Post-pop stars

Updated 2017-04-12 09:00:53 China Daily
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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.

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Students at Shandong University of Science and Technology interact with indie folk singers Guo Zi and Ji Xiang on campus in Qingdao, Shandong province.

Zhao Qi, a 24-year-old lawyer in Beijing, is one of the singer's fans. She says his song Mother resonates with her life.

“My mother was in hospital then and the song immediately touched me because it tells a story of Zhao Lei and his mother,” says Zhao Qi.

She attended almost all the live performances of Zhao Lei. Now she is a leader of Zhao Lei's fan club online.

“He is special because he writes about his life, rather than following any trend. I love his lyrics, which are real and close to me,” Zhao Qi says. “I believe that many people share my feelings about Zhao Lei's music.”

After singing Chengdu on the popular variety show Singer, Zhao Lei sang Thirty-Year-Old Women, a song from his second album, Jim Restaurant, released in 2014. Unlike the universally positive feedback Zhao received from listeners with Chengdu, Thirty-Year-Old Women stirred controversy with its lyrics about single women over 30. Zhao sings: “She is 30 and unmarried. She smiles with wrinkles around her eyes. I can hear your laughter and loneliness.”

As one of the country's biggest new music stars now, Zhao is credited with enabling other young Chinese indie performers to find the limelight.

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Ma Di.

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