Live-blogging Alibaba’s insane Tmall Double Eleven Gala - SupChina

Live-blogging Alibaba’s insane Tmall Double Eleven Gala

7:35pm

Elaine: Hey what’s up SupChina friends! We’re ready to kick this thing off tonight. In case you have no idea what Jessica, Fan, and I are up to, we put a little summary of just about anything you’d need to know going into this in our preview post.

Fan: ENTER THE VOID

Jessica: Elaine, no time for introductions there’s already so much going on! (Also, Elaine has to miss out on the first half hour of this, which is approximately 40 years in gala time. But she’ll be back shortly!)

Jessica: Some quick background info: Alibaba hired Youku to produce the show this year, which is where you can stream it if you are in mainland China. It’s like if Amazon employed Amazon Prime to produce a pageant to its own escapist consumerism. Bezos should be taking notes.

7:45pm

Fan: I’m already hyperventilating. What is even going on? Is that blue ant supposed to be the mascot for the dystopian Sesame credit score thing? I was reading Donald Trump’s favorite book, All Quiet On the Western Front earlier today because it’s the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. And now here we are.

Jessica: The hosts are playing a fun interactive “match your face to all the emotions you avoid by swiping a buy-on-get-one deal on Taobao.”

Fan: Yeah Huang Bo and Chen He are making faces in this Dance Dance Emoji Revolution challenge. I feel like there are no losers in this.

Fan: First musical number and I think it’s one of the TF Boys. Is it Jackson? Let’s just say he’s the cute one of the group.

Jessica: Yep, that’s Jackson Lee, the youngest TF boy. Can you believe he’s turning 18 this year?? Hey laaaaaaaadies! ?

Jessica: So far I’m not loving this red and blue nonsense. I get it, there’s a theme, red team versus blue team. But draping Jackson with streamers isn’t selling me on it.

Fan: Ooh Western dancers only for this number. INTERNATIONAL. I am forgetting parts of this song even as I’m watching it, it’s going down easy like cough medicine.

7:55pm

Jessica: Another quick FYI while Jackson talks. Dragon TV and Zhejiang Satellite TV are broadcasting the gala, and also have lent out the casts of two hit celeb variety shows, Go Fighting 极限挑战 and Running Man 奔跑吧, to help host the gala. Those are the folks on the opposing “teams”.

Jessica: I’m officially bored (with this Qin Wei ballad). I need more deals!!

Fan: I actually appreciate the lull. I don’t think I can take 4 and a half hours of pure unadulterated SHOP HYPE.

8:05pm

Fan: Is that gift box on the left intentionally meant to resemble the Swedish flag? Is this a subliminal sign that relations are normalized again after the THIS IS KILLING hotel incident?

Jessica: AHHHH!! I saw this girl on the lineup and couldn’t believe they’d put this famous Japanese Beyonce impersonator (Naome Watanabe) in the show because obviously they can’t get Beyonce.

Fan: That was an incredible catfish, I’m not even mad.

Fan: Shout out to Aldi, who refused to provide plastic bags when I shopped there. Ahead of its time.

Jessica: Oh good, they’re back with the “BUY! BUY! BUY!” at the end of every deals bit.

8:15pm

Jessica: This is a girl group called CY Girls, and I’m pretty sure they were invented for the gala. They just released this song (about buying sh*t) on Alibaba’s music platform last month. It’s the only thing I can find online about them. 

Fan: So far they are being upstaged by this fever dream of a backdrop.

 

Fan: That floating facial mask is worthy of Michael Myers.

Fan: Pretty tough deciding who to root for in this red vs. blue battle to the death. I think I have to go with Red based on Huang Bo’s box office power. I don’t see Yang Ying, aka the artist formerly known as Angelababy, helping matters. No offense bb, still love u.

Fan: Lei Jiayin on the red team was TOYING with Jackson in the screen pushy contest to give him face before reminding him the difference between 哥们儿 and 娘炮. THAT BOY GOT SONNED.

Jessica: It’s really a brilliant bit of programming. Foreign viewers may find it boring, but imagine if it were the cast of your favorite show up on stage making fools of themselves.  Side note: Why don’t we have any silly celeb competition variety shows in America?

Elaine: What would be the equivalent? Like American Ninja Warrior versus House Hunters?

Jessica: Somebody call Netflix. Now.

8:30pm

Fan: I feel like the election cycle now qualifies as a silly competition where celebs make fools of themselves.

Jessica: Also welcome back Elaine!

Elaine: Hiii!!! I just had to explain to a bunch of Japanese people that I was leaving a fun wedding party just as they were getting drunk in order to “report” on the largest shopping festival in the world. It was very intense for my level of Japanese. OH BUBBLES.

Fan: We got CIRQUE DU SOLAAAY in the building.

Elaine: Are they carrying IKEA goods? Because these look like IKEA goods to me.

Jessica: Beetlejuice shoppers.

Elaine: Oh no, it’s just “KUKA,” the Chinese almost-gonna-be IKEA. If only IKEA had had an insane world’s largest shopping festival to carry it forward.

Fan: Gonna go out on a limb and say that this is the first time Cirque du Soleil has ever done an online shopping-themed extravaganza. If they don’t do a football themed show during the Super Bowl then America will lose all of its face.

Elaine: The way you position it, it’s almost like what will win – primitive athletic tribalism or glitzy capitalism?

Fan:  However much they paid this DJ to forsake his pride to twist those knobs, it’s not enough.

8:45pm

Elaine: One of the hosts was just like “our goal tonight is to let you never stop being high (嗨不停) which should be the official slogan of the 11.11 Gala…

Jessica: Actually Elaine, according to Youku’s deluge of pre-show press, the two overarching themes of the evening are “high” (嗨) and “cool” (爽). The “cool” is the performance, the “high” is all the SUPER FUN DEALS YOU CAN GET IF YOU JUST KEEP SHAKING YOUR PHONE.

Fan: I need glowsticks that I can wave to this mechanical origami bird song.

Jessica: Hahahahaha I keep tryna post some updates and happen to glance at the screen playing the show and I involuntarily scream “What?? What is THIS?!” into my empty room. What was that bit with the couch??

Elaine: They invited some dancers that I’m sure I’ve seen before on some sort of Western dance show, but they don’t focus enough on their faces for me to be able to identify them. It’s almost like they realize this song is boring compared to the rest of the show, but they aren’t able to commit to either showcasing the part that’s supposed to make it more fun for the audience or the Chinese star the people tuned in for.

Fan: Involuntarily screaming “what?? What is THIS?!” into our empty rooms is the way we live now. It is the ZEITGEIST.

Elaine: In my few moments here blogging the 11.11 Gala with you guys, I’ve noticed that they’ve become a lot more confident in the China-only Chinese stars this year. The amount of cheers for this Zhang Jie(?) guy makes me realize I really don’t pay enough attention to what my Chinese co-workers care about.

Jessica: Totally agreed, Elaine. I guess they don’t need to care about what the rest of the world thinks. We aren’t the ones making 800+ million online orders in 24 hours.

Fan: I love Zhang Jie’s dance moves. He keeps doing this thing with his hand where he’s taking selfies with an invisible phone, but his fingers are doing a ‘come here’ motion. A ‘come here’ invisible selfie.

8:55pm

Fan: Gotta remember to buy girls a pinwheel whenever they ask difficult questions like, “who are you and why are you hiding in my closet?”

Jessica: Is this Jason Zhang and Xie Na?

Jessica: I don’t know who that is, but I studied really hard for this test.

Elaine: hahahahaha

9:05pm

Fan: We are an hour and a half into this thing and there hasn’t been a single awkward Sino-US song collab to speak of. If a Hollywood celebrity doesn’t come on stage looking a babe lost in the woods in the next 10 minutes, I’m going to be upset.

Jessica: Oh here’s an ad for how Alibaba helps the little guys. I think that was Mao Buyi turning on his projector machine, then singing a song.

Elaine: So…basically, MAOWAN is turning into a more sophisticated CHUNWAN? “Here are the ways we are helping THE PEOPLE by getting you to BUY A LOT, but we’ll intersect it so deeply into so much more entertainment that you’ll root it deep in your own subconscious before you even realize it.”

Elaine: Oh hi laowai!

Fan: Wo hun shee hwan zhonggwo di shenghwo, en.

Fan: These lulls are strategic, aren’t they? People need time to put things in their online shopping carts, and this last public service song helps alleviate any guilt you might have for wanting to buy an extra pair of hideous Filas that you don’t need.  

Elaine: Aw yeah! I’m not gonna lie, K-POP (and whatever they copy to appeal to the Chinese market)  is my jam.

Elaine: I’m not so much a fan of the authoritarian marching though. I gotta say anything that sounds like Stormtroopers just makes me automatically anxious these days.

Jessica: Oh really?? I like it! I guess it’s the OCD in me, I like things in straight lines. I also like when they use this enormous stage and lighting correctly. I could barely see CTO dancing at first in the song previous.

Fan: CTO came and went like yoghurt through a small lactose intolerant child. Now it’s SHOW LO’S TIME. Shanzhai’ing Michael Jackson’s militaristic phase is never a bad idea.

9:20pm

Fan: ¥69 RMB red packets to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the PRC this year, yeah? Nice.

Fan: I don’t need this red speaker but the next time I go IRL shopping and see it, I will hold it and touch it. Such is its power.

Jessica: Oh man, I love how all these guys just realized they should take their socks off. Like, did you not suss that out in dress rehearsal?

Fan: I forget the comic relief guy on the blue team’s name, but the camera loves his face. Kids, if anyone ever tells you your nose and lips are funny looking, develop some comic timing and go into showbiz.

Elaine: Not enough journalists in the world are turning a winking eye towards China’s 69th anniversary. Everywhere I’ve seen it, I’ve been like aheuheuheuheuheuheuheuh and I need to know I’m not alone.

Fan: Seeing Huang Bo happy makes me happy. Class act, that one.

9:35pm

Fan: As someone who suffers from Straight Male Cancer, I feel like Lay Zhang should lay off his stylist for this orange jumpsuit outfit and dirty mascara look.

Fan: This bottle of yoghurt is freaking out over the prospect of passing through a small lactose intolerant child.

Elaine: Good to see Disney getting in on the Tianmao action, but couldn’t they have picked a star who honestly should’ve learned English enough well enough to not mispronounce words?

Fan: Coco Lee is the first American singer on the 2018 Maowan stage? WTF.

Elaine: I swear Fan, it wasn’t like this last year.

Elaine: I am actually weirded out that I’ve been to enough to Disneyland enough to know that this is THEIR medley. They’ve more or less recycled the thing they project on the Shanghai Disney Castle for Coco Lee. Now… to figure out what consumer insight I’m missing to be like WHY.

Fan: Kudos to whoever is doing Coco’s facial upkeep. It surpasses regular Asian female anti-aging abilities.

Jessica: I’m really missing the cameos this year. Did they not have the budget? Did they just not care?? Throw us a bone here, Alibaba! You’re going to make 25 billion dollars tomorrow!

Elaine: I’m glad we blogged it last year or else people would think we were just making up that Alibaba had gotten some real international stars.

Fan: And the first major Western celeb this year is Mickey Mouse…at least his Mandarin puts Zuckerberg’s to shame.

Elaine: Someone should make a Chinese Mickey doing Mao’s Little Red Book Thoughts quotes. I’m surprised no one hasn’t done this yet.

Fan: “Netflix is a paper tiger. Global content domination comes from the barrel of a gun. Creating four quadrant family friendly synergy is not a dinner party.”

Jessica: And we’re halfway through! My god, I don’t know if I’ll make it without a… oh?? Miranda?? Here for an awkwardly long one-model catwalk show?

Fan: HERE WE GOOOOOOOO. Do what you do best Miranda, walk and stop. Walk and stop.

Fan: Nee how, shay shay.

Jessica: Hey host lady, you’re emphasizing a bit hard on the fact that SHE IS THE OWNER NOT JUST THE FACE OF THIS PRODUCT.

Elaine: Host Lady is being low key shady, I feel. Especially how she couldn’t stop laughing at the last part where Miranda Kerr was like “there is Rose Quartz in there.”

Fan: Miranda is talking about her Coral Organics superfoods. The host needs to ask, “Miranda, do you like Chinese superfoods?”

Jessica: Oh god now she’s singing and it’s so bad.

Elaine: “You’re a great singer as well.” “Great to have you, I’m going to try Coral Organics later on.” I feel like each of these phrases were straight up lies.

9:55pm

Fan: Lay Zhang layin’ things. That elephant in the background…I can only assume that with the lifting of the ivory ban, we’ll be seeing elephant tusk products on Taobao soon. Or was that ban only lifted for rhino horn?

Elaine:He looks like a Lays Potato Chip.

Fan: Ok, adding this white bucket hat has won me over. He reminds me of Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I, when he goes around New York in disguise as a human. “What was that? Looked like a big toitle.”

Jessica: The entire show so far hasn’t strayed from the pre-released lineup. Considering how often they teased “whoooooo else could show uuuuuuuup tonight?!?!” in their hype videos, I am officially disappointed so far.

Nobody. Nobody secret has shown up.

Elaine: Their first AR interaction has shown up for the night though. But it’s nowhere as fun as last year’s “actresses in your house.” It’s just… hey, can you win a Cadillac… but without Daniel Craig giving them away like in 2016?

Jessica: I was just going to say that! I want a girl to disappear into a TV and turn into a tiny explorer of living rooms! (I may be remembering that wrong.)

Fan: Which one of China’s 56 ethnic minorities is this blue guy?

Elaine: He looks like Stitch after he’s gone through the weird underwater pool steroid regimen they put that Russian dude through in Rocky IV.

10:10pm

Fan: Lang Lang with the world-class hotel lounge music.

Elaine: I was gonna say, what’s a Gala without a Lang Lang?

Fan: Shirt of the evening, hands down:

Elaine: Once again, I feel like I need to emphasize. Last year they had Jessie J. They had the Blue Man Group. They had Riverdance. And all in the first hour. I honestly am crinkling my nose at how much this year resembles ChunWan-minus-moralistic-plays. Do you think Xi Dada started to pay attention?

Elaine: Oh wait, also I need to emphasize. They had a guy who jumped over people. They had a guy who was trying to swing higher than anyone had swung before. They had Maria Sharapova race giant dominoes. They did not have balladeer after balladeer singing the boring karaoke songs you wish your colleagues would space out.

Fan: And they had Pharrell looking like he was regretting every moment of his career that led up to being on stage with Kris Wu, singing, “Zhonggwo…CHINAH!”

Pharrell and Kris Wu performing at the 2017 Maowan Gala.

 

Elaine: I am thinking of the Balladeer they did have and it was a dude singing Memory from the musical CATS and we all realized it was a tribute to Tianmao. That was Way. More. Fun. Than this.

Jessica: Yeah it felt so much more self-aware and innovative last year.

Elaine: They did not have whatever the f*ck this is.

Jessica: Wow. This group foreigner song looks super unrehearsed and awkward. You’re dropping the ball here, Youku.

Fan: The host just said to the embassy people, “You’re always welcome in China.” Hur hur hur.

Fan: So these global leaders are now telling me the Taobao Double Eleven Shopapalooza is a matter of global import?

10:30pm

Fan: This basketball game they’re playing is something they do on a Korean variety show…they had Steph and Seth Curry trying to score baskets into a basketball hoop with giant puppet hands trying to block it. So since Angelababy is repping Running Man, which is a Korean show, and they’re borrowing this basketball bit from another Korean show…does that mean we’re witnessing Korea rip-off-ception?

Jessica: I don’t know if you should include a game in a live broadcast that needs an infographic explainer attached to it. Why not give us some celebrity bingo?

Jessica: Ho boy and here’s an NBA player! I forgot his name. (I don’t know NBA people). But anyway, I’m back on board with this game!

Fan: That’s Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers legend and style icon. He just gave an interview that revealed Michael Jordan’s first ever words to him in the NBA were, “What’s up, little bitch?” AI looks like he’s a long way from Virginia, Toto.

10:45pm

Jessica: Welp, we’ve come to the Chinese wushu / martial arts performance. We are honestly about one moralistic stage play away from it truly being just a richman’s Chunwan.

Fan: Chopstick totem acrobatics, check.

Fan: Douchebags everywhere are looking at Jay Chou’s jacket right now and thinking, “I need this.”

Jessica: It’s Jay Chou and perhaps they blew the entire talent budget on him but I’m just over here *yawning*.

Jessica: Aaaaaand he just plugged his new travel show, “J-Style Trip”.

Elaine: Yeah, he has a show. But how interesting could it be compared to Jack Ma’s Kung Fu extravaganza?

Fan: Aaaaaand magic tricks.

Elaine: Jay Chou just made glasses move on screen. NOW CAN HE MAKE THEM MOVE IN THE E-COMMERCE MARKET???

Fan: This show is an hour away from concluding and I am sad. The Big Door of Reform and Opening is supposedly Not Going to Shut, so where are all the A-listers??

Jessica: Hey wait, did Allen Iverson even play basketball in that bit?

Fan: AI didn’t play basketball in that bit…few years ago he got super angry because he came to China to serve as a coach in a few exhibition games, and the Chinese organizers chabuduo’d it and said he was going to play to sell tickets. Fans were upset when he wouldn’t play as advertised, AI was upset that the contracts weren’t followed, it was a whole thing. So I assume everything he does in China now follows contracts to the letter.

11:00pm

Fan: MARIAAAAHHHHHHH.

Elaine: There’s our lady! The one famous person of this year’s Maowan.

Fan: Concert security guards, please do not punch any young girls in the ovaries when they want to stand up and dance during her concerts, thank you.

Elaine: But for real, this reminds me of the performances we used to get on ChunWan from Celine Dion and the like. I’m not impressed. I’ve seen Kelis on stage in Shanghai pregnant and she moved more than Mariah is moving right now.

Jessica: I thought there’d be more in-performance branding opportunities. They got Pharrell to write a song about being alone in your apartment buying shit online on Single’s Day. Mariah just shows up and sings Hero and we’re supposed to be satisfied? You can’t raise the bar one year and then disappoint us the next, Alibaba!

Elaine: I’ve seen Alicia Keys perform in a Chinese mall with more enthusiasm than Mariah is bringing to 11.11’s Decade Anniversary.

Fan: Mariah might be in the post-movement stage of her career though.

Fan: The 30-something host just said, “You are my idol from my teenage years.” Mariah no like.

Jessica: I wish the host lady wouldn’t say the word “cyber”. It’s called “online” shopping in English, lady.

Jessica: Haha did you guys catch that when the host translated Mariah’s comments into Chinese? “Mariah says she would buy her kids a toy panda. Not a real panda, obviously.”

Fan: “Why don’t you buy your kids a Chinese learning mashin?”

Elaine: Remember last year, when at this time we had Jason Statham and Manny Paquiao threatening that they were going to kick Jack Ma’s ass? I am… so. So. so. I dont’ even know how to say how so disappointed I am right now that instead we are just getting the cast of Running Man singing a song.

Fan: Non-Chinese celebrity count so far: Miranda Kerr, Allen Iverson, Mariah Carey, Mickey Mouse et al., plus-sized Japanese Beyonce.

Fan: They are seriously just recycling the same talent over and over for different segments.

11:15pm

Jessica: Last year, as dystopian and overwhelming as it felt, I really enjoyed watching a company play around with the way we buy things and think about brands. This year, I don’t know if they expected more from Youku, or if perhaps they’re just resting on their laurels. But there’s just nothing new here.

Fan: That’s really the macro China theme of 2018, isn’t it? The fizz has gone out of the soda.

Elaine: Gossip from one of my friends of a major brand who will remain anonymous: “Tmall is a shitshow this year. They’ve pissed off every brand with their shitty bullying and opaque promotion rules.  Coming and telling everyone they have special director and nobody is good enough for them.”

Jessica: There’s a game they’ve played throughout the evening where people are trying to catch keys. I don’t know how it works, but among the audience members who manage to get all 4 keys, out of those will be chosen a winner who gets 1,111 prizes delivered to them in a bunch of trucks. It sounds very Clearinghouse Sweepstakesy and I like it.

Fan: So far the highlight of the evening for me was looking at the shots of the Beyonce impersonator in silhouette, and thinking that a) Beyonce was here, and b) she has put on serious weight following some secret pregnancy. Alas. You think you’re getting Beyonce, and Alibaba delivers Biansay. Guess the counterfeit problem still haunts Taobao after all.

Jessica: Last year the gala ended almost half an hour early, like 11:40pm. The lineup is finished, what are you making me wait for Alibaba? You’re not even showing me deals. Oh wait what’s this.

Elaine: Jack Ma has finally appeared in the aftershots… to humbly prove that he’s not as good at selling things on his platform as the normal day-to-day workers?

Fan: Jack Ma is trying different Undercover Boss type challenges in all these segments, and every time it says, “Challenge failed”. NOT AUSPICIOUS.

Jessica: WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOOOX?

Fan: Disappointment. Lukewarm, damp, limp-wristed disappointment.

Fan: Catfished again. We thought we were getting Jack Ma, instead we got the humble modern embodiment of Lei Feng, Kuaidi Man.

Fan: The birthday cake is to celebrate Double Eleven’s 10th birthday. In about 2 years, Double Eleven will be forced to give up their childhood hobbies and social life in order to begin studying for the Gaokao.

11:45pm

Fan: So this is how this year’s Maowan ends. Not with a bang, but with a small suppressed phlegmatic sniffle.

Elaine: Obviously we were right about Jack Ma reaching his zenith last year. He doesn’t give a fuck anymore. He fulfilled every bucket list any man should have to fulfill. He is literally One Punch Man in the flesh if One Punch Man could be happy with the fact that he obviously owns the world.

Good on you Jack Ma, but I’m bummed it didn’t make for a more entertaining 11.11 show.

Jessica: Me too. This wasn’t the show I thought we’d be blogging tonight. But as disappointed as I am, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back next year for another round. Because who knows, right?

Fan: 2019 is the 11th Double Eleven fest. Maybe Kim Jong Un will come and do a sensitive ballad. Can’t wait!

 

 

Thanks for tuning in! You can read Elaine and Jessica’s prior coverage of the 2017 gala here

Jessica Colwell, Elaine Chow, Fan Huang

Jessica Colwell is a freelance writer and translator currently residing in Hong Kong. She has lived and worked in China for seven years. || Elaine Chow, who first moved to Shanghai in 1997, has served as Asia Editor for tech website Gizmodo and Head Editor of English-language China news website Shanghaiist. || Fan Huang is a director and screenwriter currently developing a slate of Chinese-language online series with the Beijing-based Wutong Creative, as well as directing "Five on Fidelity," a collection of short films around the theme of loyalty.

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