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Wang Leehom scandal: Will the singer Kiss Goodbye to his career?

Wang Leehom is one of the most popular Mandopop stars in the last two decades and known for his squeaky clean image. PHOTO: WANG LEEHOM/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - You are The One And Only and Forever Love, but oh, The Things You Don't Know.

Hong Kong held its legislative election on Sunday (Dec 19) and Taiwan had four referendums last Saturday.

But what really got the attention of people in both places - and much of the Chinese entertainment sphere - was the ugly spat between singer Wang Leehom, 45, and his ex-wife Lee Jinglei, 35.

They married in November 2013 but divorced in 2019, according to Wang. Their divorce was reported only last Wednesday when Taiwan's Mirror Media broke the news, which was later confirmed by Wang.

While some media reports initially blamed Lee's poor relationship with Wang's mother for the divorce, Lee gave her side of the story in an explosive social media post late last Friday. In a post of almost 5,000 characters, she said she did not want the divorce and had long tolerated Wang's infidelities, adding that he had solicited prostitutes and failed to protect her reputation.

Wang denied her accusations at first, but later apologised to her.

Besides giving their take on who's right or wrong (Wang's in the wrong, says most), netizens have invoked the titles of the singer's popular ballads ironically on social media. Wang can Kiss Goodbye to his career, many say.

That Wang has erred is one rare issue that netizens from China and Taiwan, who are often at loggerheads, can see eye to eye on.

But what is the big deal about a middle-aged singer's divorce spat?

Well, Wang is one of the most popular Mandopop stars in the last two decades and known for his squeaky clean image. He is essentially every Chinese mother's dream, or ma bao (mum's precious).

Blessed with good looks, Wang is academically accomplished (a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in the United States), a successful singer-songwriter and is known to be filial.

But his ex-wife's allegations have completely shattered the wholesome image.

Wang Leehom and Lee Jinglei married in November 2013 but divorced in 2019, according to Wang. PHOTO: WANG LEEHOM/FACEBOOK

The Wang scandal takes place at the end of a year when artistes deemed morally reprehensible came under the spotlight in China, from singer Kris Wu to classical pianist Li Yundi. Wu was arrested on rape accusations, while Li got in trouble with the authorities for soliciting prostitutes.

The Wang scandal also has elements of a riveting Taiwanese melodrama: Underdog Lee fired the first devastating salvo and Wang's 80-something-year-old dad and then the singer returned fire, only for the mother of three kids to fight back with gusto.

Wang Leehom's father said in a handwritten note that he regretted agreeing to the marriage between his son and Lee Jinglei. PHOTO: WEIBO

The supporting cast has added more intrigue.

Several artistes close to Wang have come under a cloud for their suspected "friends-with-benefits" relationships with the singer.

Singaporean singer Yumi Bai, 29, of twin pop duo By2, was suspected to be one of the women Wang had an affair with. On Sunday, she released a statement denying this, but claimed that she was his ex-girlfriend. She said she began dating Wang in 2012 and they broke up in 2013, before Wang got married.

Yumi Bai said she began dating Wang in 2012 and they broke up in 2013, before Wang got married. PHOTOS: YUMI BAI/INSTAGRAM, WEIBO

The scandal raises questions about the behaviour of rich and influential celebrities.

In her post, Lee had referred to Wang's ability to influence the media and his team's ability to suppress negative reports about him.

Her expose has led some to air previously suppressed accounts of his questionable behaviour. Taiwanese reporter Ryan Ko said in a Facebook post that he had found out about Wang's solicitation of prostitutes back in 2012, but nobody believed him then and Wang's name was not mentioned in his report.

Some have compared Wang's situation with that of Taiwanese singer Show Lo, whose career took a nosedive after his former girlfriend, Chinese influencer Grace Chow, exposed his womanising ways on social media last year (2020).

Show Lo's career took a nosedive after his former girlfriend Grace Chow exposed his womanising ways on social media last year. PHOTO: WEIBO

But they note that the damage is far worse for Wang, who is married and a father of three, while Lo is single. Wang also has more to lose as Lo's public persona is more of a Taiwanese ah beng than a "quality idol" like Wang.

Wang's plight brings to mind that of Chinese classical pianist Li, a former prodigy whose career was destroyed after he was reported to have hired prostitutes. Incidentally, Wang and Li were previously rumoured to be romantically linked.

Wang's prospects in China look bleak - at least three companies have dropped him from endorsement deals.

Mr Hu Xijin, the recently retired editor-in-chief of China's nationalistic Global Times, found the Wang saga of sufficient interest for him to weigh in. Lee's accusations against Wang are "fatal", he commented, unless the singer can provide evidence to counter them. Otherwise, Wang's career in China is basically over, said Mr Hu.

For now, Wang has waved the white flag to limit the fallout, apologising to his ex-wife on Monday and saying he would not explain or defend himself further, despite initially saying that he would rebut her allegations in detail. He also announced that he will "temporarily stop work".

Whatever the truth of this saga, perhaps the moral of the story is to beware of false idols. Celebrities who are put on an impossibly high pedestal might eventually tumble unceremoniously down to earth - and even into the gutter.

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