The new-generation indie folk singer-songwriters (from top) Li Zhi, Zhao Lei and Ma Di captivate much bigger audiences now with their trademark contemporary minyao style.
Indie songwriters and performers are grabbing their share of attention and sales as the internet opens up the music scene.
This time last year, Zhao Lei was a relatively unknown indie folk singer-songwriter. His trademark contemporary style, minyao in Chinese, literally meaning folk music or ballads, captivated a small but stable fan base in China with its guitar-driven gentle melodies and poetic lyrics.
Then something unexpected happened.
In early February, he performed on the popular variety show Singer, broadcast on Hunan Satellite TV, in which veteran Chinese singers compete and audiences vote. Dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, the 30-year-old Zhao performed one of his songs, Chengdu, which relates his memories of the city.
His performance soon brought Zhao wide fame and acclaim. The number of followers on his Sina Weibo account increased by 50,000 overnight and some fans wrote on his Weibo that they wanted to visit Chengdu after listening to the song.
“Everything took off a little bit faster than we had imagined,” says Zhao. “I just performed a song on TV. I didn't want to become a superstar overnight.”
Chengdu was released on Zhao's album Almost Grown Up, in October 2016. So far, the album has sold more than 200,000 copies.