Ten things about Zhang Yunlei, the artist making Chinese opera cool again

 

Thousands of fangirls singing along to Chinese opera is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, but here we are with Zhang Yunlei.

From a homeless fourth-grade dropout to surviving a four-story fall to becoming one of the hottest new stars making century-old tunes hip again, singer-xiangsheng comedian Zhang Yunlei is a Republican-era prima donna teleported into the modern era. Here are ten things to know and love about rising star Zhang Yunlei.

  1. Thanks to him, millennial fans are singing along to traditional music like Taiping Lyrics version of Madame Lady Snake , Peking Opera Suolin Pouch, modified Suzhou PingtanDongbei errenzhuan , and the extremely catchy Ping Opera Qiankun Belt.
  2. Zhang Yunlei is most widely known for his modern rendition of Beijing folk song Visiting the Qingshui River. He released his first single, Yuzhen, last year, and has already recorded more songs.
  3. Nails from his left leg.

    In August 2016, over twenty terminally ill notices were released for Zhang Yunlei after he fell from the equivalent of a four-story drop-off at a railroad terminal. He miraculously returned to the stage, but with 108 nails inside his body and one less lung.  For his earlier performances, they would wheel him up to stageside, and then he would walk up with the help of his partner, Yang Jiulang.  There have been times where after he goes backstage, they would find out the nails had poked through his ankles and bled all over.

  4. Zhang Yunlei began studying Chinese opera and music at the age of five, and quit school in 4th grade to train under xiangsheng and opera performer Guo Degang.  Zhang Yunlei’s performances of xiangsheng’s special ballad form, Taiping lyrics 太平歌词, are so good that their company still uses recordings of him for lessons. Zhang Yunlei singing Taiping lyrics here.
  5. At the age of 13, he lost his boy soprano voice and thought he would never return to the stage. While getting by on odd jobs in Beijing, he once slept for a month at McDonald’s since it was open all night. Last year, he became a brand ambassador for McDonald’s.

Zhang Yunlei and fans singing Visiting the Qingshui River.

 

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Lyric translation: Visiting the Qingshui River

Remember how the post on Chinese names mentioned most people use their ming as their first name? Guo Degang’s students are some of the last exceptions in entertainment.  Everyone who studies under Guo Degang receives a zi when they’re deemed worthy. Zhang Yunlei’s Yunlei and his partner Yang Jiulang’s Jiulang are both zi.

A criticism of opium addiction and the oppressive social order during the late Qing dynasty, Beijing folk ballad  Visiting the Qingshui River 探清水河 tells the tragedy of a pair of star-crossed lovers.

If the song sounds familiar, it might be because it uses the same tune as Qinhuai River of film The Flowers of War.

Zhang Yunlei singing his popular abridged guitar version with fans:

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Best of National Treasure Performances

This Tang dynasty relief come to life under Song Jia and co. as they sing of a better life.

Using star power, original songs, and innovative stage performances, variety show National Treasure 国家宝藏 has made artifacts and museums come to life to the audience. A round-up of the best song and dance numbers, with performances from Chen Xiao, Song Jia, Purba Rgyal,   Zhai Tianlin, and Wu Tong.  Embedded videos are set to where the performance starts.

Students from the Beijing Dance Academy perform a dance that perfectly encapsulates the youthful playfulness and grace of young scholars.  Watch the viral practice room version here. If you like this style, I also recommend Zhao Lei, Yan Xujia, and Guo Zifan’s performance of  West Chamber here. I want a boyband with this style of performances.

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Su Yunying is creatures of land and sea in Fantasy album art

Su Yunying becomes creatures of land and sea in this series of fairy-themed  album art for her new album, Fantasy 幻. Watch the equally fantastical and fantastic MV for Moment 时候 below and listen to the rest of the album on Youtube or  iTunes.The artwork designer is DemonMiki.

 

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Sinology Sunday: Tan Weiwei’s folk rock

Here’s a look at Tan Weiwei’s flawless original and cover performances that combines rock, musicals, and traditional Chinese music forms. Many of those songs are helped by arrangements by the incredibly talented Liu Zhou and rock legend Cui Jian.

Counting People 数人玩 takes inspirations from  Suzhou Pingtan. The song is originally by Xiban Band, which combines Suzhounese pingtan, Chinese opera, and Mongolian sounds.

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Music Monday: 2018 drama theme song edition

Instead of clogging up my end of year review (coming soon!), I’ve decided to create a separate post for my favourite OSTs of the year.

When done well, theme songs and instrumental music are able to draw me into the events happening onscreen, even if the acting is bland and/or the story is sub par (sometimes I find that the worse a drama is, the better its OST). I may not have watched some of the dramas on this list, but that didn’t stop me from putting their songs on replay.

I’m a fan of ancient dramas, hence my playlist is usually dominated by melancholy ballads. Which drama soundtracks made an impression on you this year?

Phoenix Street 朱雀街 by Song Bingyang (Moonshine and Valentine)

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