The Life of Fake Chinese Rock Stars

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The band said that nobody ever questioned their authenticity, whether they were actually performing or not.

"The audience always seems pleased with whatever’s happening on stage," Snachov said. "As long as they can post that up on social media afterwards."

The foreigner privileges don’t end on stage. At the schools the band teaches at they make considerably more money than their Chinese co-workers, despite the fact that only O’Toole has a degree in teaching. The fact that the school employs foreign teachers makes it simply more appealing to students. More eager students means more money coming in. "The fact that we’re foreigners and that’s exotic is a huge advantage to us here," Smith said.

Having Western faces acts as reassurance for people that they made the right choice in investing in that company or buying that product. It implies quality, wealth, power. "Once you put a foreigner out there, everything changes," said a talent agent in the documentary. "It is no longer some remote building built by an unknown developer. It becomes an international city of the future."

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If Moores had to guess, he’d say it’s because China only did away with dynastic rule a generation or two ago.

"I think China looks to Western cultures as an example," Moores said. "There’s a romanticized view of the U.S. here. They see Friends and think that’s how everyone lives their lives. That translates into Westerners in China being automatically seen as the top of the social wrung, and anywhere you go people will want to take a picture with you. Because if you know a Westerner or take a picture with one, your own social status gets boosted up."

While the documentary notes that there is no way to accurately gauge foreigners’ effect on property sales, "the widespread nature of the phenomenon suggests that it works, at least in the eyes of real-estate developers."

Either way, the band says for now they’re just having fun and enjoying their time performing.

"This is just one of those things you can only do in China," Smith said.

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At their concert for 10,000 fans (the name of the event translates to "Exotic Amorous Feelings of the Communist Party"),Chatterbox was just one of the performances in the entertainment bombardment.

"It was really funny, because the stage was just set up between some rice fields in the middle of nowhere," O’Toole said. "They picked us up from the Nanning train station and drove us a couple hours down this bumpy road to the boonies."

Like their first show, few things went as planned—the tape started playing before the band even got on stage. But the audience never noticed. And the band had nothing to worry about.

"The fact that we weren’t actually playing took a lot of pressure off," Smith said. "We knew we weren’t real rock stars. I knew I was not able to screw up. All I had to do was fake play, dance around, and smile."

The show ended, and outside, the group was mobbed by a hoard of screaming fans. Police eventually needed to step in to stop their admirers—so desperate to get autographs and selfies with the celebrities they knew and loved.

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