“The past is a prologue, something to treasure on the long road of life.”
Although life slowed down for many people in China in 2022, the country witnessed many heartwarming stage performances, artist breakthroughs, an emerging new generation of young musicians and the growing role that technology is playing in music.
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To bid farewell to 2022 and usher in 2023, Billboard China spent an evening with 12 musicians from different generations and musical styles. They shared their achievements in 2022, their thoughts on the past year, and expressed their expectations for the future.
Keep Singing and Exploring
Even though Zheng Jun, Zhang Yuan and Su Xing (Allen Su) are industry veterans, 2022 was a brand-new experience for them.
Zheng Jun, a Chinese rock legend, was among the cast of contestants when Call Me by Fire (Season 2) premiered in August. In an interview, he said that his friends were afraid that his participation in the show would “make him lose his integrity in his later years,” but he responded that, “In my later years, I intend to break new personal ground, not preserve the old.”
In trailers for the show, Zheng stunned audiences with his casual demeanor. Far from seeming “called by fire,” he instead practiced meditation, ate barbecue and applied facial masks. When it came time to hit the stage, he instantly took audiences back to the golden age of rock and roll with his floral shirts and classic swagger. Zheng has claimed that “all I’ve ever dreamed of is true love and freedom,” and this sentiment shines through in his stage performances.
People have commented how Zheng seems to have remained the same, something all-too-rare in these ever-changing times. For Zheng, his reverence for his songs, his passion for music and his dedication to creating the best art possible has never changed.
In other ways, however, Zheng has changed. He is now more relaxed, happier and more optimistic. For him, the show feels like an adventure with friends both old and new. Before the competition got underway, Zheng sent a message to his friend Faye Wong saying that his only goal was to “have fun.”
In contrast, Zhang Yuan and Su Xing (Allen Su) brought about an upswing for themselves in 2022. 0713, the down-and-out men’s team, finally saw things turn around after an unexpected resurgence in popularity after their appearance on Welcome to the Mushroom House.
Reflecting on 2022, Zhang Yuan says he is pleased that he participated in as many music variety shows as he did. He is also happy that he managed to secure many different stages to show what he was capable of, and that he got to participate in some original soundtracks. Su also joked about having such a heavy workload on the show that it was enough to make him “happy for more than half a year.”
From Super Boy (Happy Boy) to Welcome to the Mushroom House, and then onto even bigger and better stages down the line, 0713 owe their success to their persistence. Zhang Yuan continued to innovate with his music, and found that music and the stage still held the highest allure for him, even after having been in the industry for many years.
Su cast an even wider net. He participated in talk shows, tried his hand at being a sports blogger and dabbled in content planning for variety shows.
They may be pursuing different goals, but they are taking a similar path. Personal milestones and progress will come naturally when you love what you do and keep an open and inquisitive heart and mind.
Zheng Jun, the oldest member, along with Zhang Yuan and Su Xing (Allen Su), come from the first generation of talent shows. Throughout the years, their admiration and love for music has never faded, and they have ceaselessly explored the infinite possibilities that music affords them. Overcoming all obstacles that lay ahead of them, they always walk their own path.
New Styles and Tasks
Some musicians focus on their styles and areas of expertise, while others turn to new tasks and directions, enjoying the occasional detour in their musical journey.
From Morning Bound for Midnight to The Direction of Light, music fans have become familiar with Zhang Bichen’s work over the past few years. Somewhat unusually for someone with such a commanding stage presence, Zhang openly admits that she has maintained the habit of ”thinking and summarizing” ever since her debut. In her creative process both on and off the stage, she has carefully analyzed her own experiences, and jumps at any opportunity she gets to compare and contrast them with other musicians.
This constant loop of dissection and communication led her to make some interesting creative choices in 2022. Wearing a spunky ponytail and a light and comfortable denim jacket, Zhang walked out into the auditorium with a completely revamped image, jumping up and down as she sang “Select C.” This was the first time that Zhang, a singer with extensive stage experience, had participated in a show where she could interact with the audience more directly. This experience has made her look forward to dipping her toes into other music styles and discovering more aspects of herself in 2023 while she prepares her new album.
Both Pan Yunqi and Wang Yinuo started as trainees of the 2022 season of Sing! China, and they now have officially embarked on the road of becoming professional musicians. For these two fresh faces, the world is their oyster.
Although Pan is very young, she is often praised for her assertive stage presence. Possessing a maturity beyond her years, she excels at heartwarming narrative-based songs, but also tried her hand at “My Good Luck,” which is more of a traditional ballad. While she may be new, this college student is clearly not afraid of trying new things.
Wang’s timid outwardly appearance belies the robustness of his singing voice. A quote from one of his songs: “Just look forward, don’t look at money/ At least your heart will not loosen when you look forward.” Offstage, he is a down-to-earth and sensible person who stresses the importance of healthy eating and sleeping habits.
After singing a series of popular OSTs, Ye Xuanqing began to delve into more original works as well as production. She said that learning about different artistic processes could help improve her ability to appreciate art, facilitate her own ability to create, and further clarify where she stood amongst all of this.
Hu Shih, a Chinese litterateur once said, “Why be afraid of the infinity of truth? Joy resides in every step of growth.” Newcomers and veterans in the music industry always face new tasks. So long as they dare to think, do, and try, they can unlock the infinite potential that resides within them.
Find the Right Positioning and Expand the Boundaries
For the young musicians who are on the rise, 2022 was undoubtedly an important moment for them to mature as artists. Some of them released their first EPs, and some had their first concerts.
In an industry where newcomers are always emerging en masse, young musicians often regard finding where they fit in and answering the question of “Who am I?” as the most important task every new year.
Chen Zhuoxuan was nothing if not blunt. “The pressure of this competition is through the roof,” Chen Zhuoxuan says bluntly. Her solution to deal with the pressure? Determine the musical style and direction that best suits her and try her utmost to stand out as an artist. In her spare moments, she practices her songs and has been learning the cello, guitar, and ukulele. She has also been studying arrangement and other music-related skills.
For Wu Xuanyi, it’s all about passion. To be given an opportunity to stand in the spotlight and express herself is the greatest reward her musical journey has given her so far. She prefers using her passion in pursuit of personal satisfaction and growth. Wu firmly believes that the most basic elements are the most important ones, so she always trains her basic skills and vocalization to ensure that they can always be called upon when needed.
Relative newcomer He Luoluo says in the interview that making plans wasn’t his strong suit — he just wants to experience the here and now. But he remains remarkably serious when it comes to his music and performing on stage. After an initial period where he lacked direction, he eventually entered the entertainment industry when he was 18 years old. Now in his twenties, he has his feet firmly planted on the ground.
Yang Haoming hopes to pursue music and acting simultaneously, as he “can’t stand the idea of having any regrets.” Yang has been acting in film and television dramas since his debut as a music artist. He released a new EP immediately after having a difficult time with his acting agent. Yang felt that his heart was telling him to push himself to expand his boundaries.
On Dec. 12, TME announced the debut of Lucy, the company’s first hyper-realistic virtual idol, creating another hot topic for Chinese music circles in 2022.
After the release of her first single, “Superposition State Girl,” many music fans wondered if Lucy’s voice was real. In fact, her voice is generated by feeding her mass amounts of data pertaining to the singing and timbres of specific targets. Her proficient singing abilities allow her voice to span multiple octaves with ease as well as pull off transposition, trills and portamentos.
As an AI idol, Lucy also has her own independent personality and preferences. Being intensely curious about daily life, she likes to observe and collect the sounds and sights of the world around her. Subway announcements on a busy line in the early morning, the sound of coffee beans being ground in the afternoon, the ticking sound of the traffic lights counting down in the evening…they are all enough to light a creative spark within Lucy.
The virtual idol must face the challenge of breaking through walls between virtual and real world in order to truly communicate with audiences and other musicians. Wandering in different dimensions is also a constant source of inspiration for Lucy. Achieving cross-dimensional cooperation with human musicians is one of her goals in 2023.
Lucy is more than an AI idol who produces AI music. In the future, a new open-source sound based on Lucy’s voice will facilitate music creation in other application scenarios. Music creators will be able to make use of Lucy’s voice clips or open-source sounds to achieve technology-driven creative music co-creation.
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