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TikTok’s Boss Goes From Reserved Tech Exec to Met Gala Chair

Though the Met Gala serves as a branding occasion for Vogue, it has lengthy accepted sponsorships from the tech giants which have threatened the very survival of legacy media publications.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, appeared because the ball’s honorary chair in 2012. 4 years later, when Apple was a Met Gala sponsor, its chief government, Tim Prepare dinner, confirmed up in tux and tails. And Instagram equipped money in 2022.

The 2024 occasion is sponsored, partially, by TikTok, the social media goliath whose future seems murkier than that of Condé Nast, the writer of Vogue, The New Yorker and different magazines, which has laid off staff and shuttered or offered off a few of its publications lately.

TikTok discovered itself in jeopardy final month, when President Biden signed a invoice that gave ByteDance, the Chinese language firm that owns TikTok, 9 months to unload the app or face a ban in the USA. Within the wake of that political firestorm, Shou Chew, the 41-year-old chief government of TikTok, is predicted to hitch dozens of superstar friends on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in Manhattan on Monday night.

He was chosen by Anna Wintour as an honorary chair for the profit, which raises tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} every year for the museum’s Costume Institute. Ms. Wintour, the worldwide editorial director of Condé Nast and the editor in chief of Vogue, has run the occasion for 1 / 4 of a century, utilizing her sense of superstar and vogue synergy to create a splashy showcase of a number of the world’s most influential individuals, a bunch that has come to incorporate extra social media influencers and fewer one-name stars (Beyoncé, Woman Gaga, Madonna) lately.

TikTok could also be loathed by Washington lawmakers who’ve raised considerations in regards to the Chinese language authorities’s entry to its 170 hundreds of thousands customers in the USA, nevertheless it stays an plain cultural drive in American life, particularly amongst Gen Z. The app can be a vogue drive, and the Met Gala offers many TikTok creators with loads of fodder. That makes the little-known Mr. Chew no less than as highly effective because the far more recognizable co-chairs of this 12 months’s occasion — Zendaya, Jennifer Lopez, Unhealthy Bunny, Chris Hemsworth and Ms. Wintour herself.

Together with TikTok, the luxurious vogue model Loewe is a sponsor; its inventive director, Jonathan Anderson, will serve alongside Mr. Chew as an honorary chair.

TikTok declined to disclose its monetary contribution to the star-studded occasion. In earlier years, a sponsor is thought to have kicked in roughly $5 million.

Mr. Bezos and Mr. Prepare dinner have been identified portions once they greeted the likes of Rihanna and Beyoncé at earlier Met Galas. Mr. Chew, alternatively, is more likely to go unrecognized by a lot of the gawkers who line up behind the barricades alongside Fifth Avenue, lots of whom could also be making TikTok movies on their telephones.

Beginning in 2022, when U.S. lawmakers have been turning up the warmth on TikTok, the corporate modified its public relations technique. As an alternative of conserving a low profile, it launched into a allure offensive, with the fresh-faced Shou (pronounced “present”) Chew entrance and middle.

As TikTok plowed hundreds of thousands into its lobbying efforts, Mr. Chew met with the heads of assume tanks in Washington and world leaders on the World Financial Discussion board in Davos, Switzerland. At The New York Instances’s DealBook convention in November 2022, he fielded questions on nationwide safety considerations whereas carrying denims, an off-the-cuff blue blazer over a white T-shirt, and white sneakers that regarded contemporary out of the field.

His anticipated look on the Met Gala — as soon as a staid affair for New York blue bloods that has develop into an East Coast Oscars on Ms. Wintour’s watch — may be considered as a part of TikTok’s shift in the way it presents itself to the general public. However this time round, as an alternative of sitting down with those that have affect over issues of coverage, the TikTok chief shall be standing on a purple carpet earlier than a squadron of photographers.

Mr. Chew, who declined by way of a TikTok consultant to be interviewed for this text, grew up in Singapore. That’s the place he has his primary residence along with his spouse, Vivian Kao, 42, a onetime Goldman Sachs affiliate, and their three kids. In 2021, the couple spent greater than $60 million on a home within the Queen Astrid Park space of the island nation, in line with The Enterprise Instances of Singapore.

The household is extremely non-public. A uncommon glimpse of Ms. Kao and certainly one of their kids appeared in a video that Mr. Chew posted on TikTok from a current Taylor Swift live performance at Singapore Nationwide Stadium.

Mr. Chew has stated that his father labored in building and that his mom was a bookkeeper. After attending certainly one of Singapore’s high secondary faculties, he accomplished two years of necessary nationwide service within the Singapore Armed Forces, the place he was an officer. From there, he enrolled at College Faculty London.

After graduating in 2006 with a level in economics, he took a job within the London workplace of Goldman Sachs. That was the place he met Nathalie du Preez, who stays a pal of his.

“We sat on the identical flooring, and he was strolling previous,” Ms. du Preez recalled in a cellphone interview.

In an early dialog, they discovered that that they had each utilized to Harvard Enterprise Faculty. They took espresso breaks collectively at Leonidas Goodies across the nook from the workplace.

After they arrived at Harvard within the fall of 2008, Ms. du Preez and Mr. Chew shared a experience with a bunch of individuals certain for Ikea. They have been simply two of the numerous college students looking out for moderately priced dwelling décor objects.

“He’s come a good distance since then,” she stated.

Ms. du Preez and several other different Harvard Enterprise Faculty classmates interviewed for this text recalled Mr. Chew as somebody who was humorous, though they might not recall a particular humorous factor he had stated. Additionally they agreed that he was razor-sharp, however provided no explicit examples of his acuity.

They described him as interested by popular culture and sports activities, saying he was a fan of Manchester United and recalling that he had attended a David Guetta present on the Roxy in Boston. They talked about that he appreciated video video games, together with the soccer recreation FIFA, and famous that he was the tidiest of his roommates.

Mr. Chew met the lady who would develop into his spouse, Ms. Kao, once they have been each at Harvard Enterprise Faculty. A graduate of Wellesley Faculty, she had grown up in Bethesda, Md., and is Taiwanese American.

Mr. Chew and Ms. Kao discovered themselves in enterprise college because the monetary disaster arrived. “We referred to as it the ‘simply in time’ admissions class, as a result of the markets crashed that fall,” Caren Kelleher, a fellow classmate, stated in an interview.

Though it was a time when large banks have been failing, a few of Mr. Chew’s fellow enterprise college students have been shocked when he took a summer season internship at Fb, reasonably than going into finance. The social media firm was solely 5 years previous and years away from going public.

His classmates later realized he had made a prescient alternative, in line with Jean Abillama, who lived throughout the road from Mr. Chew in Cambridge, Mass. “He was seeing this large wave of tech and e-commerce, the tech wave coming to mild,” she stated.

Grasp’s diploma in hand, he joined DST International, a enterprise capital agency led by Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire who was on his approach to turning into one of the vital necessary non-public buyers in Silicon Valley firms. Mr. Chew served as Mr. Milner’s level man in China, the place he helped lead investments in Alibaba and the Chinese language ride-sharing service DiDi.

Throughout that point, Mr. Milner offered a reported $10 million in financing to a news-aggregation app based by the entrepreneur Zhang Yiming, who developed a rapport with Mr. Chew. The app would develop into ByteDance. Mr. Chew additionally helped with DST International’s funding in Xiaomi, certainly one of China’s largest cellphone producers.

In 2013, Mr. Chew and Ms. Kao have been married. Two years later, Mr. Chew left DST to develop into the chief monetary officer of Xiaomi, which he helped take public in 2018.

Mr. Chew was named the chief monetary officer of ByteDance in March 2021. He ascended to the highest TikTok job two months later. In November of that 12 months, he stepped down as ByteDance’s chief monetary officer.

TikTok’s earlier chief government, Kevin Mayer, had resigned after lower than 4 months on the job, citing the growing stress placed on the corporate by the Trump administration due to its ties to China.

The opposition of U.S. lawmakers didn’t abate through the presidency of Joseph R. Biden Jr. As Mr. Chew labored to maintain lawmakers at bay, he discovered time to attend the 2022 Met Gala with Ms. Kao. He went all-out formal, in conventional white tie and tails; she wore a resplendent floral-patterned robe.

These days, Ms. Kao runs Tamarind International, a household workplace that, in line with its web site, “manages investments and philanthropy” for a “Singaporean household.” Its shareholders embrace Mr. Chew and a belief linked to Mr. Chew and Ms. Kao, in line with public information.

There was debate about whether or not Mr. Chew — who travels with a small safety element — is the controlling drive at TikTok. Firm sources have advised The Instances that main strategic selections have been dealt with by Mr. Yiming, amongst others.

Mr. Chew displayed a way of enjoyable in his TikTok deal with — @shou.time — which riffs on the pronunciation of his first title. However the account didn’t have a lot of a following till March 2023, when he was grilled by Congress.

Beneath aggressive questioning, Mr. Chew was made to repeat that he was a citizen of Singapore, not China. He went on to emphasize that TikTok was not managed by the Chinese language Communist Occasion and famous that his spouse is an American, telling his questioners, “By the way in which, she was simply born a couple of miles away from right here.”

That was the looks that catapulted him into public consciousness. Earlier than the listening to, he had fewer than 20,000 TikTok followers. He now has 3.9 million.

Customers posted clips highlighting belligerent questions from lawmakers. Numerous TikTokers even referred to as Mr. Chew “zaddy,” a slang time period that refers to an older, engaging man.

On Nov. 8, 2023, TikTok introduced that it could function “the lead sponsor” of this 12 months’s Metropolitan Museum of Artwork Costume Institute Profit, the formal title of the Met Gala. Days after the announcement, Vogue Singapore printed a uncommon sit-down interview with Mr. Chew.

He was photographed in Louis Vuitton denims and a velvet Brunello Cucinelli blazer, and he spoke benignly about his necessary service in Singapore’s armed forces in “the jungles of Brunei” and doing diaper responsibility for a 3rd time. “There’s fairly an age hole between this child and the earlier child,” he stated within the interview. “My spouse and I are relearning every thing, like altering diapers.”

Together with different high tech executives, Mr. Chew was referred to as earlier than Congress once more in January. He pressured that he didn’t reside in China and stated he was not a member of the Chinese language Communist Occasion.

Whereas turning down interview requests from information organizations digging into TikTok’s Chinese language ties, Mr. Chew gave an interview to a different Condé Nast publication, Wired, throughout a TikTok music competition in Mesa, Ariz., in December 2023.

The Wired article largely stored the deal with TikTok’s pop-culture footprint whereas seeming to defend it towards its American critics by arguing that “a thinly veiled anti-Chinese language xenophobia has develop into a dependable a part of the U.S. political playbook.” It additionally included an advance plug for Mr. Chew’s look on the Met Gala.

“It’s very cultural,” Mr. Chew advised Wired. “Trend is an extremely necessary a part of TikTok. Louis Vuitton has 12 million followers on our app.” (The designer now has greater than 13 million TikTok followers.)

Ms. du Preez, the Goldman Sachs colleague and Harvard classmate, stated she was not shocked that Mr. Chew could be all for teaming up with Vogue and Ms. Wintour, significantly at a time when the corporate he leads is attempting to indicate that it isn’t managed by China.

“The Met Gala is an extremely well-followed night,” she stated. “When it comes to making mates within the U.S., I believe it could make sense to try this, and everybody who’s going can have a TikTok account.”

Not that she anticipated him to select a memorable ensemble.

“I’ve little doubt Vivian will gown him in one thing lovely,” Ms. du Preez stated. “And at this level he can get numerous recommendation from anybody about what to put on. I’m positive Anna Wintour may give him ideas.”

For the file, Mr. Chew is slated to put on one thing from Ralph Lauren, the American designer whose fondness for purple, white and blue has made him a pure option to outfit U.S. Olympics groups in patriotic garb.

Ryan Mac contributed reporting. Kirsten Noyes contributed analysis.

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