Zhang Liangying (张靓颖; born October 11, 1984), also known as Jane Zhang, is a Chinese pop singer. She rose to prominence after her third-place performance in the 2005 season of the Super Girl contest, a national all-female singing competition in the People’s Republic of China. Throughout the competition, she sang in English, Spanish, and Cantonese, in addition to Mandarin Chinese. She is particularly known for her signature whistle register which earned her a nickname, “The Dolphin Princess”.

In February 2007, she was invited by World Peace One (WP1) to join a hundred world-renowned singers and bands to record a song called “Give Your Love”. This was aimed to bring attention to all cultures of the globe. This project aims to promote awareness of the poverty of third-world countries. Zhang was the only Asian female singer who received an invitation to participate and it was reported that Craig Williams recommended Zhang to the organiser of the event.

Gavin Christopher and Jane Zhang performing I’ll Be There in Pasadena, California, US.

Zhang performed her first North American concert on March 31, 2007, in Pasadena, California. Famous Japanese musician Kitarō and Gavin Christopher also attended the concert, in which Gavin Christopher and Zhang sang I’ll Be There together. On April 8, 2007, she was awarded the Best Singer Award in the 2007 Music Chart Awards ceremony was held in Beijing Exhibition Centre Theater.

Zhang made her American television singing debut on The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 11, 2009.

Her father was an engine attendant for a transportation company in Chengdu, and her mother was an office assistant. During her childhood, she performed at her parents’ workplace on several occasions. However, her parents divorced when she was 13; two years later, Zhang’s father died. This forced her to work outside of school; she started to sing at a local public house, where her uncle played the accompaniments.

On July 4, 2015, Jane Zhang announced that her boyfriend was Feng Ke (冯轲, also known as Michael Feng), the CEO of Show City Times, her management company. On October 8, 2016, they announced that their wedding and married in Italy on November 9.

Edited from Wikipedia

Could Jane Zhang become China’s first global pop star?

Jane Zhang is a pop megastar in China but her latest single breaks the mould of China’s pop industry and could help her become its first global superstar, writes Grace Tsoi of BBC Chinese.

She first became a household name in 2005 when she finished as the second runner-up in Super Girl, a Chinese TV singing contest similar to Pop Idol.

She made a lasting impression with her impressive vocal range and was even nicknamed the “Dolphin Princess” – “dolphin notes” is Chinese slang for being able to hit the high notes.

Although she is yet to make an impact internationally, she regularly performs English-language tracks and was once even a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Not your average music video

Still from Jane Zhang's
Jane Zhang said it was a lot of fun while shooting the music video

But the music video of her latest single “Dust My Shoulders Off”, an upbeat track produced by Timbaland, may help her get one step closer to her dream of international stardom.

Its success will be critical for Zhang, being the first single from her first English-language album, scheduled for release in April. It has had more than 5.8 million views on YouTube and the single reached top five in the iTunes chart, a first for a Chinese artist.

The video parodies iconic art pieces, from Edvard Munch’s The Scream to Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and has delighted viewers with its creativity and humour.

Original song artist Jane Zhang poses on arrival for the premiere of the film 'Terminator Genisys' in Hollywood, California on June 28, 2015
Jane Zhang will release her first English-language album next year

“I am a Chinese singer, but this song targets the English-speaking audience. The video needs to be about something that people across different cultures can understand,” Zhang told the BBC.

She and production staff spent 48 hours non-stop shooting the video, and it was not a comfortable experience.

“I was painted over and over again throughout the production. It was painful to remove the makeup. My face was swollen after we finished the shooting for the second painting.”

But it is a sharp contrast to videos from most Chinese-language artists.

“Stars have to be beautiful or sexy in Chinese-language music videos, or the stars’ dance moves have to be shown clearly,” said the video’s Taiwanese director, Liao Jen Shuai.

“I told her that I have to let the audience remember your cool and fun personality. I have to let them know you are a brave singer who loves challenges. To break into the US market, this is the thing that matters.”

Music streaming

This represents a more sophisticated approach, but does it mean that the time is ripe for a Chinese breakthrough in the Western music industry?

CoCo Lee speaks onstage during Macy's Presents Fashion's Front Row kicks-off New York Fashion Week at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on September 7, 2016 in New York City
CoCo Lee has been one of the most successful Chinese singers trying to enter the international market

“Historically, it’s been really difficult for international artists to make a global impact,” said Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst with media consultancy firm Midia.

He points out that streaming eased access for international artists who sing in English – some Swedish musicians found success like this. But there is a downside.

“It makes everybody essentially just look like American-style artists,” he added.

Many of Zhang’s songs are ballads and she has become known in China for her emotive performances.

Unique qualities

“Artists have to ask themselves who they are, what they represent and what kind of unique qualities they have. It is not a must for artists to copy everything from Western stars,” said Joanna Huang, former vice-president of international record company EMI in the China region.

She points out that Asian record companies, including Korean and Japanese ones, did try to try to crack the international market by hiring big-name producers and releasing English albums, but to little effect.

She thinks integrating unique cultural elements into music production may be part of the answer.

(L-R) Yuimetal, Su-metal, and Moametal of the band Babymetal Visit Music Choice on April 4, 2016 in New York City
Joanna Huang thinks Japanese band Babymetal is founded on an interesting concept and has a shot of success in the global market

She cites the example of Babymetal, a Japanese metal band featuring three teenage girls. Even though the band caters to a niche market, it has been received positively by Western audiences.

“Metal does not originate from Asia. But they manage to mix the kawaii [cuteness] and heavy metal elements together.”

Reality shows and apps

Music industry insiders say artists like Zhang have to craft a clever strategy.

Appearing on reality television shows and chat shows and synchronising music with apps are some ways Chinese artists can get “in front of Western audiences who otherwise wouldn’t otherwise find you”, Mulligan said.

But Huang also sees opportunities in the expansion of China’s technology and entertainment businesses and suggests that singing theme songs for upcoming films is one way of getting a foothold.

The cast and director attend a press conference for their new movie
Chinese companies have been investing in Hollywood movies, which in turn may help them launch their career internationally.

Zhang is already the voice of a promotional song for upcoming blockbuster The Great Wall.

More collaboration with expanding telecommunication companies is also an option that could see phones and tablets made by Chinese manufacturers carrying their music – and this has already started happening.

For Joanna Huang, this is the moment to strike.

“Over the last century, there has never been a better moment for Chinese-speaking music stars to try breaking into the global market.”

BBC 21 December 2016

Additional reporting by Zoe Chen


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