Tea Leaf Nation

Did China Just Ban Maroon 5?

After a tweet about the Dalai Lama, the band’s Shanghai concert was mysteriously cancelled.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12:  Adam Levine (L) and James Valentine of Maroon 5 perform onstage during iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2014, hosted by Z100 New York and presented by Goldfish Puffs at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Kevin Kane/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Adam Levine (L) and James Valentine of Maroon 5 perform onstage during iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2014, hosted by Z100 New York and presented by Goldfish Puffs at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Kane/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

It looks like Maroon 5, following in the footsteps of Linkin Park, Bob Dylan, and Bjork, might be the next musicians to have gotten on the wrong side of Chinese politics.

The American pop rock band was scheduled to perform on September 12 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. But that concert has now disappeared from the band website’s schedule, though concerts the same month in South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines remain. Tour organizer Live Nation gave no specifics, only saying that there was “a reason” the concert had been dropped.

Chinese fans think they know what that reason is. On July 4, after reportedly attending a birthday celebration for the Dalai Lama — the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Chinese authorities have branded as a separatist — Maroon 5 band member Jesse Carmichael tweeted happy birthday wishes to the Buddhist monk, in a post that has now been removed. Now on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, users are widely assuming that Chinese authorities are behind the mysterious cancellation. And they’re blaming Carmichael.

“A stupid band member went to the Dalai’s birthday party,” wrote one female user. “What was he thinking, making himself out to be a politician like that?” Many expressed vitriol at Carmichael’s support of the spiritual leader long vilified by the ruling Community Party, and support for what they assumed had been a state-ordered move. Comments such as “Well done!” and “Deserved it!” greeted posts announcing the concert’s cancellation. “National interest above all,” wrote one user. “This kind of thing cannot be tolerated and must be stopped with preventative measures!”

It’s possible that the strong support for the possible ban isn’t all organic. Chinese authorities are known to hire Internet commentators, nicknamed the “50 cent party” after what some say each commenter is paid per post, to express online support for authorities or criticize dissenters. It’s difficult to know which comments are government-sponsored and which are not, but at least one user also had suspicions, writing, “50 cent party, go die!”

The band members, who risk missing out on the revenues from a growing Chinese fan base (their concert was already sold out), at least can take comfort knowing they are not the first to run afoul of Chinese authorities, who often do not give an explanation for politically motivated bans on popular performers. Icelandic singer Bjork has not been able to perform in China after appearing to express support for Tibetan independence during a Shanghai concert in 2008. And saxophonist Kenny G was quick to deny any political support for the Hong Kong protests after a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson criticized a tweet he posted in October 2014 while in Hong Kong.

At least some commenters evinced irritation at what they assumed to be the government’s hand in the Maroon 5 concert cancellation. “Attending a friend’s birthday party is the same as approving of their political views?” asked one. Another noted the irony that Chinese authorities would choose to access a platform that has been blocked there in the past. “Does the government also play around on Instagram?”

Yiqin Fu contributed research.

Photo credit: Kevin Kane/Getty Images for iHeart Media

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy. @BethanyAllenEbr

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