On the last episode of The Roast, Jane Zhang was invited to attend the show, and was expectedly roasted by Pang Bo after he took the stage: “Jane calls herself the ‘Dolphin Princess,’ but nowadays everyone is calling themselves queens and goddesses, so why are you still ‘princess?’ Of course, Jane is also a queen–the TV show theme song queen. But she’s been silent these past two years. Why? Cuz that’s Zhang Bichen’s job now. Jane sang ‘I Waited to Finally Meet You,’ and she met Zhang Bichen, who slapped back with the song ‘Cold.’” The audience had a good laugh, and Jane also joined in on the humor.
Even though it was mostly joking, the roast does indeed bring up a very good point, which is the similarity between the two artists whose last names are both Zhang. They have both performed theme songs for various TV series, and more importantly, they share similar backgrounds and experiences in their career development.
For example, the two were both discovered through talent shows. In 2005, Jane competed in Super Girl, and finished in third. The show itself was a huge success back when it first aired, and people remember Jane for her impeccable vocal skills. Her unique whistle register singing style also garnered her the nickname “Dolphin Queen.” After the competition, she signed with Huayi Brothers.
Bichen, on the other hand, competed in the third season of Zhejiang TV’s The Voice of China, and quickly became popular for her song “She Said,” ultimately snatching the title of that season. Prior to this, Bichen had been developing in South Korea as a member of the now-defunct group Sunny Days.
It’s worth noting that both of them were able to maintain their relevance even after the conclusion of the competitions, unlike many other contestants who disappeared from the public’s eye shortly after.
Jane’s first album was produced by an international team, and rumor has it that in order for her to record three songs in English, her label spent millions just to fly her out to the US to work with local producers. The musicians, lyricists, and producers that she was collaborating with were all top players in the industry, and the recording studio was also one of the best in Chicago. In 2007, just two years after her official commercial debut, she held a concert in Los Angeles. In 2008, she was invited to perform at the Beijing Olympics, and later in the year, also performed for the Japanese prime minister. In 2009, having just founded Show City Times Entertainment, she was even invited on Oprah, causing quite a stir.
Having only been in the industry for three years, Bichen has made quite considerable strides. Her “Liang Liang” (“Cold”) topped charts; she won various national music awards; she was invited on multiple popular talent shows and have collaborated with industry heavyweights such as Wakin Chau and Leon Lai. In 2015, Bichen announced on Weibo that she has started her own production studio.
When it comes to positioning, both market themselves as skill-focused vocalists. Early in her career, Jane mainly imitated the style of American and European female singers, and combined with her unique whistle register technique, her singing captivated the Chinese audience immediately. Over the years, she has gradually explored and developed her singing style to near perfection. On the other hand, Bichen’s background in training in South Korea also ensured her solid musicianship. Her appearance on The Voice of China also brought the Korean style singing into the mainstream, with many listeners praising her for her unique voice and expressive singing.
Of course, being famous also comes with a lot of extra baggage, and the two have both had their share of negative rumors. For instance, Jane’s aesthetics have been a constant complaint for many, and her divorce in 2016 seriously affected her career at the time. As for Bichen, there have been constant rumors of her having done plastic surgery and her being from a rich family.
The biggest similarity, however, is the two’s involvement in various TV shows’ theme songs. Here’s our roundup of their work since their debuts:
Even though Jane had performed the theme song for The Romance of the Condor Heroes as early as 2006, it wasn’t’ until 2008 when she performed “Hua Xin” for the show Painted Skin that she made a name for herself in the theme song industry. It’s worth noting that the latter is a lot easier to sing than the former, allowing the song to be more easily sang by the average Joe. In 2013, her performance of “I Waited to Finally Meet You”–the theme song of We Get Married–once again gained massive popularity, and later became a mainstay in many couple/relationship reality shows.
In recent years, however, her involvement with TV shows has drastically decreased, let alone hit theme songs. By contrast, Bichen is now seen as the “successor” to Jane. Last year, her collaboration with Aska Yang on Eternal Love’s theme song “Liang Liang” became almost an instant classic. As the show’s ratings skyrocketed, so did the song’s places in various charts.
As the one with the much longer career, it’s evident that Jane approached the market as a very “international” artist. When she first stepped onto the stage of Super Girl, she differentiated herself by singing English songs–her rendition of Argentina Don’t Cry For Me captivated the judges the audience on a national scale. Her first album, The One, was produced by an American crew. Lastly, her appearance on Oprah allowed her to show off her fluent English as she explained her admiration for Mariah Carey.
Later on, she was invited to the Grammys (three times), Cannes Film Festival, and Montreal Film Festival. In November last year, she became the first Asian artist to perform at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, joining the likes of Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, and Selena Gomez.
Additionally, Jane released her first song targeting the Western market, Dust My Shoulder Off, and reached #4 spot on iTunes, with the music video hitting over 6 million views on YouTube, making her the first Chinese artist to achieve this type of success. She was rated by CNN to be one of the “Most Influential People;” BBC claimed that she could be China’s “first global superstar;” in Japan, some of the media believe that she is the most promising singer since Teresa Tang, while press in Hong Kong and Taiwan regards her as the successor to Faye Wang.
Jane’s career became the role model for many other celebrities: a career that is carefully crafted around one’s specialties. Going “international” is apparently a very suitable route for someone with as much talent as Jane Zhang.
At the same time, she didn’t forget about the native market in China, and her work in the TV and movie industries have helped her jump start her career, a strategy adopted by many that followed, including Zhang Bichen.
In recent years, Original Sound Tracks (OST) have become an increasingly effective way for motion pictures to generate buzz. From Let It Go in Frozen, to See You Again in F&F7, to “The Ordinary Road” in The Continent–production teams are very evidently putting more effort into creating a catchy OST. According to the 2017 China Music Industry Development Report, in 2016, the country’s total music-related revenue in motion pictures, video games, and anime reached ￥664 million RMB, a 17.7% increase compared to the previous year. Specifically, music revenues in the gaming industry reached ￥130 million RMB, anime ￥140 milliom RMB, and motion pictures a whopping ￥394 million RMB, a growth of 34% in comparison with 2015.
Undoubtedly, TV and Film music has become a valid path for the development of many artists. However, it is only more effective for the likes of Jane Zhang or Bichen who have already accumulated some industry acclaim. Some production teams have attempted to “bring up” little-known artists by assigning them to a popular TV show, only to have the artist(s) “stuck” in the little bubble that is the theme song industry.
Venturing into TV and film music is a great way to expand an artist’s opportunities, but it is also imperative that the artist develops his/her own style and following before going down the route of yet another “Theme Song King/Queen.”
(Li Xiaoying contributed to this article)
Translated by Kane Ge
Copyright © 2015 China Music Business News