For many K-Pop trainees, survival shows like Mnet‘s Produce 101 are the best shot they have at achieving their dream of debuting.
And while survival shows are always grueling, the trainees work hard for the chance to achieve their dreams.
Unfortunately for Lelush (利路修), a Russian model who had never planned on debuting as an idol, China’s Produce Camp 2021 (also known as CHUANG 2021) was his worst nightmare.
Lelush was born in Vladivostok, Russia, and eventually moved to Shenyang, China, in 2015, where he became fluent in Mandarin.
Japanese entertainment company King Holdings initially reached out to Lelush to ask him to serve as a translator for two Japanese trainees they sent to Produce Camp 2021.
But given Lelush’s visuals, the producers of Produce Camp 2021 asked Lelush if he would be interested in competing in the show himself. Lelush had no interest in becoming an idol and no background in performing, so he initially rejected their offer. But because the producers kept asking, he eventually agreed to compete on the show as one of King Holdings’ trainees.
Lelush wasn’t the only unexpected trainee, as Produce Camp 2021‘s lineup also included David, another translator, and Cao Zuo, who initially applied to be a dance mentor on the show.
Given Lelush’s lack of any vocal or dance training, competing on the show was incredibly difficult. Lelush was initially placed in Produce Camp 2021‘s “F Class” (trainees were placed in classes A-F depending on their skills, with the most skilled trainees moving to A). Still, he started the program optimistic, suggesting he wanted “to challenge [himself].”
I actually came here to challenge myself. So I will keep working hard.
But as the show continued, the practice sessions became more exhausting, and the model quickly realized that he wanted to leave the show. Unfortunately, given the contract he’d signed, Lelush couldn’t simply leave the show; he needed to place low enough in the rankings to be kicked off. So he began to implore the public not to vote for him and showed his dislike of the competition during broadcasts.
Being in a boy group isn’t my dream. I don’t want founders to vote for me.
Lelush did everything from visibly slacking off in practice…
To showing boring reactions in attempts to have fans vote for other trainees.
He even tried to plead with fans to stop voting for him.
Don’t love me, you won’t end up well.
But ironically, Lelush’s clearly apathetic attitude towards the show only earned him more favor from fans. The more Lelush showed his desire to be voted off, the more fans liked him. In fact, Lelush was one of the highest-ranked competitors up until the final episode of the show.
Although Lelush competed in the final episode, fans seemed to finally take pity on the model, and his ranking dropped, preventing him from making the debut lineup, much to his relief.
I believe that they’ll respect my choice not to be in a boy group. I believe they know how far to go [with voting]. And I know how much you want to see me. That’s why I came to the final. But being in the show is different from being in a boy group.
Lelush’s ironic success in Produce Camp 2021 is primarily attributed to China’s “Sang culture.”
‘Sang culture’ is a popular shorthand for both a melancholic listlessness at the futility of one’s current state of affairs and a bleak acceptance that life will be no better.
-Emily Feng on NPR’s “All Things Considered”
“Sang culture” is widely considered a response to “China’s achievement-oriented culture.”
Slouching it’s way into the public eye about five years ago, it emerged as a disillusioned rejection of China’s achievement-oriented culture epitomised in recent years by the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘positive energy’ propoganda slogan.
Lelush’s despairing attitude especially resonated with Chinese youths struggling to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lelush’s slacker ethos was particularly relevant for a 2021 Chinese audience, whose ‘sense of powerlessness has been further heightened during the pandemic.’
The model went viral for his constantly defeated attitude during the show, which only encouraged viewers to keep voting for him. Lelush quickly became a viral celebrity, inspiring many memes.
Fans also notably loved Lelush because while he entertained them, he also showed that he had a kind heart. Although Lelush purposely tried to slack off when it only affected him, he clearly made an effort when performing with other trainees, not wanting to affect their results.
I will still complete the dance in three days. Because I respect my teammates.
He also tried to encourage his fellow trainees, assuring them that he knew he didn’t deserve the success he achieved.
I want to say to those who will leave that the reason why I’m here is not because I’m better than you. Because you are all great. So, I hope you will be well in the future.
Since Lelush was not forced to make his debut as an idol, he has gone on to continue his modeling career, seemingly happy with his life. In an interview with CGTN, he explained that he feels “more like an influencer.”
I think I’m more like an influencer than an idol.
And Lelush even admitted that he never wanted to become a celebrity due to the difficulties of fame.
But I never wanted to become famous. Because it is not that comfortable to be on the spot. It has good sides and bad sides. I have always understood this.
Although he does admit that he really enjoys the memes his fans make of him.
…There are so many funny memes. My fans are very humorous. I like that they do some funny pictures and some funny videos. I am okay with that, if they find it funny. It can make them more happy.
Lelush currently has almost seven hundred thousand followers on his Instagram, where he uploads content for famous brands like Prada…
His fans are still hopeful to see more content from him, and there are possibilities of him filming some variety shows.
Finally, I have been waiting for this day. Hopefully Lelush's new variety show will air soon. 🥰🥰 pic.twitter.com/vuy4zxujxR
— Moka (@LonelyPenguin23) July 18, 2022
You can watch Lelush perform on Produce Camp 2021 here.
You can watch his interview with CGTN here.