Bling Empire

What is the Point of Netflix’s Bling Empire?

Dept. of Really Crazy Really Rich Asians


Bling Empire on Netflix is yet another shameless reality show that’s looking to hitch itself onto the Crazy Rich Asians bandwagon. Hell, the series even opens with one of its stars, Kevin, saying: “When I saw Crazy Rich Asians I thought it was a nice fantasy. But then the first person I met in L.A. was Kane.”

Rich people problems then ensue.

You know exactly what Bling Empire is even before you watch any of it. This is a series that’s centered around individuals who are so rich that they have nothing better to do but shop, attend parties, and hold grudges over the most trivial and trifling things. You’ve seen Bling Empire before. With the Kardashians. With those Real Housewives. With actual Singaporeans. (These guys, however, are a LOT richer than the people in Singapore Social.)


Umapagan Ampikaipakan: So it feels like the point of this series was just to remake every other reality show that features rich, entitled, self-centered people… but you know… with Asians instead. Because if there’s one thing Crazy Rich Asians did, it was to show the world that white people have no idea what “rich” actually is. I mean, these guys make those Real Housewives look poor.

Bahir Yeusuff: I mean, you may be rich. But are you shut-down-Rodeo-Drive-for-a-private-Chinese-New-Year-party rich? 

And you’re right, there is a different level of “rich” on show here and that almost feels like the point of Bling Empire. Nothing against the cast of characters that show up here, but the show doesn’t even pretend to allude to the fact that these guys have day jobs.

For me, a big part of watching this revolves around the “why?” Why does this show exist? Why should I watch? Why should I care? And as a person who watches stuff as a job, it’s hard to justify any of this. It’s one thing when you take socialites Hilton and Richie to a farm to see how farmers live, it’s a completely different thing to just have a bunch of cameras following a bunch of über rich socialites just “living their best lives.”

Bling Empire

UA: But also, is this too little too late? Crazy Rich Asians was three years ago, and releasing this in 2021, without so much as a different take, feels a little lazy. If Bling Empire came out two years ago, or maybe even in early 2020, and sold itself as a look into the lives of the “Real” Crazy Rich Asians, it might have worked. But now, it just feels a little dated.

(It’s also important to note that this thing was shot back in 2019. In the first episode, they’re celebrating the year of the pig.)

BY: You’re right in that it feels too late to the party. And that goes back to my question of “why?” Other than just gawking at these people, why is this out now? There is no relevance to the wider conversation. Maybe I am being overly critical but I do agree that “lazy” is a good descriptor of the show. For me, they have a great surrogate for the audience in Kevin, the midwestern Korean American who comes into this group of rich Asians, only for the show to revert back to type, and just flit around from drama to drama.

I kept wanting to hear more from Kevin – who isn’t rich – on what he thinks about all this. About how in the second episode he gets gifted a pair of US$1,100 shoes and how crazy that is. Or how when Kevin was lounging by the pool with Jaime Xie and Kim Lee and the incredulous looks he got when he tells them that he lives in an apartment with roommates and pays US$1,000 for the privilege of it.

More than just being the eyes of the audience, Kevin could have actually been the voice of the audience, to gasp and ask the questions that are on all our minds. But he never gets the chance to become that and instead is just another guy in the group. I felt the producers really missed out on that.


UA: Precisely! I mean, I love Kevin and his Johnny Bravo sensibilities, but they could have used him in a way that would have really made this show stand out. That outsider perspective would have been priceless. And what’s more, it would have also skewed closer to the source material that they were so desperately trying to emulate. 

There is another question I had, and this one is more about the feasibility of these sorts of shows on Netflix. Do they actually work on the platform?

The most successful reality shows of this ilk don’t just create characters that you love to hate, but suck you in by giving you more and more of their lives to indulge in and pass judgment on. The Kardashians work because there’s so much of it. The Real Housewives work because those seasons come at you hard and fast. The only way these shows make any kind of impact on the cultural conversation is by keeping you invested in the lives of these people.

We don’t know if there will be a second season of Bling Empire (I mean, look how long it took for them to get this season out). We don’t know when another season of Selling Sunset will drop. By then, anyone who is interested has already seen the drama of these individuals play out in the tabloids and on social media. 

Netflix doesn’t work like a traditional TV network. And that may be a problem when it comes to creating reality TV that lasts.

Bling Empire

BY: Also, the very nature of the Netflix drop (when all episodes of a season are released at once) means that the gossip doesn’t last beyond that week. At best. Shows like the Keeping Up With The Kardashians run for much longer than Bling Empire’s eight episodes. (Okay the first season of The Kardashians had 8 episodes, but over the course of its 19 seasons they’ve done 265 episodes.) And when you release eight episodes in one big drop, there is no sustainability to the online discourse. Sure, there are a lot of things online now about Bling Empire and it’s cast, but that’ll blow over a lot quicker than a week-to-week show. The cliffhanger episode endings don’t work as well when the next one starts in five seconds.

But also, by this point, in 2021, we’ve seen all of this already. Nothing here is new. In fact, it is just very tired. This cast is playing at characters we have seen in every other reality show that has come before it. The format is old. Everything from the pining lovers to the bitchy queens fighting for the crown has been done before.

Had they just done something different with Kevin. That was all it needed to make it more interesting. I kept wanting Kane to play host to Kevin entering this wild circle of rich Asians in L.A. Kane could have been the David Attenborough to our Kevin in this whole thing. But instead, the producers reverted to type with the confessional cast interviews, and inconsequential fights, and drama about jewellery. All the ultra luxury jewellery name dropping did was alienate me because I don’t know what they are, and quite frankly, don’t care. And that was my problem with this. It didn’t even treat me like a visitor to a zoo, it just kept pushing me away because I can relate to none of this. They didn’t even do the “these rich people are just like you ordinary people” thing. 


UA: We’ve been watching these sorts of shows for so long now and I’m beginning to wonder what’s next? How does this kind of reality show evolve? With the advent of social media, there is no longer any appeal in waiting a week to watch a celebrity meltdown. It’s all taking place in real time to fulfil our every sordid and voyeuristic need. Is this sort of reality TV show now obsolete?

God knows the person who cracks this problem is going to be rich. Whoever comes up with the next evolution of schadenfreude television will change the face of reality programming.

BY: And maybe Bling Empire could do that. I can see the show being the place to go to for the story behind that shade-throwing Instagram post. This show can be the eight episode recap of the fights that you don’t see on social media that result in those inspirational quotes you see online. If they can get the turnaround time down from 18 months, that could really be the show’s standout feature. 

UA: Hey Netflix. Call us!

Bling Empire

BY: Nothing on reality TV is new anymore. Your contestants are sleeping with each other? Yawn. Saw that 20 years ago in Big Brother. Also on Survivor. Backstabbing? Again, see: Survivor. What else is there? What other reality TV shows can be made? Netflix has got shows about dating on the spectrum, deaf students at a deaf university, rich housewives in India, arranged marriages in India, and down on their luck football players. I just wonder if we’ve scrapped the bottom of the barrel so many times that there is no barrel left.

UA: I don’t know if I’m expecting too much from the genre, but I always thought that even the most unreal reality TV was supposed to tell us something about ourselves and who we are. Whether it’s commentary on fame, or a look at how private lives change when placed in the public eye, it always felt like there was a purpose to the genre beyond just mindless entertainment and taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. Now, I’m not so sure any of that exists in any of the shows that are currently being made. And it feels like such a waste.

Bling Empire

BY: Despite what I said earlier, Love On the Spectrum and Deaf U are great shows that, like you said, tells the audience outside of those communities, something about the world at large. Be it if we’ve ever treated someone differently, or thought that someone was less than us because they’re differently abled, those two shows specifically are eye opening experiences. I mean hell, even Indian Matchmaking, as shallow as it may have sounded, was an eye opening experience. Bling Empire, however, was just not enough.

Bling Empire is now streaming on Netflix.

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