Truly a super woman

Updated: 2011-05-27 10:55

By Chen Nan (China Daily European Weekly)

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Truly a super woman
Li Yuchun won the 2005 Super Girl contest, the most watched TV show in Chinese history. Provided to China Daily 

Li Yuchun first came to prominence in 2005 as the Super Girl winner, and since then has become an international star

Li Yuchun's loyal fans were ecstatic when she made an appearance in Beijing to unveil a 15-minute music movie for her new single, Prelude. Dressed in gold leather pants and black jacket, she looked every inch the superstar and seemed to be enjoying herself.

But sitting in the office of her agent, EE-Media, the 26-year-old says the best thing that has happened lately wasn't her top selling records or sold-out concerts, but the 10-day vacation she spent in London.

"The trip was for personal recreation, not work," she says. "I went with my family and I was just like any other tourist, eating at restaurants, shopping and walking around the city," she says.

"I was exhausted after working nonstop for five years, so I was happy to be alone and enjoying the vacation."

It was her first break since winning the Super Girl competition in 2005, an American Idol-like contest produced by Hunan Satellite Television, which drew the largest audiences in the history of Chinese television.

With some 400 million people tuning in for each program, the show enabled the then 21-year-old, a music institute student from Chengdu, Sichuan province, to become one of the most popular entertainment figures in China.

The 1.7-meter tall, 50 kg singer was a hit because she was so different from traditional Chinese beauties. With a look that featured a thatch of frizzy hair, jeans and no make-up, media described Li as boyish.

This look led to rumors that she is lesbian, of which Li is dismissive.

"It's their choice to say anything. I am an independent person and I live my life," she says

As for the win that changed her life, she says: "I had no strong feelings (at the time) about the victory because the process was so tiring and I had no time to sleep."

What lingers in her mind is a conversation she had with her mother on the phone after the finals, who said: "Great! Now come home."

She didn't make it back home to Chengdu until nine months later, when she celebrated her 22nd birthday with an unplugged concert called Why Me? that has become an annual event organized by her fans.

She became famous not only in China, but internationally and this was dubbed the "Li Yuchun phenomenon".

She was ranked eighth in Forbes magazine's annual Chinese mainland celebrity rankings, in 2007, which is based on income and media exposure. She has also appeared on the cover of Time magazine's Asian version twice.

Her father, a railway police officer, and her mother, a housewife who wanted her to be a doctor, never expected their daughter would be a household name.

When she told them she wanted to study music and not take the national university entrance exam at 18, they were shocked but respected her choice and found a music tutor for her. When she was enrolled to study at Sichuan Conservatory of Music, her parents hoped she would be a music teacher.

"My mother once joked, 'It was just a singing competition. How come you became a star?'" Li says. "I agree with my mother because I really have no idea how I became who I am today."

At the time, as one of the country's most promising stars, she was backed by two teams, EE-Media, a management company that sponsors the wildly popular Super Boy and Super Girl contests, and Taihe Rye Music Company, a record label which is home to stars such as Zhang Yadong and Lao Lang.

Li's debut single, Sweetheart, I Love You came out in time for Christmas 2005 and topped the mainland music charts, setting the pattern for subsequent releases.

Li's career appears to have been plain sailing, and everything she does is discussed in minute detail, such as wearing a skirt on stage or expressing her wish to have a boyfriend.

A turning point was her self-penned fourth album, Chris Lee, released in August 2009, which she promoted with a concert at the capital's Wukesong Arena. Tickets sold out in three hours and nearly 20,000 fans attended

"It feels great on stage, and I can sometimes hear foreign fans calling out my English name, Chris Lee. I should feel proud, shouldn't I?"

"With so many people around you saying that you're the best, sometimes it's very difficult to get a sense of yourself."

She returned home after the concert and spent time with old friends. Chatting with her teacher at the conservatory also helped her find her inner peace and renew her career goals.

"He encouraged me to write more songs in the future and I will remember that forever," she says.

She insists that a singer should have a sense of self.

"I don't think I have that quality as a singer If I want to carry on in music I need to figure out what's my appeal," she says.

To improve her musical style and image Li put together a team after she renewed her contract with EE-Media in December 2010 that will help her make five albums in the next five years.

"I am a person who has lots of ideas. For the company, I am troublesome because I often say no to them. I don't like shooting advertisements, for example, and the company is good about giving me lots of freedom," she says.

As for the music for her upcoming album, she is tightlipped about the details, but does say she wrote most of the songs herself and they were created when she was on the road.

"I have lots of weird ideas and I write randomly. Everything can inspire me, such as a TV program or a cup of tea," she says. "But the core is that those materials are original and personal."

In addition to the music, Li is also scheduled to appear in movies over the next five years, though she says her dream of having a rock band is still top of the agenda.

"The past five years taught me how to balance hope and fear. I am happy that I can still make music without losing myself."


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