To say that Datuk Vida is a ‘troubled’ prolific figure is like saying the North Korean government has a little problem with control freak tendencies.
Not to mention, tax evasion.
You’d think that news about discovering mercury in Vida Beauty’s products would be the end of the brand and of Datuk Vida overall—marking her as short-lived but explosive public figure.
But it’s July 2017 and Datuk Vida is still here.
And in fact she’s making the rounds on the internet yet again for a frustratingly catchy “I Am Me” music video. And it’s… a sight to behold.
Protip: It helps this article if you loop this song as you read it. Okay, not really. But I challenge you to loop this song as you read this article.
I’m gonna level with you guys: I don’t get the appeal of Datuk Vida.
I don’t personally dislike her as a person apart from the poison in her products bit.
But love her or hate her, there is just something about this public figure that captures the internet’s attention. A scandal that would’ve ended someone else’s career just emboldened hers.
What struck me lately is how relatively “hateless” her new video is. The netizen ire that once propagated her entire career is now followed with sentiments of either love or ambivalence.
She’s definitely a one-of-a-kind figure.
This prompted us to ask: is there something about Datuk Vida?
The short answer: she brings up the lulz.
I’m going to take some time to break down the Vida phenomenon—what makes her tick, what about her that appeals to other people, at least enough that the public still accepts her despite the ongoing controversies regarding her product or person.
1. An explosive—and memorable—introduction to the public eye.
I wouldn’t say that Qu Puteh or Vida Beauty were unknown names before the prolific explosion on Anugerah Juara Lagu #29, or #AJL29.
But it went from “that Malay-made beauty product” to “Datuk Vida’s beauty brand” basically overnight.
What happened is that Datuk Vida sponsored RM3 Million for the AJL awards event. Because of her sizeable sponsorship, the show played her ad frequently throughout.
This also happened to be the maiden voyage of Qu Puteh’s new tagline; “Qu Puteh, Qu Puteh, Barulah Putih” while stroking both sides of the cheek.
The internet exploded—with anger.
Between what the kids would characterise as gedik mannerisms and an annoying catchphrase, Datuk Vida’s name rose in infamy. But so did interest in the Vida Beauty brand.
Datuk Vida would later also sponsor a singing competition—Gegarvaganza—to play up and solidify the catchphrase, shooting her up to levels of stardom.
Her opulent dress sense, larger-than-life personality and distinctive Kelantanese dialect granted the Datuk Vida image its one-of-a-kind status in the public mind’s consciousness.
Sure, she isn’t the first to play up a similar persona. But she’s definitely kept it up for the longest by now.
2. She’s just like the auntie from across the road—a bumbling but ultimately harmless figure.
It’s no secret that Qu Puteh has been plagued with controversy. The backlash doesn’t seem to have dragged Datuk Vida’s reputation though.
This, we think, is down to Datuk Vida’s persona in the public eye.
I don’t know about you, but Datuk Vida really reminds me of the chatty auntie from across the street who stops by your house every now and again, sometimes with sweet treats that she’ll almost force-feed you.
These aunties could be a little loudmouthed. And sometimes, they overstay their welcome. They’d ask piercing questions about your marital status, or how the kids are. But ultimately, they’re harmless and you’re somewhat fond of them.
With the exception of the Datukship, the publicity and money in the bank, this is exactly the figure that Datuk Vida cuts.
She fits into the acceptable persona of a woman public figure.
For all of Datuk Vida’s loudness, she never comes across as threatening.
This is how it is so easy for the public to divorce the idea of this harmless little auntie just being herself on screen with the scandal surrounding her products, even when she speaks out about it. The images are just not congruent.
3. Many people can relate to her underdog story—from rags to riches.
If you take a look at Datuk Vida’s story, things took a dark turn for her many times over.
She grew up poor, following the death of her father. She lost two children to a fire.
She’s faced slander and has been cheated in business.
When she first shot to popularity, she faced a lot of netizen bashing and hate—sentiments that she’s always vocal about being “unbothered” by—thus taking the high road.
It was perhaps the raya ad that turned public sentiment around for her, perfectly expressing her rags to riches story.
It tells a tale of a girl who had a hard life, Datuk Vida’s own struggles, which she has—some would say—bravely put on screen for all to see.
And now she owns everything from expensive jewelry, to what The Star describes as “17 bungalows and a fleet of 20 luxury cars that includes a Bentley, a Lamborghini and a customised Vellfire with a massage chair and a fridge to help ease her daily Ipoh-KL commute”.
She adorns herself with luxurious jewelry and attention-grabbing clothes, and it seems like she’s living the dream, which not many would begrudge her for, knowing her past.
4. She’s good at harnessing public sentiment and staying relevant.
Datuk Vida saw how powerful a catchphrase could be in selling beauty/wellness products through ads like Terlajak Laris’s Deherbs and Kak Ton’s Beauty Umairah.
However, it does seem like there’s an element of accident to Kak Ton and Terlajak Laris’s memetic capability.
What Datuk Vida did was double, triple and quadruple down on the meme potential. It comes with the cheek-stroking action too.
And it worked, because it became the subject of mockery for many months afterwards, ingraining Qu Puteh in its target market’s consciousness.
Now that the meme potential of “Barulah Putih” has run its course, new contender “Sayang sayang sayang” enters.
So many quotable lines in that song. So many lines.
The worst part though, is how goshdarn catchy this song is.
It’s not all about music though, Gegarvaganza, Anugerah Juara Lagu & I Am Me aside.
Datuk Vida is very good at staying in the public eye.
Even if you were to overlook the scandal behind her products, Datuk Vida is often in the headlines. She sponsored Kelantan’s Red Warriors (capitalising on the Kelantanese’ immense passion for their footbal FC).
And when they “failed to perform” up to her standards, Datuk Vida pulled out her sponsorship.
When Chef Wan expressed his disdain for the initial Qu Puteh ad, Datin Vida spared no time to issue her own reply to his post—perhaps even winning her some sympathisers.
Her headlines are always attention-grabbing, because she says things that are attention grabbing.
5. She resonates with a certain part of the population—she knows and keeps it that way.
In the end, the biggest appeal of Datuk Vida is that she knows who she is.
It’s not hard to believe that the persona she presents herself with in public is a real, albeit exaggerated version of her true self.
She wears her own product. She understands exactly the part of the population that she appeals to, and plays up to that.
Qu Puteh already does well among the Malay populace, and even her recent ‘I Am Me’ song, though written in English, clearly appeals to that demographic.
And her branding has definitely benefited Qu Puteh’s branding.
We can’t, in the end, be sure if Datuk Seri Hasmiza Othman is a role model that people would follow. But we can definitely learn from her.