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The elephant in Shang Wenjie's room
Publication Date : 07-09-2012
Often compared to Lady Gaga because of her visual style, the Chinese singer says music, not fashion, comes first.
Some call her avant-garde and innovative, while others say she is simply trying too hard to imitate Lady Gaga. But whatever diehard fans and critics throw at her, Shang Wenjie is unperturbed.
On the cover of her latest album, "Ode to the Doom", her visually stunning style gets another upgrade.
The 30-year-old singer dresses in a white gown manufactured by the independent Chinese designer Masha Ma. Her lips are deep red and a white hat almost covers her eyes.
"It's so pathetic. People just look at what I wear and don't listen to the music," she says in the lobby of a Beijing five-star hotel recently.
After hours of shooting for a fashion magazine from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., she looks exhausted. With short hair, smoky eyes, and a black-and-white dress, Shang insists she is not a Chinese Lady Gaga.
"After you listen to my songs, you will understand why I dress like that. It's not an imitation of anyone, rather it's catching up with my music."
She says she often sits in front of the mirror for hours to do her makeup. Her high heels torture her and the flash from cameras hurts her eyes. But she understands image is part of music.
"I understand [singers] have to do this to appeal to a wider audience. It's just part of the media business," she adds. "But for me, it's all about the music. I have songs first, and then the record company comes up with a theme and finally, we get the clothes."
Like her 2011 album, In, which won her numerous awards, Shang composed and wrote the lyrics for all 15 new songs on the new album, which contains two CDs, mostly of electronic music.
"I don't think people in China know much about electronic music. It's a huge industry in the United States and European countries, but in China most people have a limited idea about the music genre," she says.
"I've been listening to a variety of electronic music since I was at university and I would say it's my favourite music genre."
The Shanghai native first found fame in 2006 as the champion of Hunan Satellite TV Station's reality talent contest "Super Girl Singing Competition".
A French major from Shanghai's Fudan University, Shang worked as a translator for a French company in Shanghai before starting her singing career.
She also studied German for two years and taught herself Spanish after being introduced to Latin American music.
In the albums, "In" and "Ode to the Doom", Shang composed all the songs in English. She also adds lots of rapping, in French.
Having released eight albums since winning the singing competition, Shang says the transition to writing her own songs is a natural career progression.
"I hadn't realised my language advantage until I wrote my own songs," she says.
"Music is a very personal thing and I am happy that I can express myself via songwriting."
She recalls that the transition from being a white-collar worker to a pop star was not hard, adding that she is a workaholic and "being a star under the spotlight is both exciting and pathetic".
She admits the most challenging part of her career was ditching her girl-next-door image in early 2010 and debuting a spunky, outrageous style, which has since filled fashion spreads in magazines like Elle China.
Shang says she didn't mean to become a fashion icon. The clothes she wears are just a reflection of her music. "The two parts are inseparable," she says.
When talking about her future plans, Shang says she hasn't any particular goals. "If it comes, it comes," she says.
"I am not a persistent person. I am persistent only when I want to prove myself to some people. Now, I just want to make it slow and write some good music, some Shang Wenjie music."