Interview: Lay Zhang, Pushing Forward And Never Giving Up

Multi-platinum and award-winning pop sensation LAY recently delivered his monumental cross-cultural, highly-anticipated digital album 莲LIT.

The two-part release – with a total of 12 songs in both English and Mandarin – explores concepts of solitude, arrogance, self-confidence, loyalty, and courage. Together, these songs blend ancient musical elements and concepts with the modernity of contemporary pop and hip-hop music. The release is a mammoth effort, that was met with incredible global success.

In an Australian exclusive, Anastasia Giggins had the opportunity to speak to LAY, where he spoke about his success, the importance of collaboration, and how his team continues to influence his purpose.

Zhang Yixing, more popularly known as Lay Zhang or by his stage-name LAY, is no stranger to an Australian audience. He tells us that, above all, he is a “music producer, singer-songwriter, actor, and dancer“. LAY first debuted as a member of the internationally renowned K-Pop group, EXO. While remaining an active member of the group, his solo career has catapulted him further to global mega-stardom.

The pre-order for LAY’s most recent digital album 莲LIT went live on China’s QQ Music platform, and 9 certification records were instantly broken. The digital album surpassed 1.5 million pre-orders within 7 minutes and 19 seconds of launch, immediately achieving a #1 position on QQ Music’s daily and weekly album sales chart.

Globally, the EP swept world charts, too; within 24 hours of release, it reached a top 10 position on iTunes charts across 32 countries, including 21 #1 spots.

The title track of the same name, ‘LIT’, also claimed the #1 spot on the iTunes Digital Single chart in three countries, with the cinematic music video racing past 10 million views on YouTube in a little over 3 weeks. The action-packed MV garnered such a tremendous reception, that LAY’s official YouTube channel grew an additional 1 million subscribers within one week of being released.

So powerful and large is his fanbase, that tickets for his planned concerts at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai sold out in eight seconds, while his scheduled stop in Nanjing sold out in less than half a minute.

Outside of music, LAY is a TV and film powerhouse, all while being the face of many global brands including Converse, M.A.C, Biotherm Homme, Calvin Klein, and Daniel Wellington Watches, showcasing his immense international impact and presence.

The secret to his success? “The only reason why I could have achieved so much is because of my team and family. They are the support system that let me keep moving forward,” he tells us. “My late grandmother has and always will influence me and inspire me. She taught me that we always need to treat people right and fairly. Even though early in my career she wasn’t too happy about me being an artist, she always encouraged me. I want to keep pushing forward because of her.

When observing his solo success, you can see the impact of those around him, and this teamwork is something he considers valuable. “I love to learn and collaborate with others,” he tells us, when asked about his previous work with Steve Aoki and will.i.am. “They are really great people and artists.

His love for the collaborative process is evident on his most recent album; LAY co-produced the record with Murda Beatz, Mitchell Owens, Mike Daley, and GRAMMY Award-winning producer and songwriter Scott Storch

The songs on the album masterfully blend contemporary pop and hip-hop production techniques with ancient musical elements and concepts, integrating Chinese instruments and cultural metaphors. LAY emphasises his responsibility as an artist, where he has to push himself to innovate. “M-Pop is all about pushing the boundaries,” he argues, confirming that this album is a realisation of this goal: “It has been a big dream of mine to let people around the world know China better.”

As for what he would like to achieve in the future, “I hope one day I can perform on the Grammy stage“. Such a goal does not seem unlikely; in 2019, LAY was invited as China’s Promotional Ambassador to attend the 61st Annual Grammy Awards.

In the meantime, LAY fills-us in with the news that he is filming a drama and a few reality TV shows. “It is going to be a busy, but exciting 2020. In 2021 I hope the world can get back to normal,” he muses, optimistically, before letting us know that, “if it does then I’m hoping to hold another solo tour!

While enthusiastic, LAY is not unaware of the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. “I know this year has been tough for everyone. I want everyone to keep fighting and know that I am there for them,” he says reassuringly. At the core of his music, LAY continues to explore the human condition; solitude, self-confidence, loyalty, and courage: “In all of my albums I always have at least one song that talks about never giving up,” he adds.

We are fighting together.

From the lyrics, to the production, be prepared for an emotional and auditory journey when listening to 莲LIT! Check it out on Apple Music or Spotify.

To keep up-to-date with LAY be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo Credit: Zhang Yixing Studio