already feel like I’ve drunk too much. I can’t keep up.
You know how I complain sometimes (all the time) about how America seems like a satire of late capitalism? China is like “hold my beer.” I guess the only difference is that they’ve somehow managed to make this contradiction where they will tumble down the consumerist rabbit hole super hard but at the same time there’s this “benevolent dictatorship” to stop any of these people from getting the same control they’ve gotten in the States… work? Is it working? I don’t even know. I’m so disturbed right now.
Jessica: Hold that thought for a minute, there’s an English long jumper kid about to jump over 9, um, minor Chinese celebrities? I missed who they were.
AND HE DID A FLIP! And these outfits tho. The red and black plaid suit especially.
Elaine: Okay, how many people did Ginger Toby jump over in the end? And why?
Jessica: He jumped over 12. Because… he can?
Jessica: All the commercials on the Youku stream seem directly Singles Day related. I wonder how the advertising shakes out on the actual broadcast networks. All us young things are watching on Youku, but let’s remember there’s still a huge section of the population that relies exclusively on broadcast media. Last year 400 million people watched this gala, I have to guess it’s way higher this year, and I bet a lot of those are home viewers.
Speaking of shaking and broadcast television, they apparently rigged it up so that if you are watching from your home television and one of the interactive games starts happening, you just shake your phone and your Taobao app will prompt you to participate.
Hang on, forget that, there are robots playing music.
Elaine: OH wait, what’s this artist’s name, because he’s the Chinese knock off of a Linkin Park-NIN collaboration. If I can find him on Youtube we should put him on here. Did you know that WeChat now blocks non-government approved websites? So it’s not like anyone in China can really read this blog anyway. It’s Zhang Jian?
Jessica: I’m not sure. But now they are advertising a home assistant. Tianmao Jingling?
Elaine: Wait, is there really a song called “Everything We Must Buy”??
Jessica: Elaine, I can’t respond to anything you’re saying because I can’t focus on anything for more than 15 seconds. Now there’s a man singing Memory from Cats and…. Umm … oh sorry, I couldn’t finish that sentence because all of the sudden it turned into some kind of emo opera version.
Jessica: Is this a Korean celebrity? I’m bad with my Asian pop culture. But I wouldn’t mind winning that giant Sharp TV… what does 8K even mean??
Elaine: He’s Kazakh. But more importantly, here’s something insane about his entire act… which is… OK, this is another conversation I’m having:
Jessica: I’m digging this kid in the Tshirt and robe. Oooo that bit with the people lying on the smartphone screen was cool. I’ve been expecting more exciting set design to be honest, nothing too exciting so far.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard “BUY! BUY! BUY!”
Elaine: They just had a red packet gun but it was unbranded, they only SAID the brand name. That Marketing team is FIRED.
Also, they just explained why they were talking so fast. It’s because they need to get all the festivities finished before midnight so that the REAL 11.11 shopping can begin.
Jessica: Oh good, Maria Sharapova finally showed up. Do we think she’ll look like she understands wtf she’s doing here any better than the rest of us?
Elaine: She… has to race dominos. Like, the tile, not the pizza (though, missed branding opportunity).
Jessica: Elaine, I’m starting a drinking game with myself for every time you mention a missed branding opportunity.
So what ARE we supposed to want to buy because of this dominos race game? I feel like now that my heart palpitations have died down a bit, I actually might want to participate in the consumerism party.
Elaine: You’re supposed to bet whether or not they can make it. If you were right, you get a chance to win something. It’s a similar game from what was going on with the footballer, but you know, a different sports star, a different sport.
Jessica: We are halfway through! And… it’s a Chinese Christmas song?
Well, thankfully the beer has helped with my consumer anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s also begun inhibiting my ability to read all the Chinese deals flashing around on the screen. So I’m calm, but I’m struggling to participate in the deals! You just can’t win.
Who is this enthusiastic white guy? “The real-life mentalist” Oh god it’s one of those entertainer hypnotists? He wants me to pick one gift. I pick the hamburger. If he guesses it, I’m changing my religion to “rando white mentalist”.
Jessica: Good god, he’s got something hidden inside of his clothes. But it’s not a hamburger, so I remain unimpressed.
Elaine: It’s gifts! A COFFEE POT. A TRIP TO LONDON. NOBODY CAN KNOW DIS. ITS 846 KUAI…
Elaine: Okay, it’s slowing down a bit. Either that or I’m getting drunk and not paying enough attention to blog every single thing I find insane. They just did mention though that “You are What You Buy” is a real philosophy that you should take seriously.
Elaine: OH MY GOD IT’S YANG YANG AND AN ARTIST...AND KAREN MOK?
Okay, legitimately a lot of these digital interactions are super, super cool and I just kind of wish they weren’t in the middle of the Incredible Hulk of Consumerist Interactions because it… cheapens things? Or am I being snobby? I don’t know anymore - I feel like 11.11 has completely shattered my… standards? Sense of being? I feel a bit like I’m being gaslit by someone who just keeps on screaming at me BUY BUY BUY.
Jessica: And we have a Pharrell ladies and gentlemen! I like how the Chinese singer lady tore off her ball gown to get super groovy with Pharrell.
Elaine: That’s Hong Kong superstar Karen Mok. She apparently has the most amazing shoe collection - I found this out at an exhibit about shoes hosted by the V&A that was in the middle of a mall on Nanjing Lu. Shanghai. Consumerism. Once again, I don't even know anymore.
Jessica: Wait, that’s it? Arguably the biggest foreign name on the ticket, and he doesn’t even stick around for a chat? I guess the Chinese audience isn’t too familiar with him.
What?!? I completely forgot about the Jabbawockeez but now I’m super curious who pitched this at the Gala planning meeting. Are we going to get any interesting Chinese physical performers?
I also wonder if all this hip hop included tonight has to do with the insane popularity of that rapping reality competition show...
Elaine: There HAS been a lot of hip hop hasn’t there? I think absolutely. My office literally has girls catching up on that show over lunch. As this dude says, “CHINESE BE BALLING NOW.”
Jessica: I don’t know about you, but my spam text messages are blowing up, every retailer I’ve ever purchased anything from on Taobao is badgering me to buy things at midnight.
I know all these people are famous, but I don’t know from what. And now a this young athletic kid is seeing how high he can launch himself over a high bar. Is this a thing? Is this something people know how to do? Swing on a swing with two people adding weight then launch into the air?
Aw he missed the 7 meter bar.
Elaine: Oh hello Fan BinBing...
Jessica: What are they going to do to her?!?!
Elaine: Disappear her… into another AR interaction.
Jessica: Can i buy the top 4th of her dress? Is that why they split her up into pieces? Oh nvm she’s back.
Jessica: Hey what? Is this that Super Girl girl?
Elaine: Yes, Li Yuchun! She’s still popular and tbh that makes me pretty happy. I kind of like that China was into different expressions of femininity and allowing girls to go butch way before the West was.
Jessica: She won in 2005 right? Super early days. And she looks like a total badass now/still.
Jessica: Okay, as an American, the whole “win a car!” thing feels very right.
I think Kris Wu might be the longest performance yet. That’s definitely a notable difference between this and the New Years Gala (among many many others): everything moves fast and I honestly don’t feel like I’m slogging through a 4.5 hour gala. It’s been nonstop madness since minute one.
Elaine: Yeah, definitely. But he’s a huge huge star, and one of the judges on that super popular Chinese Rap show. I’ve actually heard this song of his before - Deserve - and, for the first time, I think he's a bigger star even internationally than his co-rapper "Travi$". He’s an ABC (or rather, he’s Canadian, so CBC).
Jessica: Oh my god. “Jack Ma! Jack Ma! Jack Ma! Jack Ma! Everybody put your hands in the air!”
Elaine: Okay. We need to find a way to rip some of these videos, because now Kris Wu and Pharrell are singing/rapping a song SPECIFICALLY ABOUT SHOPPING ON 11.11. Like I thought the Jack Ma! Jack Ma! Rap was hilarious, but this is some extra.
Jessica: I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T BREATHE
You can do it, keyi
Change the world with renminbi
Theres the numbers
Its shiyi shiyi
You are not alone
You may think you are just at home
Something you all should know
You can do wonders
Because it’s shiyi shiyi
I COULD NOT MAKE THIS UP IF I TRIED
Elaine: I would rip it right now, but I feel like something even more amazing is about to happen, because mothafreaking Jack Ma still hasn’t appeared alongside Jet Li & Donny Yen, as promised by the poster, yet.
Jessica: Oh my god here it comes. NICOLE KIDMAN IN THE HOUSE! Oh! Is this the Oscars? AND SHE’S SPEAKING THE CHINESE!
Elaine: OHHHH HERE IT COMMMESSSS
Jessica: Oh dayum we get a sneak peak! Gong Shou Dao!! Kung Fu with a basketball! Old school arcade games! What are we about to see??
I’m having a hard time processing what exactly I just watched. Jack Ma fighting everybody. But it ended with Jack Ma.
Jessica: AHHHHHHHHH THEY’RE ALL ON STAGE! And somebody overdid it with the smoke.
And oh my god Jason Statham, Manny Paquio, he’s going to fight all these people!??!
But wait let’s listen to what Ma Laoshi is saying, and Donnie Yen…
Ahhh all our questions will be answered on November 12! The whole thing will be released then. So is this a promotion that has absolutely anything to do with Singles Day? Or it’s just Jack Ma being… delightfully eccentric?
And now they are all saying 哆哆哆哆 and I feel like I’m losing my fucking mind. Am I high right now?
Elaine: Nicole Kidman looks like she has no idea what is going on but she has a prompter telling her when to smile and laugh. She is also a head taller than everyone on stage.
Jessica: I’d love this whole thing to end with a ritualistic human sacrifice on stage. Really keep to the unpredictable nature of the evening. (It’s hard to explain how weird it is that everyone is chanting DUO DUO DUO DUO with red lights flashing…)
Wait, it’s done? My phone is blowing up with retailers’ text messages.
So 11.11 has officially started!!
Elaine: Basically you spoke too soon. We need an intense orchestra first.
Jessica: Seriously though, I just received 25 text messages from Taobao.
Credits are rolling.
I think we did it, Elaine.
Elaine: If I wasn't so numb, I would be crying.