Jane Zhang’s latest single “Dust My Shoulders Off,” a feel good song produced by Timbaland, may help catapult the Chinese pop star to international stardom.
The music video for the first single from Zhang’s first English-language album, which is set to be released in April, has racked up more than 7 million views on YouTube and broke through the top five in the iTunes chart, a first for an artist from China.
The video below features famous artwork parodies, including Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.
I am a Chinese singer, but this song targets the English-speaking audience. The video needs to be about something that people across different cultures can understand,” Zhang said in an interview with the BBC.
“Dust My Shoulders Off” was shot 48 hours straight, and it wasn’t always a comfortable experience for Zhang and the production staff.
“I was painted over and over again throughout the production,” she explained. “It was painful to remove the makeup. My face was swollen after we finished the shooting for the second painting.”
But this video strays away from most traditional Chinese-language artists, according to Taiwanese director, Liao Jen Shuai.
“Stars have to be beautiful or sexy in Chinese-language music videos, or the stars’ dance moves have to be shown clearly,” he told BBC. “I told her that I have to let the audience remember your cool and fun personality. I have to let them know you are a brave singer who loves challenges. To break into the U.S. market, this is the thing that matters.”
Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst with Midia, said it hasn’t always been easy for international artists to make much of an impact around the world, pointing out the downside of streaming English-language songs.
“It makes everybody essentially just look like American-style artists,” he added.
Joanna Huang, former vice-president of EMI in the China region, said Asian record companies have attempted to break into the international market by hiring well-known producers and releasing English albums, but to no avail.
She believes combining cultural elements into music production may be the key.
According to Mulligan, Chinese artists like Zhang need a better marketing strategy, including appearing on reality TV and chat shows and synchronizing music with apps.
Huang suggests that singing theme songs for big movies is another way of catching Western audiences’ ears.
Zhang did just that with a promotional song for upcoming blockbuster “The Great Wall.”