By: Enya Chi
Lexie Liu: China’s Rap Queen
Stereotypically, mandopop is dominated by artists such as Jay Chou, A-Lin, and Eric Zhou, with tunes that captures the very clichés of romance, youth, and heartbreak. However, a new Chinese singer is on the rise that brings with her a new genre of music to a mostly homogenous Chinese music industry. Her name is Lexie Liu, the new voice of China and China’s rap warrior queen.
The self-proclaimed ‘Yung Mulan,’ Liu was born on December 21, 1998, in Changsha, Hunan. Her passion for music started as a hobby that blossomed into a career. The now 20-years old first broke out into the music industry in 2015, when she participated in K-pop Star 5, a Korean reality TV competition series that saw her in fourth place. After her initial success, Liu then released her first single, “Coco Made Me Do It” in 2017. Rising fast on the radar as Asia’s next top artist, fast forward to 2018, Liu gained international mainstream popularity following her entrance to the rap survival competition The Rap of China, and subsequently won fourth. That same year, Liu signed with American label 88rising that is home to other Asian powerhouse artists such as Joji, Rich Brian, and Higher Brothers.
Labelling herself as a rapper, Liu however, does not have a distinct music style that defines her music. From her different releases, each of Liu’s songs can be classified in different genres that includes r&b, hip hop, electronica and pop. Her music combines a unique futuristic vibe with a mix of sensual and smooth r&b infused with hard hip pop. In an interview with HypeBae, Liu saying that she’s “open to possibilities,’ has not settled on one specific genre and is still experimenting with different types of music as “my [Liu’s] preference changes through time as well. I’m still in the process of finding my own voice and I hope to show something new.”
As of June 2019, Liu has released two albums, titled 2029 and 2030 respectively. 2029 was released in select areas only, while 2030 is Liu’s first global release. 2030, her debut EP was released in February 2019 that features hit singles such as Nada, Sleep Away, Love and Run, Hat Trick, and Outta Time featuring KILLY. The album was written by Liu to be a reflection of her life, choices, and passion that “mainly focusing on the inner side of humanity.” The song Bygone in particular was a deeply personal track that Liu describes to be a “documentary song about my decision to pursue a career as a musician.” Other songs such as Love and Run, can be described as a hypnotic, synth-powered dance bop, while Hat Trick is the perfect song for a late-night downtempo about forbidden love.
Maybe it’s something about Liu’s personal connection to her music and the unique narrative that her music brings to the world that influenced her musical success. Her hit single Nada was featured on “Best Of the Week” by Apple Music after it came out in December 2018, while Sleep Away was needed by The Fader as one of “10 Songs You Need in Your Life” and “Best Music Releases Of The Week” by Nylon magazine. On Spotify, Liu has more than 100,000 monthly listeners, in addition to her whopping 6 million stream count on all streaming platforms.
Yet, despite her many mainstream successes, Liu still face many backlashes for her pioneering role from the music industry due to her status as a female hip hop artist in a mainly male dominated field. Especially as an Asian female artist, Liu said that it is very challenging for her because “people tend to have their own requirements for a female’s behavior, look and personality,” that she does not fit due to her image as a hip-hop artist, unique look, and tendency to wear clothes that are more on the ath-leisure side.
During her times as a contestant on Rap of China, other contestants, whom were mostly males, many would criticize Liu’s music and label it as “pop” instead of rap. This is because Liu, as a female, prefers to write less aggressive hip-hop that are more on the melodic side that as a result seem like she is not rapping to many of her audiences. Other times, male artists would body-shame her and make rude derogatory comments about her figure, especially pertaining to her “flat boobs” that showcase the commonness of body shaming of women from men. However, the gender discrimination Liu face only empowers her to work harder to create a path for aspiring female artists. She is proud of her work and will continue to do what she loves, despite the criticisms. During an interview with Billboard, Liu said, “We’re trying to show that not only guys can do that, we can probably do that too, united together.”
Through Liu’s pioneering effort in hip-hop, she, along with other female rap artists, are changing the way hip hop is being portrayed and carried out. Liu recalled that “after [that Rap of China] season, there were more rappers that started to do more melodic and sounds friendlier to the ears stuff. People are more and more open to it and there were a couple hit songs that were melodic rap, and I’m happy to see that too.” She really is “Like Mulan going to war, war, war, war,” as she sang in her song Mulan. Liu is China’s modern rap warrior queen, and just like Mulan, Liu too is “stepping over dead bodies how she [Mulan] made it” by “saying less and just proving we the greatest.”
Speaking of Mulan, Liu takes great inspiration from this mythic heroine. Mulan, a heroic figure by her own rights, broke the traditional stereotypes of a girl as obedient, quiet, and subordinate to the male sex. Through her bravery and passion to continue her career in the army, Mulan was an inspiration to countless young girls in the world who wanted to pursue their own dreams and careers, despite defying social expectations. Liu also wanted to do that with her music. Much of the world today still set the same restrictive role for women that plagued Mulan’s society. Women today are still being treated by men as the second sex, getting paid unequally, harassed, and treated like more like an object/property instead of actual human beings. Moreover, women are still expected to be obedient and hold themselves back in the presence of males, just as a damsel in distress that high key depends on men to save the day. But Liu does not think that. In her music, she reflects that women do not have to be so dependent on men and is capable of leaving them, especially if they don’t treat women correctly. In her song Hat Trick, the song is about a hypothetical scenario where a male companion dumped his female companion. But instead of writing the song as a heart breaking breakup song, Liu savagely left the male character, as shown in the lyrics “最后你不在 (You are not there at the end), 那我睡了别再来了吧 (So I’m going to sleep, don’t come ever), and left him hanging there.
With the changing tides, new movements such as Times Up and #MeToo are finally helping and empowering women to speak up for themselves in this very male-dominated world. Liu believes that “more and more girls are feeling the confidence to get up on stage—to say what they have to say with attitude. We’re done with being told what to do, what to wear, how to behave. People still may have pretty strict standards [when it comes to women], but we’re just trying to break out of the chains. We’re creating a new wave so people will finally be able to see and hear us.” And indeed, we are.
Another challenge that Liu face as an artist is her identity as hip-hop artist in China. China is infamously known to be very conservative in its distribution of mass media content and have strict rules that artists have to follow in terms of context, word, and image. Hip hop is definitely one of those music genres that is much promoted in China, due to hip-hop’s naturally provoking image and widespread use of profanity. Thankfully, due to hip-hop’s popularity in the western world, the “嘻哈” (hip-hop) culture had drifted into China’s mainstream music, especially appealing to China’s new youth population. The rise of popularity for hip-hop and r&b music is certainly good news for Liu and other rappers, but Liu still has concerns that
“the music scene in China is lacking more opportunities for different types of genres.” But for now, Liu says she enjoys the ride especially because of the support she have from, “a group of friends that vibe with the same type of music as me.”
However, Liu is still passionate about her Chinese heritage and often ties her Chinese roots with her more western-sounding music. Singing and rapping in both Chinese and English, her music sits on both the Chinese and Western straddle of music. One can simultaneously hear the traditional Chinese tunes being played out in harmony with the slow, smooth base of Western R&B. Liu drew her cross-cultural inspiration from “the things I [Liu] know from both Chinese and Western culture through languages, by playing with rhymes and taking inspiration from the legends, stories, books and movies from both places.” Through the mix of Mandarin Chinese and English lyrics in her bold and genre-bending release, Liu has appealed to both Chinese and western audiences. At the age of 18 in 2017, Liu became the youngest Chinese artist to perform at American music festival SXSW and in 2018, she appeared in numerous US tour dates for 88Rising’s annual Head In the Cloud festival. In addition, Liu has been featured by a variety of international magazines such as Vogue, BAZAAR, and Nylon and big fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Levi’s and Puma. As of February in Paris Fashion Week 2019, Liu has established herself as the current brand eyewear ambassador for Yves Saint Laurent and was invited to attend YSL’s most recent show in Malibu in June 2019.
Liu hopes that through her bold cultural infusions she can establish a deeper connection between Eastern and Western cultures. However, she still maintains a strong sense of pride and loyally for her Asian heritage and strives to bring the best for her race. As Liu boldly states, “one day, yellow skin can enter the White House too.”
With her budding career, we, at Overachiever magazine, hope the best for Liu as she continues to pursue her successful music journey. Please stream Liu’s debut EP 2030 on Spotify and find her on Youtube!
Enya Chi is an aspiring social activist who likes to travel and appreciate the beauty of the world. She hopes to bring change to the world through her passion for social justice and love for peace. During her free time, Enya likes to go on spontaneous food trips with her friends and she enjoys eating boba, hot pot, and poke. She currently resides in Los Angeles but is originally from Hong Kong.