US pop band Backstreet Boys evokes Chinese nostalgia with 44 million tuning in for concert on WeChat

The Backstreet Boys kicked off their DNA World Tour at The Colosseum, located at the heart of Las Vegas at Caesars Palace.
PHOTO: Instagram/Backstreetboys

More than 44 million WeChat users tuned in for an online concert by the Backstreet Boys, a US pop band hugely popular in China in the 1990s and 2000s, as Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings ramps up efforts to promote the app's video function.

The concert, lasting around two hours, was live-streamed on Friday (June 24) evening on WeChat Channels, the super-app's video function. Irish boy band Westlife also made an appearance and collaborated with the US group on two songs, taking Chinese social media by storm with a trip down memory lane.

A total of 44.2 million users watched the WeChat concert, sending around 25.5 million "cheers" through the app's interactive function during the performance, according to Tencent.

The online discussion about the event continued on Saturday, with Backstreet Boys' 1997 single As Long As You Love Me trending on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo.

Many netizens shared their memories about the tune, with some calling it the first English song they had learned. "I almost cried when the music started; it brought me back to my days of youth," one user wrote in one of the most liked comments.

Friday's concert was one of WeChat's latest efforts to attract users for Channels through a string of pop concerts that evoke millennial nostalgia , as it plays catch-up with the country's two biggest short video platforms, TikTok's Chinese version Douyin and number two player Kuaishou.

As Tencent works to boost the popularity of Channels, it has given short video content prominent visibility on WeChat, which has more than 1.29 billion users, and is pushing user-generated content through its recommendation algorithms.

Tencent is also exploring monetisation opportunities for concerts hosted by Channels. The Backstreet Boys event prominently featured US luxury carmaker Lincoln, streaming a 30-minute clip of the group chatting in a Lincoln before the show started, and showing the carmaker's logo throughout the performance.

Data from Chinese analytic firm iiMedia Research shows that WeChat's video service has been rapidly adding new users over the past six months on the back of more concerts and entertainment content that draw on the resources of Tencent's music arm.

ALSO READ: Tencent's short video weapon: Pop stars and millennial nostalgia

The live performance by Westlife last December, which drew an audience of 27 million, was Channels' first breakout success, followed by a series of concerts by musicians popular among the Chinese audience.

The viewer numbers for Backstreet Boys was on par with the concert by Taiwanese Mandopop singer Lo Ta-yu, whose event on Channels in May drew 42 million unique viewers.

However, it was smaller than the remastered concerts of Mandopop star Jay Chou, who drew an audience of 47 million, and China's "rock'n'roll Godfather" Cui Jian with 46 million.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.