When Laura Lee met a man named Mordechai, little did she know he would change her life forever. Funk/instrumental band Khruangbin had just come off nearly four years of touring and were in desperate need of a recharge. So, they took a much-needed camping trip, invited a few London friends, and reconnected with nature. Following this emotional and physical reprieve, Mordechai, a friend of a friend, invited Lee into his home to meet his family.
“I had talked to him initially one day just about my struggle in not feeling grounded because I had been nomadic for the past couple of years at that point and been on tour for more than that,” recalls Lee over a phone call last month with American Songwriter.
The stranger’s invitation left an indelible imprint, almost immediately, on her life. “It was a really sweet gesture and exactly what I needed. It was a hug and a reminder how beautiful family is,” she remarks. Such a monumental marker has been a considerable talking point in the band’s new album promo cycle, and Lee has begun feeling the crushing weight of that alone, as the memory itself begins feeling cold and distant.
“It’s hard not to become disenchanted with my own experience of it. You say it so many times. It’s like when you say lyrics, they change meaning as they go on,” she explains. “I want to get back to that day. It was such a beautiful day. But it’s hard, I keep having to rewind. It was the simplicity of the day, and seeing the love of a family was really inspiring. While that might be something people see on a regular basis, I hadn’t seen it in a long time.”
Later on, Mordechai and his wife and two boys took Lee on a hiking excursion, winding throughout the countryside, and the group eventually beheld the beauty of a gushing waterfall. When urged to take the leap, quite literally, over the craggy edge, Lee obliged. That moment was baptismal in nature.
Lee has never been the same.
“A lot of big events that happen in people’s lives feel really big at the time. Then, there’s the real effect when all the dominoes fall, which can take months. Since that day, I definitely feel much more grounded,” says Lee. “Even in having felt loss within the context of my life leading up to it, I feel very grounded and like I would have made all the same choices that I did make. I just would have made them more consciously.”
When Lee returned, her bandmates noticed her transformation ⏤ and not only because she spilled out her heart to them. Lee’s presence had shifted, and her obsession with Post-It notes was evident. “Any time a friend is going through anything, whether it be a transition or coming out of a rough spell, the main thing you want to do is be there. I was personally really conscious of being there,” muses drummer DJ Johnson Jr. “One of the things we learned over the course of last year, especially touring around the world and constantly being together, is that it’s so important for us to make sure each of us is doing OK individually. We always check on each other no matter what’s going on. Your schedule can be super hectic, but it’s important to take time, slow down, and just just ask, ‘How are you?’” And really mean it when you say it.”
“Sometimes, I’ll ask, ‘Hey, how are you doing,’ and the knee-jerk response is, ‘I’m good.’ You ask again, ‘How are you doing?’” he continues. “Then, you’re able to get a real response and a real check-in with each other. It wasn’t anything to process for me. It was a time to be a friend.”
The trio were stronger than ever. As they began writing for their third album, the craft itself had taken an unexpected swerve, too. Aptly-titled Mordechai, recorded at their Burton, Texas studio, alongside co-producer Steve Christensen, the album delights with their sturdy funkadelic signatures, smooth grooves and perfectly-packaged instruments. Given the nature of the album’s themes (time, memory, and longing), lyrics, which didn’t come into frame until months later, further punctuate the emotional arc. They’d dabbled in specific imagery before, but there were new stories aching to be told.
At first glance, Nasdaq-listed Bilibili is going gangbusters. The Shanghai-based site is set for a $2 billion secondary listing in Hong Kong, it’s become one of China’s most popular video-sharing platforms, and it’s making big moves into other areas like gaming. But it’s in trouble back home: Tens of thousands of women are boycotting and sanctioning the service over what they say is out-of-control misogyny. Bilibili is becoming a case study in what can go wrong when a platform moves from the fringes to the mainstream.
The backlash started in late January. Once a hub for China’s Gen Z and a safe haven for ACG (Anime, Comic and Games) fans, Bilibili made the fateful decision to promote “Jobless Reincarnation,” an anime series, on its site. Female users quickly noted the show objectified women, and even featured pedophilic elements; at one point, the main character, a 34-year-old man, molests a 9-year-old girl.
The incident brought to a boil long-simmering anger toward Bilibili for hosting increasingly misogynic content and user comments — and doing little to curb it. Bilibili removed the series on Feb. 7 for what it said were “technical reasons,” but for fed-up female users, it was too late.
In early February, online activists, many themselves Bilibili users, organized on other social media sites to punish the company. The activists primarily belonged to a female-dominated Douban forum with nearly 700,000 members called Goose Group. It started as a place to trade entertainment industry gossip, but has become more political, with a particular focus on gender.
After “Jobless Reincarnation” was yanked, the feminists successfully pressured several Bilibili advertisers to end partnerships with the company. The women urged one another to report Bilibili’s male CEO Chen Rui to the Yangpu District People’s Congress in Shanghai, a participatory body of which Chen is a member, for tolerating and even promoting misogynic content. Activists noted the controversial anime series had been on Chen’s watch list.
Bilibi was never a gender-equal space, but it began as something edgier and more lovable than what it’s become. It came online in 2009 as a haven for mostly male, diehard anime fans, with a heavy reliance on user-generated content.
Grace Gu, a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign who researches Chinese social media, told Protocol that different subcultures whose voices are normally marginalized on mainstream platforms widely embraced Bilibili. “These users and communities contributed greatly to Bilibili’s early-on popularity and basically nurtured the opportunity for it to become commercialized,” Gu said.
Things started to change in 2014, when Chen, now 43, became CEO with ambitions to turn Bilibili into a popular video-sharing platform, a kind of YouTube for China. The “little raggedy site” (小破站), as Bilibili was known among its diehards, realized it needed to go big and get on the government’s good side.
Bilibili has since diversified its content, hosting lifestyle vlogs, food and fashion videos, documentaries and movies. It’s gotten decidedly more mainstream and frankly, less cool: The Communist Youth League started a channel on the site in 2017, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened a Bilibili account on Feb. 22.
It’s also gotten more sexist, even as it’s gotten more gender balanced. In 2013, only 25% of Bilibili users were women. Today, it’s 43%. Yet according to half a dozen Bilibili users and two Chinese social media researchers Protocol spoke to, Bilibili has become visibly more conservative, sexist and nationalistic.
For one thing, nastily gendered commentary is increasingly rife, in many cases triggered by videos that aim to prevent just such behavior. After one woman posted a video in which she discusses stigmatization of the word “feminism,” swarms of men attacked her appearance. Often, when female users post slightly feminist content or discuss male celebrities, male users will curse at them in the comments section, which on Bililbili are called “bullets” and move quickly across the surface of the video (making them hard to avoid). A Bilibili employee who agreed to speak to Protocol on the condition of anonymity said that the company is aware of sexist content on the site. But the Bilibili employee also said the company had generally turned a blind eye to it, wary of offending its predominantly male users.
Bilibili is not only letting hateful content stand; it’s also allegedly censoring content pitched at women and other minority groups. Ashley Jiang, a content producer at OutChina, a public-interest video program promoting LGBTQ-related content, told Protocol that when she worked with editors from Bilibili in the past two years, pitches about feminism or religion would be ruthlessly rejected. (Bilibili assigns editors to work with public accounts with big followings.) Six of 20 videos she produced about the lives of queer Chinese people were removed by the site over the past two years. By comparison, the more mainstream Weibo only removed one video. Bilibili “boasts of its subculture roots,” Jiang told Protocol, “but then it censors the heck out of the content that minority users upload.”
Bilibili insists it’s committed to diversity. In a public response to the anime fiasco issued on Feb. 10, Bilibili said it would launch a month-long campaign to “resolutely resolve content issues” and pledged to “handle troubling accounts and content in strict compliance with laws and regulations.” Last year, CEO Chen said on the company’s 11th anniversary that the two most important values of the Bilibili community were “first, fairness and second, inclusiveness.” Bilibili didn’t respond to a Protocol request for comment.
Bilibili also has a robust content-moderation apparatus.
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