Sporting a T-shirt with the logo of Taiwanese pop-music group F4, Visoth Visara, a 17-year-old student at Sisowath High School, is enjoying a cup of coffee with his friends at a cafe north of the US Embassy.
“My friends and I are very interested in F4 and everything that F4 performs,” Visoth Visara said. As proof, he holds up his key chain, which is decorated with two more pictures of the members of F4.
F4, a four-member “boy band” along the lines of US groups like the Backstreet Boys, is a sensation across Asia, and the band’s popularity among Cambodian teenagers has skyrocketed in recent months following the broadcast of several F4 videos on TV5 in late June. In the ensuing sales frenzy of F4 clothes, posters and other products, local businesses have enjoyed a sharp increase in profits.
“I never thought that young Cambodians were very crazy about F4,” says Srey Sar, 26, a clothing vendor at Phsar Olympic.
But recently, Srey Sar says, she has made $300 to $400 a day on F4 clothes alone, about double her daily profit last year. Since the broadcasts, her young clientele has visited her shop regularly to inquire about new F4 styles and purchase the clothes F4 members wear in their movies.
“Young Cambodians love to copy the style of F4 clothes,” she says. “They look nice and are very hip.”
The business boom is not limited to clothing. Bookshop owners say business is up because of the demand for F4-bedecked study materials, such as notebooks and textbook covers. Bookshop owner Seng Im, 46, says that thanks to F4, he doesn’t have to work to attract patrons anymore.
“It’s not important to lure customers because students have been at my shop, asking us to prepare all kinds of school equipment with F4 symbols for them.”
As with many youth fads, attracting the opposite sex is part of the allure. Students don’t hesitate to point out the importance of being an F4 fan in attracting a date.
“I’m very proud to wear F4 clothes or use F4 equipment,” says Tep Vantha, 19, a student at Santhor Mok High School. “I want to show the girls that I’m also handsome like F4 while I’m wearing F4 clothes.”
Visoth Visara says his female classmates are the biggest F4 fans.
“Most young girls really like F4 because they are so handsome,” he says.
Local F4 aficionados seem limited to junior high and high school students. University students and adults say that they enjoy the band’s performances but don’t purchase F4 products or imitate the band’s style.
“We are university students,” says Pok Sochea, 25, a student at the National Institute of Management. “The majority of us are working and studying, so we don’t have time to dress up.”
Pok Sochea says F4 fans mostly seem to be wealthy Phnom Penh teenagers, whose families have enough money to spend on the paraphernalia. “I think that only young Cambodians in the capital are crazy with F4,” he says. “Youths in remote areas don’t care.”
Sek Vandoeurn, 42, a Phnom Penh motorbike taxi driver, agrees. “My children and I would be happy if I could support them enough for daily eating and study,” he says. “My children have to earn money when they are not in school, so they have no money or time to buy clothes to attract girls.”
Meanwhile, Seng Im and Srey Sar are too busy stocking their shelves with F4 products to analyze the motivations of their young clientele.
Srey Sar’s shop now offers an array of T-shirts in varying price ranges, depending on size and fabric quality. Meanwhile, F4 posters cost 1,000 riel ($0.25) in Seng Im’s bookstore—3,500 riel ($0.87) to have them laminated.