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Ling hasn’t been to bed. Her eyes give it away. The 35-year-old came straight from her night shift to see two of her favourite pop stars: Edan and Jeremy from Hong Kong boy band Mirror. They are making a lunchtime appearance in Admiralty, where they’re filming a promo for a high-end shopping mall. Ling works at night so that she can follow Mirror during the day and this is her second appointment. Three of the other band members appeared earlier at another boutique in Central and Ling was there too, cheering on her favourite, Stanley. “He’s the most handsome,” she says. There’s a typhoon outside but she’s no fair-weather fan.

Mirror have struck a chord with this divided and downtrodden city, rocked by protests in 2019 and experiencing an upsurge in local pride. Forget Beijing; here are 12 Cantonese heroes for everyone to unite behind – or pick a favourite.

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Ling changed out of her “Team Stanley” outfit before arriving. A “Stanley” sign is hidden in her bag so that Edan and Jeremy (both pictured, Jeremy on left) don’t see it, though there’s little risk of that. A roped-off area separates the crowd of (mostly female) fans from the two stars, who are surrounded by a scrum of managers and make-up artists. Even the battle-hardened police have had trouble controlling Mirror-mania when fans descend on a shopping mall.

This has been the boy band’s breakout year. Mirror’s 21-song debut album, One and All, was released in January, followed by six sold-out shows in May. Edan starred in a hit TV show, while a radio channel handed two prestigious music awards to 22-year-old leading member Keung To for his solo work. “They’ve grown up in front of us,” says Ling, who has been a fan since 2018, when Mirror’s 12 members surfaced on a TV talent show.

Ling met her fellow Mirror disciple Cheryl 20 years ago when both were in Gigi Leung’s fan club. When Leung, a huge star during Canto-pop’s 1990s heyday, stopped performing, Ling and Cheryl had no one to follow. They retired from fandom until Mirror came along to “reawaken” their interest in the city’s music – along with the rest of Hong Kong.

Mirror fans are of all ages. Teenager Rachel, an 18-year-old with pigtails, dressed in a black-and-white gingham dress, has just graduated from school and is taking photos for her dedicated Edan fan page. Nearby, 41-year-old Rosa and four colleagues from a special-needs school are making full use of the summer break. The mother has encouraged her nine-year-old son tobe a fan because she approves of Mirror’s positivity and dedication to family. Lyrics to popular songs, such as “Warrior”, “Reflection” and “asap” – sung and rapped in a mix of Cantonese and English – encourage listeners to leave the bad times behind; a message of triumph when many parents are worried about their children being dragged into Hong Kong’s political quagmire.

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High-tempo beats, slick video production and energetic dance moves are closer to K-pop than the weepy Canto-pop ballads of old.The fact that most Mirror members aren’t actually good singers or dancers, or even particularly handsome (an observation mentioned by several lovestruck fans), just adds to their “one of us” appeal. Rachel, Rosa and Ling all admire them for continuing to improve, overcoming unspecified challenges and, naturally, for never giving up.

Four hours later, as Edan and Jeremy continue filming at a different part of the mall, Ling is still there, watching the pair repeat line after line and smile heroically. Listening to her speak about Mirror gives me goosebumps – not something I can say about their music. “They had a dream and they’re living it,” she says. “Young people in Hong Kong need that inspiration and hope right now.”

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