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Lay Zhang is on shoot for METAL China's cover story – he is fresh from hair and make-up and we are about to start the interview. He adjusts his collar, which seems to lead him to rise up, to break the shackles of his existing environment, and to move, as we spoke, into a form of rebirth: from model to thinker.
Interview tak­en from METAL CHINA issue 1, adapted and translated for METAL online.
The studio was relatively quiet, with everyone focused on their work, while Lay Zhang was constantly shuttled between the dressing room and shoot space, like a fine-tuned machine working seamlessly. Then, the work was over, and he could sit down and have a chat with us. His sincere and relaxed demeanour surprised me. He hardly seemed tired. Just like the attitude conveyed by his microblog name: Struggle, struggle and struggle. This popstar is a hard worker, and even in a state of relaxation, he seems to just keep going.

Looking at him, face to face, I can see a mixture of maturity and naivety in his eyes. As well as years of overwork that have given him two half-moon shaped under-eye circles that can't be covered with makeup. The bones of his face have hardened, and become more chiseled, since his early years in the group Exo; but there is still a sparkle in his eye, and those light freckles on his cheeks that give his face a childlike feeling.

“My English name is Lay, which means tiredness is destined to be the key word of my life.” Lay Zhang joked, as he told us about his job as CEO of Chromosome Entertainment, founded last year. The pronounciation of 'Lay' sounds similar to the Chinese word for 'tiredness', hence the comparison. According to Lay, starting a company and being the boss marked a new start of his entire professional life. At Chromosome Entertainment, he has compared pop musicians, dancers, rappers and multidisciplinary creatives with an Ace and. the Four Symbols of Chinese myth – the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, the Vermilion Bird, and the Black Tortoise. The Four Symbols embody the whole range of seasons, traits and virtues in traditional Chinese culture. For artists like Lay Zhang too, the four identities of musician, performer, popstar and CEO are held in harmony, like the union of the Four Symbols. We talk through the four different phases of his life that emulate these symbols.

The start of Chromosome Entertainment means Lay Zhang has a new identity, and also means he has a new job besides creating music, which brings new responsibilities. “That's what I'm struggling with, because if you do one thing well, it's easier, less stressful; but with many things going on at the same time, it's a little bit of a stretch.” Lay Zhang continues, “I am a new boss. I have had to catch up on a lot of knowledge and learn nuances of the culture industry that were completely new to me. Now, I need to know how to run a company, how to talk about investment, financing, our core values, and the business model. It is a learning process.”

Lay Zhang started this new phase as CEO to help people like his younger self. “Many kids with dreams want to become artists. I think that dream is very valuable, just like when I realised my love for music at 14 years old. I recently asked myself whether there was a channel to help these kids who really want to become artists. So I decided to start training them up,” he said. “They can easily beat the standard of the industry. They are hopeful and driven. We have many teachers in this industry. I hope to cultivate a group that can compete, and show their strengths, on the world stage.”

The start of Chromosome Entertainment means Lay Zhang has a new identity, and also means he has a new job besides creating music, which brings new responsibilities. "That's what I'm struggling with, because if you do one thing well, it's easier, less stressful; but with many things going on at the same time, it's a little bit of a stretch." Lay Zhang continues, "I am a new boss. I have had to catch up on a lot of knowledge and learn nuances of the culture industry that were completely new to me. Now, I need to know how to run a company, how to talk about investment, financing, our core values, and the business model. It is a learning process."

Life is all about restarting, rebuilding and being reborn. Founding his own company was not the first time Lang Zhang started a new beginning. Looking back over his 30 years, there have been many other turning points in his life. His first reboot in thinking was the moment when he began to learn the piano. Before that, his mother made him attend many art training classes in order to cultivate his artistic talent, which led to his participation as an actor in TV dramas from the age of 6. But at that time he didn't know what it all meant. Only by learning the piano did he suddenly have a realisation – the musician in him had been born. The second rebirth was at the age of 13 when he took part in the variety show, Star Academy, where he truly discovered his love of the stage as a performer. When he was 17 years old, he went to South Korea as a trainee. Humbly he claims, “At that time, I knew I was far from good enough”, and the third incarnation was a few years after his debut, when he shared his dream in a public speech, hoping to pioneer bringing Chinese music to a world-wide audience: the popstar was born. “Life is a process of constantly restarting and searching for oneself,” Lang Zhang summed up.

At every stage of Lay Zhang's four faces of pop – musician, performer, popstar and CEO – it is the previous phase of hard work that acted as a prelude to his success. Success and the effort required every day to achieve it are one and the same thing. For some people, the career of an artist is colourful, but it's all about learning and making progress day after day: work hard, play hard. “The pop industry that I am in needs real learning to earn a foothold. Every artist has their own core skill, and every one of us is facing the same fast-changing, repetitive and difficult industry.” One of Lay Zhang's mottos is a quote from Steve Jobs, “Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry”, a sentence that inspired him to keep struggling, striving, and not be satisfied with the status quo

Whether it is in day to day efforts or moments of rebirth and encountering new perspectives, courage is the most powerful inner strength. “The most important thing a person should possess is courage. When you decide you want to do something well, you have to be prepared to really learn about your craft in depth. It takes courage to restart each time, to zero yourself out, to go somewhere new, to learn from scratch.”

However, the person driving his art forward, behind the wheel, is a pessimist, a suffering artist and a man who idolises the tragic war hero Xiang Yu. If there was a reset button, would Lay Zhang have pushed it? Where will he go back? when asked this question Lay Zhang said, “if I could restart, I would choose to go back into my mother's womb, to the time before my birth, so I can choose not to come out, not to be born.” He also mused: “I wonder what it's like to have no dreams, no goals, nothing pushing you to do anything”. What kind of person does the future Lay Zhang want to be? “A kind man.”

Words
Youlv Liu
English edition
Bella Spratley & Cian Kinsella
Executive Producer
Jason Wang
Photography
Liang
Styling
K
Make up
Jeon Ahreum
Hair
Son Hochan
Production
caiyi (PARKSTUDIO)
Art & Set Design
PARKSTUDIO
Postprocess
PARKSTUDIO
Special Effects
Virtueal
Lighting
Zhang Weibin
Photographer Assistant
Allan
Stylist Assistant
Joy

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