Haidilao launches boy band? From viral “subject three” to “subject four”

Key takeaways:

  • Haidilao has launched a “boy band” who performed a “Subject 4” dance, a version of the viral “Subject 3” dance.
  • “Subject 3” itself evolved from a previous dance craze – the “Gangsta Shake” and was born in Guangxi, before being adopted by Haidilao.
  • After Haidilao, the dance shot to the mainstream and is now on track to becoming a global viral phenomenon.

On 8 February, two days before the Chinese New Year, leading hotpot chain Haidilao announced on social media with a teaser video that they’ll be launching a “celebratory boy band” for CNY. A day later, the boy band was launched with a behind-the-scenes peek at their training. On Chinese New Year’s Day, the full video was released on all major platforms. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, the topic, “Haidilao launches boy band” reached number 22 on the Hot Search list, with 6.66 million views.

From “Subject 3” to “Subject 4”

The hotpot brand describes the video as a number for its version of the Spring Festival Gala and calls it “Subject 4”. It is a reference to the “Subject 3” dance that became a viral phenomenon in 2023.

“Subject 4” is a reference to the “Subject 3” dance that became a viral phenomenon in 2023

The video itself, titled “New Year’s Greeting Dance”, features 5 young men, all Haidilao employees, doing a K-pop, boy band-style routine after a short intro on the members. It then transitions seamlessly into something familiar – the “Subject 3” dance. With studio lighting and bassy beats replacing the original “Subject 3” music, the choreography does indeed look different. Near the end of the video, the members somewhat abruptly shift to a Chinese New Year greeting and the video ends with CNY greeting clips from Haidilao restaurants all over the world.

From waiter to delivery staff, to manager to apprentice, plus a clerk/training staff member, all five members of the “New Year’s Greeting Group” are Haidilao employees from different cities. As a behind-the-scenes article disclosed, none of them had any prior performance background but were put together for intensive training for the festive number.

Other numbers from Haidilao’s gala programme include a bun dance with CNY exclusive dragon head-shaped buns as the head office choice. Regional numbers from restaurants around the country also provided “numbers” such as the Northeastern frozen pears in a fruit tray.

From “Gangsta Shake” to “Subject 3”

She Hui Yao”, (社会摇), sometimes translated as “social shake”, was a craze on short-form video platforms such as Kuaishou, between 2014-2018. The “社会” in here has a connotation of “黑社会”, or the criminal underworld. Hence Gangsta Shake, or ‘outlaw shake’ would be a more literal translation. Often performed in groups of dozens of young, predominantly male, dancers, Gangsta Shake was a freeform dance and was described as “corny” and “tacky”. However, some of its moves can still be found in the most widespread version of “Subject 3”. Gangsta Shake died down after a crackdown on underage content on the platforms. This came after a mass brawl took place in Nanning, Guangxi between rival teenage ‘Gangsta Shakers’, and some drew the connection between the fight and the ban.

Guangxi, the region in South China, is also the birthplace of “Subject 3”. The name comes from one of the three subjects of driving tests in China. Subject 3, the final test, is driving on the road, usually with a police officer on board. The saying goes that for someone from Guangxi, you need to learn 3 subjects: singing folk songs, eating rice noodles and dancing. How subject 3 came about is lost to time, but one thing is certain: it evolved from the Gangsta Shake from nearly a decade before.

Someone from Guangxi needs to learn 3 subjects: singing folk songs, eating rice noodles and dancing

From Guangxi to the world, via Haidilao

Guangxi “Subject 3” appeared online in 2022 but in 2023, its current form, with the DJ remix of the song “Yi Xiao Jianghu” (一笑江湖, lit. laughing off the criminal underworld/mythic wuxia world) appeared in October 2023. In November, a waiter in a Haidilao restaurant in Weifang, Shandong performed the dance on video and went viral. Then the dance spread at Haidilao restaurants across the country, with rumours of bonuses for dancing and management forcing employees to learn the routine both flying around.

Haidilao, known for its unique services, began to provide ad hoc dance performances when requested by diners. However, the loud music and “tacky” dancing weren’t to everyone’s liking. Controversies began and some restaurants banned “Subject 3”, while others only allowed it at certain times of the day. On Weibo, the topic “Customer finds Haidilao’s subject 3 annoying, conflict leads to calling the police” (#海底捞跳科目三有顾客嫌吵起冲突报警#) shot to number 1 on the Hot Search list with 230 billion views.

However, Haidilao’s viral campaign did push the dance beyond its usual audiences. From CNY events in the Chinese embassy in the US to Russian ballet performing in Shenyang, all the way to countless TikTok videos, “Subject 3” has gone global. Haidilao played a huge part in the standardisation and viral spread of the routine.

For Haidilao’s own gala, using regular employees for the dance helps build a positive image in terms of ESG. It can also help dispel the accusation of “exploitation” of its employees as some are perceived as being forced to learn the dance in competition between branches. With its well-wishing New Year greetings, the video serves as an ad for Haidilao and the people working at the chain, before the “Subject 3” dance craze cools down.