Zhang Yixing isn’t one of your “goody goody type” idols. As Korean boy group EXO/EXO-M’s Chinese member, his development between the two countries has opened some previously unseen scenes, he believes strongly in hard work, respecting the win-lose rules of the game, unafraid of breaking some existent rules. The world is so big, possibilities so endless, why not just give everything a go, what if your dreams do come true?
Zhang Yixing has a defiant look in his eyes, that is an aura that belongs to young people alone, hidden underneath polite and humble manners, giving his face even more of a character. He isn’t a “goody goody type” idols, has is own character, and is unbothered by a few more questions of “why”. But towards the things he likes, he always gives a hundred percent investment and focus.
Recently him, Sun Hong Lei, Huang Bo, Huang Lei and other celebrities participated in a reality show “Go Fighting” together. He likes this sort of programme format, anyway he doesn’t have a fixed script, completely just being his real self is enough, even if the audience sees him outside of that usual suave and put together idol image, in a more unrefined way, he also feels happy about it.
He is the youngest of the participants, on the first day, he was assigned to the mission of waking up Sun Hong Lei. “I was so unrefined like that, really it wasn’t something that I acted out. Hong Lei-ge speaks with a forceful air, and is the oldest of the seniors, the production team woke me up at 3 in the morning and assigned me to knock on his room door. At the time I didn’t know who lived inside, once his voice came out I was so unbelievably nervous, given that we’d only met twice before!” Later he was “cheated” by Hong Bo into washing the dishes, he distantly felt something wasn’t quite right, but still honestly did it, he was entirely in a “bullied” cute blank state, the idol baggage (TN: image of being an idol) had already been thrown 18000 miles away.
“I like this show (Go Fighting), not only because of its variety and competition components, but because it speaks of human nature.” While recording, fans secretly helped him, and were stopped by the production team, he could only thicken his skin and chat with passer-bys and strangers, truly tasting the awkwardness. “On the street, I introduce myself to people, I am Zhang Yixing, can you help me? Some people walk away directly, others stare with wide eyes looking at me with disbelief, others first answer in the affirmative and later walk away silently.” He feels that this is simply “a huge split from my worldview”. “In this wide world, why is that the people who can offer a helping hand are so far and few between? Are there still true emotions and love in this world?”
Of course that was just a temporary worry. He isn’t actually a kid who grew up in a greenhouse (TN: sheltered upbringing). “All along I have been the one to protect myself, I have been the one to lick my own wounds.” When he was young although he didn’t like to stick out and be the “child king”, but every time he had the chance to show his abilities, he also wouldn’t give it up either. “Maybe the people who can become celebrities later on all largely have a similar strength, which is imitation. When I was young I liked imitating teachers, of course if I was discovered I would be scolded heavily, but I feel that this could bring my classmates joy.” In each class a few children are heavily labelled as “naughty” targets, he naturally is one of those. Some teachers when in the heat of anger would scold him “Who do you think you are”, “What’s so great about you”, but this didn’t hurt his self-confidence. “Some people say, you won’t get any results in the future this way. Back then I would think, if one day I really succeeded, what sort of expression they would use to look at me with.”
The him presently, is already an idol all across Asia. When he has time, he will go back to his middle school alma mater to have a look. “I always go and visit my Teacher Yang, back then no matter what people said, thinking that I was ‘poison’, he always was convinced that I would succeed. Other teachers… now when I see them there’ll just be a greeting, without revealing our hearts to each other.” It’s not so much that “great revenge has been sought”, the rejections he received during his student days led him to understand a principle, “If you have given your best energy and efforts on a certain path, and still don’t succeed, don’t be anxious, there will be other things to support you that will appear. Academic results, definitely isn’t an absolute way of judging an individual.”
In the year 2012, Zhang Yixing debuted formally in Korea with the stage name “Lay”, becoming a member of the male group EXO/EXO-M. During that time, he underwent rather difficult and prolonged training. Until now, he gives himself 0 marks for his ability to take care of himself, although he has been overseas for many years, it is as if almost all of his energy is focused only on upgrading his skills. There was once where he had practised continuously for two to three days without going home, and had completely forgotten about the concept of time. Only when a staff saw him and asked why his teeth looked so yellow, did he realise he had already been practising continuously for dozens of hours without washing nor sleeping. “I was only thinking of how I could execute the movement well, like I had gone mad.”
The high difficulty training had undoubtedly caused him a number of injuries. Before debuting, shutting himself off, and getting injections were only common occurrences. “I only had one thought in my heart, that I have to be worthy of the people who are good to me. The competition amongst trainees were intense, it was very likely that one day I would be disqualified. I thought, even if that day really came, I still must walk out with my head held high, I cannot look sorry for myself.”
Previously for a period of nearly two and a half years, he nearly didn’t have a single day of rest, after that stage of giving his all, he now feels that he should allow himself to reset to a more reasonable speed. “It isn’t that my body really had any problems, at most I would feel tired some times, but I start to worry that one day I won’t have the physical ability to do what I want. Men can carry as many issues and pressures without problem, but the pre-requisite is that your body can’t breakdown.”
The movie “Oh My God!” Zhang Yixing recently participated in has successfully wrapped up. This film was produced from a collaboration between Zhang Yimou, one of the first Golden Scissors Wei Nan (TN: his fame in production of movies), and Zhang Ziyi, thus receiving high expectations from everyone. As an actor, Zhang Yixing feels it’s “too fun”, “to jump out of your own life, and enter someone else’s life to experience things, I think it’s really fresh”. His role is really similar to himself, “I considered it seriously when I received this script, and of course my luck was also very good, being able to receive a character that fitted my real-life situation on all aspects. I’m not like Hong Lei-ge or Huang Bo-ge who belong to the acting sort, I haven’t found a acting pathway that is most suitable for me yet, so I might as well act in a character that is closest to my personality, while learning and getting to grips with it all it is easier to measure it all this way.”
This doesn’t mean that he has immense confidence to act. “I still listen to the direcotr, and won’t be blindly self-confident. When faced with criticisms I am like this, if repeated and said too much, conversely it doesn’t help me. If the criticisms can’t convince me, I find it very hard to understand.” The standard line that he sets himself is higher, “When in Korea, there is such great pressure, so great to cause hair loss.” He feels that he is like a single spring, “The higher I jump, the more pressure I give myself.”
Returning to China to create his own studio, many people feel like he accomplished something that is unimaginable. “China is my home, coming back to develop of course it feels more comfortable. The stress is indeed great, on the side of Korea of course there are many voices of doubt, much of China’s audience still don’t know me, many things are still in an uncertain stage, the mental stress can’t be small.” He hopes that he can enter the visual field of the Chinese audience using a position of “multi-talented”; “Regardless whether it is movie and TV, or the area of music, I must have my own works to allow other people to remember. Works are an artiste’s symbol of having made it, that is the way to truly represent their style.”
Since young he wanted to be a singer, others didn’t think much of him, only his mother firmly encouraged him, “She said ‘In the future you may possibly surpass Michael Jackson!’” When he was 14 years old, he participated in Hunan TV’s “Star Academy” competition, winning third place in the final, giving him yet another piece of affirmation. These years, music was always the way he expressed himself. “Music is also a sort of outlet to release your own emotions. As an artiste, actually there are many limitations, emotions have to be more greatly restricted to start with. Once emotions come, I mean you can’t go out and pick fights and drink alcohol right? Other people may choose from 10 or more different outlets of release, artistes don’t have a choice, there is only one option, either that or there is none.” This doesn’t make him feel like he is suffering or upset, “This is a basic requirement of a passable artiste, this occupation is one that you chose yourself, you need to take on the corresponding responsibility.”
This is EXO’s three year anniversary since debut, he feels that the greatest thing he has gained from these 3 years, is earning such a rare and invaluable opportunity to debut, “Without this opportunity, no one could have made it to this point.” But all his experiences didn’t change his personality, “I am still quite rule-abiding, with everything I can abide by the bigger plan.” After coming back home (TN: to China), sometimes the jobs he receives using his own name may cause some conflict with the group’s work arrangements, and he will not hesitate in giving those (jobs) up. “I love this group, but I have a bottom line, I don’t want to lose any opportunity given to me, at least there needs to be a right to choose and a reasonable right to allocation, hoping that it is all fair.”
The “rule-abiding” nature that he speaks of, mostly comes from his education during his time in Korea as a trainee. In such a matured entertainment system, the first price to pay in maintaining an idol status is to not say the wrong things. These are all boys who have yet to reach 20 years old, sometimes their own thoughts they say without thinking it all through, which may be slightly incorrect, and subsequently suffer criticism from the company and even the public. “We all don’t want to make mistakes, once during an interview, all the members of the group didn’t know how to respond, and so we silently passed the microphone around for 2 minutes.” But this didn’t wipe away his sharpness, if you don’t have sharp edges, how can you distinguish yourself from others?
He was always infatuated with the feeling of standing on stage, on-stage and off-stage, he feels like he isn’t the same person. “The 'me’ on stage is better at letting go. Of course, if there are more fans off-stage, who are more passionate, I will be even more uninhibited.” Fans always come from thousands of miles away to follow his performances, catching trains, catching planes, just to go to the venue to raise up a board with his name on it, to encourage him to jiayou. “It really isn’t easy for everyone ah… how awesome can idols be? Without fans, really what are you?” Speaking of this, he suddenly very seriously asked, “Can I borrow your magazine to raise a suggestion to fans? Can everyone please stand in a more concentrated manner? Everyone keeps saying I bow so much, but everyone stands in such a scattered manner, of course I can only bow towards every direction!”
His weibo is almost entirely used to communicate with fans, aside from reposting (weibo posts about) major national issues and thanking his work partners, his purpose of posting on weibo is wanting to tell fans his own recent circumstances. “Thankfully technology now is advanced, Mei Yan camera (TN: a special camera app in China that has automatic functions to beautify selfies) and so on are all quite good. These help increase the level of my selfies.” In the past few years he has increasingly paid attention to his own attire, “To let fans know that my quality of living has also gradually increased.” He doesn’t want them to worry, and also hopes that he can bring them a bit of “true energy”, “At the same time as paying attention to myself, I can also pay attention to everyone’s needs, doing something for the people around me and the country. Actually everything that you all do are all presents you have given me.”
As for establishing his own studio, at the start he didn’t actually have any hope of success. “Even mom felt that I was crazy, she thought how could I go to speak to my boss about something like this? Just learning and gaining some experience from the process of being rejected may be enough.” From Zhang Yixing’s perspective, as long as there is a one percent realistic probability, he will want to do it. “I very much acknowledge my opponents, even if I lose, but I still respect them. But there are some things where, if you don’t even have the courage to step up, you will definitely not succeed. Losing, is an experience in itself.”
When he first arrived in Korea, his mother bowed to each teacher one by one, to allow him to smoothly study in school. “I can’t bear it when I think of that scene, so how can I not work hard? My grandfather is a member of the party, when I went to Korea I told myself one sentence, whatever I do, I can’t allow the people of China to lose face (TN: embarrass them). I must tell other people how China became prosperous and successful, and I myself must also do even better right to the end.”
Source: Cosmopolitan (1)(2) + namja1too4 | Vogue photoshoot (fashionmodels) interview trans by laymerence (1)(2) | ok! mag namja1too4
the vogue interview is pretty lengthy, but if you're interested and have some time to spare, it might be well worth the read. i bolded the key parts.
he's so precious! it's always a pleasure to hear his thoughts. this mindset of having to be successful to prove himself worthy to everyone is a pretty dangerous one tbh i hope he rests and takes good care of himself