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June 28, 3:21 p.m.

No. 9: "Hehe, My Dear," 2,512,576 downloads.

June 28, 7:08 p.m.

No. 8: "Hehe, My Dear," 2,578,394 downloads.

June 29, 12:03 p.m.

No. 7: "Hehe, My Dear," 2,710,962 downloads.

June 30, 2:33 a.m.

No. 6: "Hehe, My Dear," 2,800,357 downloads.

June 30, 12:45 p.m.

No. 6: "Hehe, My Dear," 2,908,728 downloads.

June 30, 11:56 p.m.

No. 5: "Hehe, My Dear," 3,000,923 downloads.

That night, nearly every pop music newcomer in Yanzhou stayed up all night monitoring the New Pioneers Chart.

They watched the dark horse that had entered the new talent contest the latest maintain its momentum. After crowding out No. 10, it overtook the next four songs ahead of it in three days and began to threaten the top four.

If Fang Zhao had another day, he would have taken down No. 3 and No. 4. If he had another month, who knows what would have happened.

When the clock jumped to midnight, when the New Pioneers Chart finally flashed a symbol indicating the chart had been finalized, the throngs monitoring the chart could finally breathe a sigh of relief. It was finally all over.

Especially Chu Guang in fourth place and Rong Zheng in third. They were signed to Silver Wing Media as well. They were also fellow graduates of the same department at Qi’an Academy of Music. They entered the contest early on and were given priority by Silver Wing, but Fang Zhao’s appearance gave them a real scare.

They were almost overtaken.

Even though they still held onto third and fourth place, they both just hit 3 million downloads, not much of a lead on Fang Zhao. Just as people suspected, if the chart was live for another day, they might have been replaced in half a day.

Luckily, as far as Silver Wing was concerned, all three were newly signed composers. But the composers themselves were quite conscious of their ranking.

Thankfully, the season was over.


Or was it really over?

The beginning of a new month brought the kickoff of a new season of the new talent contest. Even though this season wasn’t as closely followed as the previous, it still marked a new round of battle.

The previous season was over and the winners and losers determined. Newcomers who performed well would gain access to better resources and better music, while those who didn’t do so well had their existing resources pulled.

Fang Zhao, the last-minute dark horse, also drew attention and generated plenty of discussion within the industry.

"Prairie Fire" was a Qi’an-based webcast popular among industry insiders. Their main focus was Yanzhou’s celebrities of all levels. This season’s new talent contest naturally fell on their radar. They even started a betting pool on the final ranking of the New Pioneers Chart.

A new edition of the show aired on July 1.

Sharing hosting duties were the regular male and female presenters.

As soon as the show started, the lavishly dressed female host joked, "June has just passed. So many people struggled to sleep in the intense heat toward the end of the month."

Industry insiders bitched in their heads, "It’s just a show for the voyeuristic masses, but we, the actual competitors, have been losing sleep for a long time. No wonder people say the second season of the year is the year’s most brutal. It’s the real deal—cutthroat, grounded in reality, no room for fakery. No matter how good of a bullshitter you are, the market will deliver a rude awakening."

The host continued, "This season’s new talent contest was quite the draw."

The male host: "Indeed, thanks to a hit song that drains all sleepiness out of you, hehe."

The male host’s pun had music newcomers watching the show hurling their bracelets. "Hehe your ass. I get a headache from just hearing ‘hehe.’"

The female host: "The past season of the new talent contest didn’t exactly go according to script, though it was expected that the two virtual newcomers would take the top two spots."

The male host: "After a quiet period for Tongshan True Entertainment and Neon Culture, the two conglomerates relaunched their virtual idol projects."

A video appeared alongside the host’s voice.

A slim silhouette wearing a white hoodie bearing a cone pattern flashed an insidious smile. A slight shift of his head could capture the hearts of thousands of teenage girls. The song "Believe in Me" started playing.

The performer was the winner of the new talent contest, virtual singer Xun Huai. He had held the No. 1 spot on the New Pioneers Chart for more than two months now. His single recorded more than 5 million downloads. Xun was created by Tongshan True Entertainment.

After Xun Huai, a shapely figure emerged. Even though she looked young, her face was impeccable. Her mischievous smile and soulful eyes were downright charming.

Following "Believe in Me" was the No. 2 song, virtual singer Fei Lisi’s "Rainbow Candy," which was downloaded 4.8 million times this past season. Fei was created by Neon Culture.

"Wow, two virtual idols in a single season. Xun Huai’s star power is beyond dispute. All of my cousins are keeping tabs on him. Fei Lisi isn’t bad either. Word has it that a candy maker Neon Culture partnered with made a killing on rainbow candy this year," the female host said in a joking tone.

"The two virtual idols were indeed strong contenders, but I was paying attention to someone else on the chart," the male host said. "Today we received an animation created by a viewer. It’s about this year’s new talent contest."

The viewers were intrigued. What animation?

A video soon followed.

A slick, fat mouse marked with the number 10 darted forward, huffing and puffing, trailed by a group of cats. Each cat had a different fur pattern. It you looked closely, you could see that both the mouse and the cats were emblazoned with company logos.

People who had followed the new talent contest understood immediately and flashed a knowing smile.

Isn’t this a depiction of the chart movements toward the end of the season?

In the animation, a group of cats were chasing a fat mouse.


"It’s mine."

"F*ck off, y’all. The mouse is mine."

"Y’all make way. I’m about to make a major move to take down the fat mouse."

As the cats quarreled, a cheetah whisked by like the wind, passing the cats and laying claim to the fat mouse with an emphatic stomp. It kept on running, fading into a speedy silhouette.

The reaction of Neon Culture staffers in the newcomer department who saw the cartoon: "…..."

Fang Sheng’s agent: "…..."

As people around him heaped looks of scorn, pity, and cynicism, a ghastly pale Fang Sheng trashed his second bracelet.

In contrast, Silver Wing staffers were chuckling. They were used to being ridiculed by Neon Culture. Now the tables had turned.

Even though they missed out on the top two spots, Silver Wing releases finished in third, fourth and fifth place. Add to that No. 8 and they accounted for four of the top 10. Four.

It was an outcome they never would have imagined.

Du Ang was ecstatic after tracking the New Pioneers Chart until midnight. He wore a silly smile until the next morning, despite being whacked by his wife with a pillow. He was going to be promoted, promoted.

Singer Bei Zhi was also too excited to fall asleep after seeing the final ranking.

"I’m a star now!" Bei Zhi stared at the chart without blinking. "He, hehe, hahahaha!"

A change of fortunes often follows the depths of despair. A mishap might be a blessing in disguise.

Bei’s three roommates were amazed by the reversal.

The four newly signed singers were housed in a company dorm. Unlike the composers, the singers had nothing to hide from each other. They took the same classes and vocal lessons.

Bei Zhi’s three roommates knew he'd gone through a rough patch after signing. He was in no shape to sing. They'd thought that Bei Zhi would be cut loose before his contract ended, but who would have guessed that Fang Zhao would come to the rescue. By June, Bei Zhi had recovered and gotten the call from Du Ang. He'd lucked out.

"I’m a star, hahaha!" Bei Zhi burst into a frantic dance in his room.

"That's right. I need to thank Fang Zhao." Bei Zhi raised his arm to call Fang Zhao. If now wasn’t the time to kiss up to such an auspicious patron, then when? He was a rookie singer. Cultivating ties with composers was standard procedure. That way he would keep getting good songs. Good songs sent his stock rising.

It wasn’t all celebration. Sometimes woe followed triumph.

Du Ang was miserable after getting promoted the next day.

Du Ang used to be in charge of rookie composers. Now he was in charge of all of Silver Wing’s composers. His predecessor had quit after leading the failed virtual idol campaign last year. Now, Du Ang took over his portfolio.

The promotion was a good thing. But Du Ang stopped smiling after seeing his to-do list.

Silver Wing launched virtual projects every year, but they rarely received much support. As far as the Silver Wing bosses were concerned, they could prioritize other singers, their virtual idols could be second-rate, but they had to have them. A conglomerate like Silver Wing couldn’t be dissed for not being able to create virtual idols. Whether or not they became huge stars was a different matter.

But after last year’s failed full-court press, the virtual idols team was in shambles. Staff either transferred to other projects or jumped ship. The department was a ghost town.

The higher ups were at wit’s end. However hopeless the mission, they charged the team leaders with figuring things out. They had to have at least one virtual idol project a year. If no actual work had been done, they still had to pull something out of their asses. As long as they came up with something. Quality was not an issue.

Still, to fail miserably was a major loss of face.

After being passed around, the hot potato had landed on Du Ang’s desk. His new position had been left unfilled for some time, so everyone had pretended the problem didn’t exist. Now that Du Ang had taken over, the other managers could rest easy.

"Old Du." Ya Erlin, the head of the arrangement department, gestured toward his colleague with his fingers.

"Don’t ‘old’ me. I’m only 40, at a time when the average life span is 180. I’ve only lived less than a quarter of my life. I’m still young," Du Ang said without lifting his head.

Ya Erlin ignored the comment. "Old Du, what’s the point? You’ve risen up the ranks, only to suffer."

Could he afford to take on the virtual idol project?

Du Ang tried telling his superiors—virtual idols weren't his specialty. But no one wanted to take the project. His bosses told him that, since he was filling the open post, he had to suck it up.

Du Ang wanted to spit blood. If he had known, he would have passed on the promotion. He would have applied for a transfer after someone took over the virtual idol project.

Hindsight was always 20/20.

The manager lying in the hospital was a harbinger of things to come.

A disgruntled Du Ang could only pass the buck to the composers he supervised. He wasted no time in offering incentives.

"Whoever is willing to take this on will be fast-tracked for promotion."

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