The Boy Band of My Youth (and I will tie this back to K-dramas in the end, I promise):
2010 is the year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar. I was born in the year of the Dragon, many many Dragons ago. When I was growing up, the late 80s were a time of great cultural shifts in Asian entertainment. It heralded the dawn of youth entertainment, and none was as monumentally ground breaking as the arrival of the boy band. Of the most famous boy bands of that era, Japan had SMAP, Hong Kong had Grasshopper, and my native Taiwan had The Little Tigers.
Formed in 1988, the Little Tigers consisted of three teenage boys, Alec Su (nickname: the Sweet Tiger), Nicky Wu (nickname: the Thunderbolt Tiger) and Julian Chen (nickname: the Handsome Tiger). [These nicknames were selected by their management company, and today seems so clearly unsuitable when both Nicky and Alec are way better looking than Julian, the anointed handsome one, but I digress].
Wikipedia has this to say about these boys: “The Little Tigers changed the way people used to hear and see pop music, unleashing an influence that rivaled that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles in Asia.”
I was never that into this group as a kid. In fact, I was never that into boy bands or boy idol entertainers as a kid. I was too busy watching dramas and reading mangas, and listening to my parents preferred brand of broody drunken Taiwanese singers with songs of heartache and desperation. But I would often see them on TV all the time, and found these three guys cute but nothing to devote my life savings to.
Then came 1995, and news that the band was disbanding. Alec (the Smart One) needed to go to college (and he got into National Taiwan University – akin to getting into Oxford if you’re British, Harvard if you’re American, University of Tokyo (ToDai) if you’re Japanese, Seoul National if you’re Korean, well, you get the picture). Nicky had to do his mandatory Army service. The band had taken a short break between ’91-’93 when Julian had to do his army service. But this time, with Alec off to college and Nicky off to the army, they decided to end on a high note. It was headline news for months. I’m sure many teenage girls cried themselves to sleep for weeks on end.
The boys never ended up re-banding or doing any group events thereafter. Each of them have put out individual albums in the intervening years, but it was acting that all three boys ended up doing well.
Nicky went on to become a pretty big movie star, with a string of hit movies in the late 90s and continues to act and sing today. Alec never finished college (and was castigated for this decision at that time) – he ended up acting, becoming a successful small screen actor, catapulted back to fame when he starred in Princess Returning Pearl with Vicky Zhao Wei in 1998 and The Legendary Twins with Jimmy Lin in 1999 (Jimmy also being a huge idol singer in Taiwan at the same time as The Little Tigers – and another guy, oh, whose name eludes me…..oh wait, I remember…..Takeshi Kaneshiro – these five guys were DA BOMB in Taiwan in the late 80s to the early 90s).
This is Alec now:
These guys left near the height of their pop star careers, and found even more fame elsewhere. Their departure allowed for many boy bands to follow in their footsteps. The boy band explosion went to even greater heights when both Japan and Korea boy band fever took off in the late 90s. So when news broke that The Little Tigers were going to perform for the first time in 15! years at the 2010 Chinese Lunar New Year celebration (The Little Tigers to welcome in the Year of the Tiger), it really dawned on me how long they’ve been gone.
This is Nicky now:
It also made me nostalgic for them, which is all the funnier since I never worshipped them in the first place. Nonetheless, the boys (now men) have got genuine charm and a really sweet vibe. This performance a few months ago was truly a treat (fans of Super Junior, 2PM, Big Bang, NEWS, Kat-Tun, et. al. – imagine your boy banders performing together some twenty years after they first formed the band, and doing a stellar job, that’s what this performance by one of the trailblazing first boy bands in Asia holds in significance).
This is Julian now:
They performed their three most famous songs, doing all the same original choreography – (1) Love (the choreography is NOT silly hand gestures – they are doing sign language, as the original song was a tribute to the hearing-impaired of the world), (2) Butterfly Fly, and (3) Green Apple Paradise.
Please ignore the awful back-up dancers, as the C-entertainment performances tend to be crammed full of them. They still look good for their age, don’t they? Singing-wise, erm, as good as they originally were, which was not very good. But they always had so much heart, and the older I get, the more appreciate performers with heart. The guy in the middle is Nicky, the one to your right is Alec, and the one to your left is Julian. Enjoy!
As a bonus, I am adding a YT video of an original concert performance from the group during their Farewell Tour back in the mid-90s, of their song Love, which is one of my favorite songs of all time (in this MV, the guy in white is Nicky, the guy in red is Julian, and guy in black is Alec).
My favorite Tiger, if you are curious, has always been the Sweet Tiger, Alec. He was the smartest of the bunch (he majored in mechanical engineering at National Taiwan University), and for that he was the one I deemed worthy of my selection as favorite Tiger. I had no clue – no one had a clue back then actually – that Alec would grow up to be the best actor in the bunch, and the one who aged the best.
He doesn’t look so sweet anymore (see below), he is downright adorably smoking now! As a second bonus, I’ll tell all my K-drama loving friends that Alec starred in two dramas Love in the Aegean Sea, and Warriors of the Yang’s Clan (not to be confused with The Young Yang’s Clan, which is another adaptation of the Yang’s story), with none other than Ms. Chae Rim herself. Yes, Alec and Chae Rim had mad chemistry.
Alec also starred in My Bratty Princess with Jang Nara, and Magic Touch of Fate, with Ruby Lin and K-singer Kang Ta. All of which officially makes Alec the C/TW-actor who has starred with the most K-actors. [See, I did manage to somehow sneak in some K-drama trivia into here]. Alec has now turned his career predominately into film, and co-starred in The Message, one of the the best Chinese movies from 2009.