[EXCLUSIVE] Wanting Qu’s Rise as an International Singer-Songwriter
Many people fell in love with Wanting Qu (曲婉婷) after listening to her smash hit, “You Exist in My Song” <我的歌聲裡>. Characterized by an evocative voice, melodic tunes, and meaningful lyrics, Wanting’s songs draw inspiration from her own love stories and adventures. The results are honest, raw, and joyous, prompting us to celebrate life through music.
Singing in both English and Mandarin, Wanting’s debut album last year, Everything in the World, was certified platinum six times and she won fifteen Best New Artist Awards across Asia. Wanting’s music videos received more than 100 million combined views. The 30-year-old singer-songwriter has shown through her heartfelt pieces that music can be universally appreciated without language barriers.
Such success was almost fated from the beginning of Wanting’s life. Born in Harbin, China, Wanting started playing the piano when she was six years old and loved singing along to Wakin Chau (周華健), Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson’s songs. When she was sixteen years old, Wanting left China to study in Canada, where her exposure to different music genres grew. Although Wanting received a Business Management degree, she never let go of her music dreams. She formed a band and started composing her own music. Introducing herself to Nettwerk Music Group founder, Terry McBride, at a concert, Wanting impressed in a followup tape demo and landed a recording contract. Wanting was the first Chinese artist signed by Nettwerk, and her popularity was instantaneous.
To support her sophomore album, Say the Words, Wanting is currently touring major cities in the United States and Canada. During a stop in Toronto, Wanting spoke with JayneStars in an exclusive phone interview and chatted about her early life in China, music aspirations, and exciting plans ahead.
JayneStars: What was your childhood like in Harbin, China?
Wanting: I was a typical Chinese girl growing up in China. It wasn’t much fun, since we’re all under the pressure of getting good grades. Harbin is a city with four distinct seasons. In winter, we enjoy a lot of outdoor activities that people in southern China don’t get to experience. Being a Harbin girl was fun as I loved to skate.
When I was twelve years old, I became very tomboyish and was not girly at all. I didn’t hear much praise from my mom growing up. She would always find things that I’m not good at, hoping to make me into a better person. But it’s not good for a kid growing up to have no self- confidence. She was unhappy about my music [dreams]. The more she disapproved of me, I wanted to show that she was wrong and I can do it. It made me strive to do my best.
JayneStars: Was this the reason why you moved to Canada at the age of sixteen, to take charge of your own life?
Wanting: Actually, it was my mom’s decision for me to study abroad so I can have a better future. She asked if I wanted to go to Canada? I said, ‘Yes, send me over!’ I attended The Great Lakes College in Ontario and spent half a year there. Later, I realized that British Columbia had different educational requirements and it wouldn’t take five years to graduate, so I went to Vancouver. I received a Business Management degree.
JayneStars: What do you think are the steps leading to your success?
Wanting: If I didn’t leave China, I wouldn’t have become a singer-songwriter. I would probably be working in an office in a business-related field. When I studied in Canada, I was surrounded by art and culture. Also, timing was important because artists were starting to use online social platforms to promote their music. I uploaded my music online, which led to it being featured in the movie [Love in a Puff <志明與春嬌>]. Everything is important; one step led to the next one.
There are not many female singer-songwriters in Mainland China, which helped distinguish me from the rest of top artists. When people listen to my music, they actually get to know me and feel closer to me. They can learn from my songs and how I view things. Everyone can relate to love, family, and friendship. All these are love between human beings. For example, when people have a bad breakup, they appreciate hearing [a different perspective]. My music sends a positive message.
JayneStars: Can you tell us about the creative process in how you compose music and write lyrics?
Wanting: I enjoy experiencing that piece of emotion first, which carries on and helps me write songs. I definitely need stories to write. I enjoy living my life first and everything just comes out naturally: the music, lyrics, and the way I play the piano.
In my heart, I know that if I’m running out of stories, I’ll ask my label to give me time off. They’re very respectful and will do that for me. If I have those phases when I want to write something but can’t, I just have to wait until the work is over. I’ll go grocery shopping, start contacting friends, and take a breath. Or maybe just fall in love again!
JayneStars: After your fame skyrocketed, how has life changed?
Wanting: It makes me feel that I have a greater sense of responsibility. So many people are idolizing me; I want to be a good role model. I’m not trying to be perfect, but I’ll like to use my voice to drive awareness to make the world a better one.
JayneStars: In your past interviews, you mentioned opening a music school in China or Canada.
Wanting: I would love to do this in Harbin. Normally, exchange programs are for high school or commerce students. But it can also be for art and music. We can team up with a school in Canada and let the kids see what China is like. Music is such a universal culture, and there is no language barrier. These kids can get a lot out of it. I’m thinking out loud, but I don’t even have a school yet!
JayneStars: In your new album, Say the Words, which songs are you most proud of?
Wanting: My song, “Us Under the Sunshine” <陽光下的我們>, is about cyberbullying. I’ve been a victim of cyberbullying and so have many people. Sometimes, words hurt more than physical attacks. The bruises can go away, but the psychological hurt stays. As more kids are discovering the Internet, they get bullied online. I wrote the song because I wanted to drive awareness. I understand that the attackers need attention and lack love, but they’re being selfish and not doing anything good for the world. People who grow up in healthy families won’t do that online. Forgiveness is the best combat.
“Say the Words” is the song that I named the album after. This song talks about everyone. After they listen to it, they’ll feel loved and love others. I wanted to write a song that gives the same feeling as “What a Wonderful World”.
These are the upbeat songs in my record. I want to be creative and have lots of attitude in my lyrics. I want to show that part of me.
JayneStars: What music direction do you want to pursue in the future?
Wanting: I don’t try to plan things. I want to try different [music styles and sounds]. I don’t want to put myself in a box and for people to think, ‘Wanting is this….’ I don’t know what will be ahead two years from now. Maybe I’ll be the principal of a school?! I want to be living my life, enjoying the moment. As an Asian pop artist, I want to be represented on the international stage one day. I normally don’t want to talk about it, unless it’s about to happen. I just do it.
JayneStars: You’re huge in China; do you plan to release an album entirely in Mandarin?
Wanting: I don’t know if I want to do that. It’s hard to be as expressive and direct in Mandarin because of the culture and language. I love writing in English, which allows me to be very aggressive and direct.
JayneStars: After completing your “Say the Words” North American tour in March, what’s next?
Wanting: In April, I’ll be in Asia promoting my upcoming tour. I’ll be stopping in Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. In early May, I’ll return to Canada, which is very exciting as I’m the tourism ambassador of Vancouver. I’m taking four selected winners from Mainland China [in an earlier contest] on a memorable trip in Vancouver.
JayneStars: But first, you’ll be performing in New York at Gramercy Theatre on March 12. JayneStars is based in New York; we’ll love to see you in concert!
Wanting: You’ll love it! It’ll leave you feeling very good about life. I’ve been to New York many times. I’ve played at The Living Room, Rockwood Music Hall, and The Red Room. I’ve taken the bus from Boston to New York by myself, and played at open mics. I used to email the venues and promoters a lot before I got [discovered].
I want to live in Los Angeles one day and be involved in the music scene there. There are lots of opportunities there. I was in Los Angeles for four months recording my album. I met so many people. That got me thinking; I think I should go there.
Highlights from Wanting’s “Say the Words” Album
“Love Ocean” MV
“Us Under the Sunshine” MV
This article is written by Jayne for JayneStars.com.