Even if you don’t like boy bands, chances are you know the lyrics to at least one song that topped the charts, with harmonised backing vocals by four or five young men in their 20s, each with a different haircut and colour, each dressed in a distinct style: sporty, refined, street-smart, bad boy, whatever. Maybe one raps, maybe one is a crooner, and the others are just kind of there to add a few layers of audio complexity to their tracks and for visual completion. As fans, we project our expectations or desires onto them.
These identities, each one a trope, are sculpted to sell records, move merch and pull millions of paying fans into arenas for concerts. As receptacles of fantastical fancy, or delusion, every member of a boy band not so much offers the emotional gratification that so many people are after, but simply functions as an imagined companion that radiates affection. This peaked in 1997, when the Backstreet Boys sang I don’t care who you are / Where you’re from / What you did / As long as you love me, followed by more than two decades of the track being blared through cheap speakers all around the world.
The commercial formula for boy bands works, and it has become a universal business model. South Korea has groups like BTS and Big Bang; Hong Kong has Mirror. Each member is meant to be an individual – but are they really? The artist Sin Wai Kin, formerly Victoria, set out to form their own boy band, playing four roles that come together as a group called It’s Always You, in a series of works showcased at Blindspot Gallery.
The boys of It’s Always You perform together in an eponymous dual-channel video work. The most striking is Wai Kin, whose fiery-red hair, six-pack abs, sagging jeans and white Calvin Klein briefs all point to the fact that he exists solely to function as a sexual fantasy. An incarnation of Sin Wai Kin in masculine drag, Wai Kin lets vapid lyrics slip through his lips without any afterthought: One plus one’s not two / When baby you’re with me / It’s always you / You’re like infinity.
The One – with blue skin and a boyish demeanour, denim overalls half-fastened with deliberate carelessness, face painted with a nude woman, his moustache simultaneously serving as her bushy pubic hair – takes a turn. He’s followed by The Universe, whose aggressive Cantonese opera face paint peeks out from beneath perfectly symmetrical, well-coiffed, sky-blue hair, part god, part suave entertainer. Finally, there’s The Storyteller, who is serious enough to barely dance along with the rest of the group.
The foursome’s members are as visually diverse as they can be, but they share Sin’s voice and end up blurring into each other, even though every one of them has a moment as the centre of attention in their music video. That’s part of the point: no matter how singular a piece of lore is, no matter how distinctive each outfit is, the space in between Wai Kin, The One, The Universe, and The Storyteller contracts as soon as they share the same frame. They’re one and the same person, not only because Sin is underneath the make-up, but also because boy band individuality presents little beyond husks to legions of fans.
Elsewhere, The One appears in a work named after him. For 10 minutes, he meditates, and we observe his face up close in centre frame, eyes shut with lips parted, mental state somewhere between serenity and ecstasy. Meditation has been, in our universe, a ritual for Sin during periods of isolation throughout the pandemic. Here, we watch the artist lose themselves while remaining in character, a willing obliteration of self, dovetailing with the dissolution of individuality in boy bands.
Taking on the role of a newscaster in Today’s Top Stories (2020), The Storyteller flits between states, in the quantum sense, to report what can only be described as cosmic, existential news, dropping lines like, “In the beginning, you were perfect. You were not yet. No ideas. No knowledge. No desire. No fear. Then, you became a part.”
Finally, The Universe appears in a much more substantial video work. In the dreamlike, 23-minute A Dream of Wholeness in Parts (2021), Sin appears in feminine drag while contemplating dichotomies that were established by artificial systems, “made from the same thing, formed into differences, with a skin so thin holding outside from inside”.
Visually, to drive the point home, Sin wears The Universe’s face paint while donning a long, jet-black wig, exposed buxom breast plate, corset and pedestal-like platform footwear – the opposite of The Universe’s physicality. The boy band member reappears in an eatery, slurping up noodles, dumplings and broth, and then paces down a lane after dark, using familiar words to speak to us: “Before that, you were perfect. Then, you were not.” If boy bands are the peak of sculpted perfection, then the slightest deviation from artificial identity could disappoint fans all around the world.
As part of the presentation at Blindspot, Sin presented works that were made when they were still known as Victoria and modelled their appearance after sexpots in their performances. A series of four short videos, Narrative Reflection on Looking (2016-17), presented Sin’s body. What is the viewer to do other than scrutinise skin and spectacle by following the artist’s own voice?
There is one novel medium for recording the many identities that Sin adopts in their repertoire: the wipes that preserve the facial makeup that define each of their characters. These sheets are used when it’s time to terminate a personality, laying it to rest temporarily or permanently while Sin evolves in their exploration of identity.
Shades of brown and bronze are transferred from Wai Kin to Man behind the mask (2021), The One’s nude-on-a-face becomes, well, just a nude in The One in Me (2021). The Universe’s facial pattern inspired by Cantonese opera, printed as An individual in a context (2021), draws a direct line to the artist’s own childhood.
Siren or singer, each character imprints a recognisable, nearly symmetrical mark. In some cases, the key cultural reference is unmissable. The artist first encountered Cantonese opera through their paternal grandmother during their upbringing in Toronto. This form of theatre, like many other traditional stage-based art forms, incorporated high degrees of gender fluidity. Two of the field’s biggest stars in the 20th century, Yam Kim-fai and Bak Shuet-sin, both women, played lovers on stage and cohabited away from the limelight.
This all points to the mingling of fiction and reality when it entangles with identity. There’s no easy resolution, but Sin found new ways to present the layers of discomfort that exist beneath the surface of perfect marketable imagery.
這些身份都是一種橋段，塑造來銷售唱片和宣傳並吸引數百萬歌迷花錢去看演唱會。作為承載著這場美妙夢幻或錯覺的容器，boy band的每個成員並沒有給大量歌迷提供他們所渴望的情感上的滿足，他們的作用僅僅是歌迷臆想中能流露出關愛的伴侶。這種情緒在1997年達到頂峰，直到Back Street Boys唱起 I don’t care who you are / Where you’re from / What you did / As long as you love me。之後的20多年，這首歌在全球各地廉價的揚聲器響亮刺耳的傳唱。
Boy band的商業模式大獲成功，成了全球仿效的範本。如韓國組合BTS和Big Bang, 香港的Mirror。每個成員都有意被塑造成獨特的個體——但事實上果真如此嗎？藝術家單慧乾，曾用名Victoria，開始創造自己的boy band——一個由四個角色組成，名叫全部都係你的偶像男團，帶來一系列作品在刺點畫廊展出。
全部都係你的男孩在同名的雙頻道影像作品中同台演出。其中最惹人注目的是「Wai Kin」， 他有著火紅色的頭髮，六塊腹肌，低胯牛仔褲裡露出白色Calvin Klein內褲的邊，這表明他在組合中主要擔當營造性幻想的作用。「Wai Kin」是單慧乾男性變裝的化身，他讓一句句乏味的歌詞從唇間溜走，沒有任何後顧之憂：One plus one’s not two / When baby you’re with me / It’s always you / You’re like infinity（一加一不等於二/當寶貝你在我身邊時/全部都係你/你就是一切）。
這四人盡可能在視覺上呈現多樣化，但他們共用單氏的聲音。儘管他們每個人都有一刻在音樂影像中成為焦點，但最終卻分不清彼此。這就是重點所在：無論一個傳奇多麼與眾不同，無論每件衣服多麼標奇立異，一旦Wai Kin、唯一、宇宙和說書人開始在同一畫面出現，他們之間的空間就會收縮。他們是一體，是同一個人，不僅因為單氏隱藏在這裝扮之後，更是因為boy band除了向大批粉絲展現的外表之外幾乎沒有任何其他個性可言了。
最後，宇宙出現在一個更為豐富的影像作品中。夢境般的 23 分鐘影像《A Dream of Wholeness in Parts》（2021 年）中，單慧乾以女性變裝出現，質疑由人工系統所建立的二元概念，「用料一樣，形成分歧，薄薄的皮膚從裡面裝載外面。」
為了在視覺上強調這一點，單慧乾畫上宇宙的面部彩繪，頭戴烏黑的長假髮、衣著外露的豐滿胸甲、緊身衣和基座一般的鬆糕鞋——這與宇宙的身體特徵截然相反。Boy band的成員們在一家餐館再次出現，大口大口地吃著麵條、餃子，喝著肉湯，到了天黑後在一條小路上踱步，邊走邊用熟悉的話對我們說：「在那之前，你是完美的。然後，不再是。」如果說boy band是完美雕刻的巔峰，那麼若是出現與其打造的身份有絲毫的偏差便會讓全球歌迷失望。
是次在刺點畫廊的展出中，單慧乾還帶來了他們仍叫作Victoria時期的作品，並讓他們在表演中模仿性感女性的外表。由四個章節組成的影像作品《Narrative Reflections on Looking̾》（2016-17年）裡，單慧乾展示了自己的身體。觀看者除了跟隨藝術家的聲音仔細審視皮膚和場景之外，還能做什麼？
棕色和青銅色的色調從Wai Kin轉移到作品《Man Behind the mask》（2021 年）上。唯一臉上的裸體女人成了《The One in Me》（2021 年）中赤裸的身體。宇宙的面部圖案名為《An individual in a context》（2021），靈感源自粵劇，直接勾勒出藝術家自己的童年。