Minnie Wang
Dec 18, 2023

What we can learn from Bilibili's buzzword for 2023, ah?

The Chinese video streaming service has made an annual tradition of spotting the top buzzwords among young people in its chats as a way to signal new consumption trends.

Bilibili Bullet Chat of 2023: Ah 啊?
Bilibili Bullet Chat of 2023: Ah 啊?

Chinese video streaming platform Bilibili has announced its word of the year for 2023: ‘ah' (or 'huh’ in English).  

The much-anticipated annual official annnouncement is made each year by Bilibili in conjunction with China Cultural Relics Exchange Center and Chinese Character Museum and was delivered in the form of a video released last Friday. In 2023, users on the Bilibili platform used the term 'Ah' in the 'bullet chat' comments about the videos that appear on screen 13.2 million times, more than any other term.

While in some ways the result might be considered predictable since 'Ah' can be used to express a wide range of emotions and responses, that exact reason made Bilibili's announcement surprising for many

In its video announcement, Bilibili seemed to anticipate the surprise and and confusion by including a self-deprecating message that translates to: “If it's not boring, who's coming?” The video also features several dialogues about word of the year and shares opinions such as. “a lighter note for you: life is about: huh?”

The word ‘ah’ itself in Chinese is the most commonly used interjection, which can express various feelings of surprise, excitement, and even scepticism with different tones and punctuations. Just as Bilibili’s video ended with ‘ah’, the first word, a newly-born baby pronounces when he or she begins to utter a word.

Whether the popularity of 'ah' in 2023 is the reflection of a new generation trying to find identification amid changing social, economic and technological realities, or simply a less profound means of sparking recognition, is up for interpretation. 

This is the seventh consecutive year that Bilibili has released its word of the year, from '囍' (Xi or Double Happiness) in 2017 to '啊?'  (Ah) this year.

Since 2017, Bilibili has been releasing bullet chats word of the year at the end of each year, which summarise the pop cultural trends for the community and, to a certain extent, also indicate the most trendy thoughts and social sentiments of the young generation in that year. In 2018, it was ‘Real or Truth’, 2019's was ‘AWSL’, meaning ‘Ah, I'm dead’, 2020’s was ‘My youth is making a comeback’, 2021's was ‘Moved to tears/be overwhelmed’, and 2022’s was ‘Elegance’. All are key buzzwords to decipher the thoughts and popular trends of young consumers’s minds in China. 

The phrase of this year is on display at the ‘Chinese Character Folklore Exhibition Hall’ of Chinese Character Museum.

As a form of instantaneous online interaction, the bullet chat, which is said to have originated from Japan, not just evokes users' emotional resonance with the content but also generates lots of highly recognisable buzzwords among young people. 

According to Bilibili,  “the annual bullet chats not only record the contemporary young people's language expression but also witness historical changes in Chinese pop culture”.

Young users of the platform often used the word as an expression of astonishment.  For example, it was used often to show how impressed viewers were by people showing unique skills in the video on how to write ‘Ode to Hard Roads to Sichuan’, a poem written by Li Bai in the Tang Dynasty over1300 years ago, just in one stroke. This video, in fact, won the most ‘ah's'  this year. 

Bilibili also listed videos for major scientific and technological breakthroughs in China, such as advanced high-confinement control technology for controlled nuclear fusion, which also collected many ‘ah’ from Gen Z users. 

Bilibili is referred to by the nickname “B station” among younger generations in China, ranking as one of the top and most coveted long-form video platforms. In Q3 2023, its daily active users (DAU) surpassed 100 million. 

Early this year, Bilibili amazed the Chinese audience during the spring festival, the very first reunion for families in China after the Covid pandemic and lockdown, with a video called “The 3286th Station”. As there are 3285 train stations, the video, produced by the newly-formed Chinese brand consulting agency Mountains, featured “B station” as the 3286th one, telling the story of people heading home for Chinese New Year and asking which station they are going for the festival.  

In 2020, Bilibili stood out with its old-fashioned Youth Day video, initiated by its in-house team and produced by China PR agency SG Group which ended up creating a buzzword of the year, ‘The Posterior Waves’. 

Campaign Asia

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