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    How ‘Skr’ Took Over the Chinese Internet

    A brief history of the meaningless hip-hop term that inspired countless viral memes.

    Hit reality show “The Rap of China” is back with a new Chinese name and the same big-name judge in pop idol-turned-rapper Kris Wu — and the show has continued to attract eyeballs since another of Wu’s trademark catchphrases went viral.

    During a press conference in July, Wu made certain that “skr” would be the buzzword of the second season: He dropped the word at the end of his self-introduction and used it to appraise the abilities of the show’s contestants.

    “Kris, can you predict what might become this season’s popular buzzword?” asked the host — to which Wu responded, “Skr skr skr skr skr skr skr skrrrr,” varying each monosyllable’s pitch. Tellingly, Wu did not elaborate on the colorful colloquialism: Though widely used, its meaning is head-scratchingly difficult to pin down.

    Aiming to promote and popularize hip-hop culture, “The Rap of China” received mixed reviews in its first season before ending on a high note in September of last year, its finale attracting a whopping 360 million views. But it’s the young heartthrob and former boy band member Wu who has always been at the epicenter of the show’s buzz.

    “Do you freestyle?” — a rhetorical request Wu would often make of auditioning contestants — went viral last year and was even named one of the top online slang terms of 2017 by a language research center under the Ministry of Education. Initially used to mock the fresh-faced Wu’s credibility as a judge on a rap show, this first viral catchphrase gave birth to a bevy of its own memes and chat stickers.

    The viral popularity of “The Rap of China” and its contributions to online culture have elevated Wu’s status as an emerging icon in the relatively new arena of Chinese hip-hop, to the extent that both die-hard fans and industry insiders now endorse him as a global ambassador of the genre.

    Soon after the show’s second season premiered, however, Wu became a trending topic on social media when male users on a popular sports forum disparaged his singing. In response to being mocked, Wu released a diss track — simply titled “Skr” — aimed at his haters. In his post, Wu described the track as an homage to hip-hop culture. “I use music to respond in an effort to boycott cyber-bullying,” Wu said.

    But the term Wu popularized has also been used against him. “Skr, Skr, is that English? Chinese? Or just scrap?” says a Shenzhen-based rapper in his own anti-Wu diss track.

    Skr is believed to derive from a misspelling of “skrt,” an onomatopoeic term used to describe the sound of a vehicle’s wheels skidding on asphalt. Skrt was commonly used by rappers waxing lyrical about their luxury cars, and it was later adapted to encompass a wider range of meanings. Wu’s fans are largely credited for adding skr to the lexicon of Chinese internet slang.

    Like Wu’s first viral catchphrase on freestyling, skr has found its way into Chinese millennials’ everyday speech in recent months, and net users seem to relish toying with its pronunciation to coax out new meanings. Today, the word can be either positive or negative, it can start or end a conversation — or it can mean very little at all. Here are a few examples of the versatile buzzword’s many applications.

    1) Homophone replacing “is/are” (shi ge / 是个)

    This is one of the most common uses of skr.

    “Are you an idiot?” asks Gavin, his eyebrows furrowed.

    2) Homophone replacing “freaking” (si ge / 死个)

    Like the first example, this usage often features online celebrities like Gavin Thomas — the boy pictured above with the incredulous facial expression that belies his young age — and characters from classic Chinese dramas such as “The Monkey King.”

    “Freaking annoying,” says the Monkey King.

    3) Homophone replacing “fight to the death” (si ke / 死磕)

    One example of this less common usage comes from a net user — apparently a Kris Wu fan — who made a set of memes about hot summer weather. The collection consists of stickers that replace the Chinese characters for si ke with skr — creating expressions like “fighting floods to the death,” “fighting rainstorms to the death,” and “fighting scorching heat to the death.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: Kris Wu stares at his phone during filming of a TV show in Beijing, Jan. 8, 2016. VCG)