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Idol Lay Zhang becomes Mandopop pioneer by fusing traditional Chinese culture with pop music

2021/10/27 10:37:19   source:Global Times

Promotional material of Lay Zhang''s new album Jade Photo: Snapshot of Sina Weibo

Promotional material of Lay Zhang's new album "Jade" Photo: Snapshot of Sina Weibo

Not too long after the internationally popular idol Lay Zhang celebrated his 30th birthday earlier in October, he revealed his latest EP East, in which he fuses his unique style with traditional Chinese elements, paving the way to be the creative pioneer in Mandopop.

Zhang's EP took inspiration from the star's love of Chinese culture and his own personal life experiences. It is not only a mix of music elements such as the sound of the bamboo flute or the pipa, or Chinese lute, with the sound of the 808bass that is often heard in hip-pop trap music, but also uses stories inspired by cultural relics like the Buddhist murals at the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang to describe his own life.

Zhang's new direction has been supported by quite a number of his fans, with many saying that the EP is more than a skin-deep exploration of the merging of Chinese culture and pop music.

"I've been a fan of Lay ever since he was a trainee in EXO. I think he has matured a lot when it comes to using Chinese elements in his music, beginning from just using iconic instruments to incorporating Chinese philosophical thought in his songs to express his attitude toward life. It is more grounded and not just skating on the surface of the water," Wessie, a fan of Zhang, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"In Chinese traditional culture we like the idea of 'leaving a blank space.' It inspired me to see that my music needs to provide free room for listeners to imagine," Zhang told media in an interview.

Zhang's pursuit doesn't seem to be limited to just bringing Chinese culture to pop music, he seems to have bigger ambitions - wanting to use this mixed music style to define the distinctive charm of Mandopop.

"What he is trying to do is to promote Mandopop to the level of the other two, Cantopop and Tai-pop, the C-pop that is similar to K-pop. His approach is to use the abundant cultural and historical resources of the Chinese mainland in his music so that the culture's depth and its distinctive characteristics naturally differentiate his music from others," Yu Dong, a music expert, told the Global Times.

"This took an artist reflecting on the industry in order to come up with this new road. His international experience also helped," added Yu.

Before going solo and focusing on his mixed cultural style, Zhang debuted in 2012 in South Korea as a member of the hot idol band EXO. 

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