Wu Yifan: The Main Clip Only Just Begun
Wu Yifan celebrated his 26th birthday with the release of his new song. This age is contradictory and full of endless possibilities. It is also the age where one begins to understand the true meaning of life and come to accept regret. So that one can confirm his chosen path and treasure time. He says, his main clip only just begun.
It was slightly over half past seven, when I stepped into Shanghai Gymnasium and realized that I was already late. The lights were switched off. Then I found myself surrounded by thousands of phone lights that looked like a sea of stars. The highs and lows of the “Happy Birthday” medley rang throughout the venue like waves, and with each subsequent moment, there was resounding excitement. This was Wu Yifan’s 26th birthday. Although he has yet to appear on stage, the air was already bursting with excitement, as if it was a balloon that could rupture with a scream within any moment. When he emerged from the center of the stage wearing a silver jacket, without a word, screams erupted like the force of lava spewing out of a volcano.
His trifling moments that I happened to catch a couple days ago in the photography studio flashed in front of me: the bluetooth speaker that accompanied him throughout (“use music to improve the working environment”), the silver grey hair barrette with hints of light purple and sky blue colors, and the black, leather flip cover phone case that no matter how one looks at it, still seem like only a conservative middle age man would choose, had several bank cards neatly placed within. It is rumored, that fans have tried to give him some “fashionable cases,” but he rejected them. Even though the previous case was extremely worn out, he still did not want to let it go, and says “it was practical,” so he went to buy several of the exact design, for just in case.
From time to time, he would furrow his eyebrows, and while walking amidst a crowd of people, he would maintain a steady gaze. His eyes would not easily met; it is a polite distance. He likes using declarative forms. His words are direct and straight to the point and rarely carries any uncertainty. He is used to making the decisions. “People say Scorpios are natural leaders, and I am.” Not finishing what he had to say, he laughed; his brazenness giving in to his shyness. He is aware that he possesses a combination of contradictory elements: a bit of new, a bit of old, a bit of closeness, a bit of distance. “Many people see me as very cold (distanced). In actuality, I’m quite warm (intimate). Everyone needs an opportunity to be introduced a second time.”
After the photoshoot was over that day, I accompanied him to his next work venue. He has to continue voice dubbing for a movie, and it was estimated that end time would be 2 A.M. In the van, he changed into a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. Then he fell back comfortably into the seats. From time to time, he hummed and moved to the music. When the staff did not know how to use the airdrop function, he simply reached out to take the other party’s phone and worked it out himself. While watching his fingers dance across the screens, I could not help but think, here is such a joyful 26 year old.
“Is a black person living within me?”
Music is like a switch in Wu Yifan’s body. Once it’s turned on, it’s like he is powered with a surge of energy. When I mentioned that under his Weibo verification info the word “singer,” he suddenly revealed an exaggerated expression that only an anime character would make, and his fingers began to dance. “We’re finally talking about my music? Let’s. Let’s. Let’s.”
He couldn’t wait to introduce his new song . “From debut until now, this is the music work that I am most satisfied with. This is the first time I put in my all, and immersed everything to produce music.” Where time is spent is evident, and he firmly believes in this principle. “I’m not saying that in the past, I didn’t put in my heart, but restrictions of creativity time would influence your work’s final quality. Whether having many movies or having the single released last year, I would like them to be viewed as trailers, and the main clip is just beginning.”
He spent three months in USA to finish producing, recording, mixing, and master taping. As a producer, he kept a close eye on all the fine details from the beginning to the end. Speaking of it, he simply has that innocent pride. “The musicians that I collaborated with are all especially talented, and one of them is a two-time Grammy Award winner.” At that time, he was in the music studio everyday from 2 in the afternoon to 10 at night. When I asked him if it was because his larynx was at its best during that time period, he over thought about the question. “I’m not sure about my larynx, but it was that time period that I was most comfortable. Many singers are used to recording until the small hours, but I most definitely cannot. Mornings are even more not doable. I tend to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. The music that I make in the morning are all aggravating.”
One song, three months, for him who sets up his work schedule by the hour, is really a luxury. “As an artist, who’s time isn’t valuable? Three months is enough to finish shooting a movie. Actually, there has always been people who buys songs from abroad, but those who go overseas to produce are far and few. Not only does one need a big investment in money and time, one also has to face many uncertainties. But there are always people willing to try, aren’t there?” He believes this is about courage. “In the end, it’s all about how much you want to accomplish this.”
He then begins to explain the different types of and development and history of hip hop music in fine details to me. “It is what I love the most, nothing else like it.” This is what he concluded as his feelings toward hip hop. “It’s being unable to extricate yourself after falling in love with it and perhaps being unable to produce other types of music. For example, it would be very difficult to produce rock music.” Since a young age, he loved wearing those baggy, drop-crotch pants and oversized tees, and felt that life could have a bit more banter and satire. From inside to outer appearance, everything was paying homage to hip hop. “What my close friends and I watched, listened to, and talked about was all on hip hop. I loved every tempo and metre. They were like imprinted on my body. I often think, is there a black person living within me?”
Why go to USA to produce? “The most straightforward reason is that, the quality of music depends hugely on the equipment. Lyrical songs domestically are already done to perfection, but in terms of hip hop or electronic music, domestically it still cannot be said that there is enough equipment or knowledge.” Within his power, he hopes everything is the best. “Not only in equipment, but also in the production of hip hop, USA has more experiences.” The most critical detail is of course himself. “When mixing and recording the master tape, I would ask others ‘what is the difference between these two versions?’ He can’t hear the difference. But because I would be at a loss about which is better, I would continue pondering and go without sleep until five in the morning.”
He repeatedly emphasized that is a song that “has a new hip hop style, and has never happened before,” [and that he] “wants to bring the purest form of hip hop music to everyone.” Having listened, in addition to satisfaction, the song also endowed him a sense of responsibility. The new song was only released online in digital form. He thinks that releasing one song as a physical copy would be “very embarrassing.” “My goal will always be to spread a type of music, some art, some happinesss. I don’t consider too much about making a profit.” As to getting affirmation from a wider range, he does not demand it. “I only want to convey a work of mine, a music piece which, when I listen to it, I feel satisfied, very high, and very happy.”
2% Subtle Difference
That day, after driving for almost over an hour, we were still held up by Beijing’s night traffic, and inching forward sluggishly. Looking at the sea of red tail lights, he could not help but rub his eyes tiredly several times, and get a little restless and impatient. “In the car, most often than not, I cannot fall asleep nor get any rest.” He sighed softly, as the car switched lanes. He was worried that he would not concentrate adequately. “I have to complete everything before I can relax, otherwise it would feel like my heart is carrying a rock.”
Although it was only been a little over two years since he officially returned to China to develop his career, Wu Yifan completed filming 8 movies, and collaborated with internationally renowned people such as Luc Besson, Stephen Chow, Tsui Hark, and Feng Xiaogang. In addition to gracing the cover of almost all the top magazines, he was even appointed brand and product ambassadors for several international top labels including Burberry and Bvlgari. The number of views for the latest song’s music video exceeded 1 million within 14 hours of its release. The opportunities and results that, many people have dreamed of, he simply stretched his hand and grabbed them, while attending to each and every aspect. Even so, he concluded everything as, “I like it. I am happy. I work hard. I don’t let myself down,” and he is a bit of a workaholic. “Most important is passion. Just as long there is a flame kindling, there is no difficulty that cannot be surmounted. People are most afraid of is feeling burned out.”
Such a response sounds like “the standard inspirational words from an idol,” but his solemn expression makes others believe that, this is indeed sums up his insight towards his long-term and demanding career. While working, he can forget that he may be cold, may be hungry, and may be tired. When he sacrifices his freedom for work, and encounters a misunderstanding, he believes this is also reasonable. Everything is fair: you would gain some and would lose some. On the path of growing up, he learned an important lesson: it is only when one is determined about what he geniunely enjoys and persists and contributes all his efforts into said enjoyment, that the process is more rewarding than the product.
In the movie that he recently wrapped up filming, he played the role of Tang Sen which, to the audience and himself, was completely unbelievable at the very beginning. “Directors Stephen Chow and Tsui Hark brought out a side of me that I did not know I had, and I can only say that I was incredibly fortunate to have met them.” Meeting both directors for the first time was not a walk in the park: Stephen Chow wanted him to play a patient with Parkinson’s disease. “I couldn’t imagine myself acting out the kind of whole body trembling.” When he met Tsui Hark, he had yet to shave his head, because both of them was uncertain about the final product. “My heart was beating like seven buckets coming up and eight buckets going down (be perturbed).”
Shaving his head bald for a role was not a big deal, let alone ever since he was young, changing his hairstyles was one of his hobbies. However his record shortest was never more than a crew cut, so he had no idea how he would look bald. Seeing the final result in the mirror for the first time, he merely felt that it was new and strange. “Still look rather handsome!” He did however, spend a rather long period of time to accept the “baldness.” “Waking up, I would still be in a daze. Out of habit, I would touch my hair, and oh no, why is my hair gone? Before sleeping, I would often wonder why it was so cold, so I would always wear a beanie, like a patient.” Those months led him to understand a new side of how hair keeps warmth. “People with hair should really thank the heavens.”
After shaving his head, he felt like an actual monk, and even practiced sitting in a meditation at home every day. “I hoped to get into the character’s state of mind as much as possible. For example, when filiming the last movie <Mr, Six>, I made myself very cold and conversed in a strong Beijing dialect on a regular basis.” The time of filiming was exactly during the coldest part of winter in Beijing. Nighttime was below the negative teens degrees and he had to stay up all night outdoors. During the daytime, he also had to fly back and forth and be suspended by wires. He recalls those days were “rather strenuous,” but he remembers the feeling of excitement in his heart even more clearly. “At the filming site, many people were a tad afraid of Stephen Chow. I however, did not ever felt that way, and thought that his way of thinking was indescribable… Stephen Chow’s shots make use of powerful and unconstrained styles, and there are many spur of the moment and brilliant ideas.”
He paused and tried looking for more precise words to describe the difference between him and others. “They could help you make up the 2% loss.” What is 2%? “It is the minor difference in art. Sometimes you think, oh not bad, but in actuality there is still that 2% difference, which can be seen only if you have an appreciation for the arts. People like Feng Xiaogang and Stephen Chow can accurately grasp that point to the fullest.”
He knows that, before he can fully grasp the “2%” concept, he must first accept that his abilities and confidence are imperfect. “You would always think, hey, how come I didn’t do a better job at that moment? But that can’t be heleped. When I filmed my first movie, Director Xu Jinglei told me that, movies are an imperfect form of art, and it’s inevitable that there is regret.” Now when he is filiming, he simply does not watch the playbacks. “This is not a matter of having or not having confidence. I simply do not wish for my future performances to be influenced.”
The same goes for music. He loves performing live, and there are flaws, but it is that kind of joy that is the combination of excitement and fear that is most precious. He has already accepted the fact that “before going up on stage he will definitely feel nervous.” “I always worry about making mistakes, but once I’m on stage, that is forgotten. Really, I always don’t remember what I said on stage. Standing up there, I only enjoy [the moment].” This year, as a model he walked the runway for the Burberry fashion show, and before the start of the show, he prayed secretly. “I hoped that I would not walk around in circles and go astray, and not fall in front of everyone.” Afterwards, the appraisal that he received was that he was relax and composed, and was moving agilely.
Since entering into this career, he feels that he has not changed. He already enjoys staying at home, and now he has even less opportunities to go out. “But this is alright. Actually I enjoy staying at home to watch movies, and it feels like I have the whole cinema to myself. Bored and I could play video games. The 2D world can let me make a lot of interesting friends.” Furthermore he has never felt lonely. His best friends are always by his side, and no matter in the world, there are always fans waiting for him to come out of the airport. “Everywhere feels like home, and it feels especially warm.” They cherish him and understand him. “I have my way of doing things. At times, ten days to half a month could past before I post on Weibo, and all staff members would say, this is no good and how could you disappear from the face of the earth…but fans know that when I want to say something is when I will. They allow me to be myself.”
The only change “is I’ve become old!” He repeated it several times, and of course, as a joke – because his youth allows him to talk about age without the slightest scruple. In the face of innumerable new things that is coming towards him from all directions, he is not greedy. He deeply believes and says that “no” is a must-have ability. “I’m fully aware of my limits, and I’ve never made myself do anything I don’t like.” He is also starting to experience the stress of time. “No one knows what will happen tomorrow, and everyone would rather look at the present, and not want to look at the future. Therefore I have to maximize the limited time to a better extent, to not have any regrets.”
Trans © Icingonyou 2016