Exclusive Interview: Pop Sensation G.E.M. on Fashion, Fame, and Social Media Stardom

Since getting her start at the age of 16, singer G.E.M. has become one of the biggest pop stars in both mainland China and Hong Kong with a social media follower count of around 30 million and 40,000-person concerts. She originally rose to fame in Hong Kong with albums recorded mainly in Los Angeles through her record label Hummingbird, and became mega-famous in mainland China through her 2014 appearance on the hit music show I am a Singer. With songs in Cantonese, Mandarin, and some English, the singer has been expanding her presence globally in recent years with tours in Europe and North America, and she’s often referred to in English-language media as the “Taylor Swift of China” due not only to her fame, but the fact that she writes her own music.

In addition to her pop superstar status, her role as a fashion icon is also strong—she regularly appears in ads for brands such as Calvin Klein and Maybelline, and recently teamed up with TAG Heuer for a special-edition watch. This was highlighted at her 25th birthday celebration in Beijing’s 798 Art District on August 15 as she launched a new fashion photo book called 25 Looks. Curated by her official stylist Emma Wallace, the rainbow-hued volume features the bubblegum pop aesthetic of fashion photographer Charlotte Rutherford, who shot photos of the singer in both Los Angeles and Hong Kong for the publication.

“It really suits her personality because she’s so playful and fun,” says Wallace of the book’s aesthetic, which she says was inspired by the 90’s feel of G.E.M.’s recent album Heartbeat. “It made me think wow, she’s a 90’s baby, it kind of links back to some of the 90’s trends going on.”

Showing off this playful attitude at her book launch/birthday party in a stuffed animal-style onesie and giant platform shoes, G.E.M. sat down for an exclusive interview with Jing Daily to discuss fashion, music, and how social media has helped her to attract such a massive and devoted fan base.

G.E.M.'s new fashion photo book 25 Looks.

G.E.M.’s new fashion photo book 25 Looks.

Can you tell us about your new photo book?

This photo book is like a gift from the company for my 25th birthday. To celebrate reaching such a significant age, I tested out many different styles, all of which were looks I had never tried before. This was actually very playful and experimental, embracing many different possibilities. I am doing this both visually and with the sound of my music. The photo book also includes four remix singles of my original songs, and I am really looking forward to people hearing them.

How would you describe your personal style?

I would say my personal style follows my mood and is very emotional, because I will dress very differently based on different moods. For everyday looks, I tend to wear more simple things. However, I focus on accessories a lot like sunglasses, necklaces, or watches—I have so many accessories at home.

What are you favorite brands to wear?

For watches, my favorite brand is definitely TAG Heuer. I think the fashion is one thing, but the brand must also have a certain attitude in it in order for it to have meaning other than just something that looks beautiful on the outside. TAG Heuer’s slogan is “don’t crack under pressure,” which I think is very good for boosting people’s spirits. I feel like it has more substance.

G.E.M. with fashion photographer Charlotte Rutherford at the book launch party. (Courtesy Photo)

G.E.M. with fashion photographer Charlotte Rutherford at the book launch party. (Courtesy Photo)

You recently collaborated with TAG Heuer on a special watch. How do you decide which brands to work with on these special projects?

Like I said, it must have substance to it, which will attract people. In addition to TAG Heuer, I also recently participated in a global CK campaign with a message of freedom that says you should do what you want, and I encouraged people to participate. This gave everyone an opportunity to express themselves with this attitude, staying casual and being themselves. I think if a project has this kind of meaning in it, I am more than willing to try it out.

You have a massive following on Chinese social media. How important is social media for your career and reaching your fans?

I made my debut public performance 2008, around the time of the rise of YouTube. Becoming a singer during this era was very different than it was for earlier performing artists. There were many more ways to directly reach fans face-to-face. From the start, I got in the habit of posting videos online to connect with them. Later on, Twitter, Weibo, Facebook, Instagram, and many more came out. If you use them right, they can truly connect you with people from all over the world. Before, I was only able to post videos for others to see, but now since the development of social media, they can talk to me directly. I really enjoy this method of communication.

What is your favorite social media platform?

Each platform is used for different methods. Sometimes, when I want to express a comparatively long thought about how I’m feeling, I prefer Facebook, because there’s no word limit. If I just want to post a picture, I’ll choose Instagram.

You sing in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and you have huge fan bases in both Hong Kong and mainland China. Are there any differences in the ways the Hong Kong and mainland fans respond to your music?

The music they like is very different; the taste of the fans in the Cantonese-speaking region is different from that in mainland China. Therefore, I always choose songs carefully for concerts depending on the area, because if you choose it wrong, they may not have any reaction. But if you choose correctly, the songs have a very different status in their minds and they will have a very strong response.

You’ve also toured in North America—why do you think now is a good time in your career to expand internationally and attract a more international fan base? 

Personally, I’m not really concerned about the timing, rather, I’ve always been maturing. Before, my life was comparatively simple, and I felt very little pressure. I used to focus more on making music and not much else. However, I’m older now and have learned how to balance music and publicity and to represent myself. When you grow up, you can better represent your music.

G.E.M.'s style is described as playful and 90's-inspired. (Courtesy Photo)

G.E.M.’s style is described as playful and 90’s-inspired. (Courtesy Photo)

What do you think of English-language media calling you the “Taylor Swift of China”?

I am of course very honored. She is a very outstanding artist. She creates her own music and plays her own instruments, and also has a great attitude. Whenever she receives an award, her speech is always full of substance. I admire her, both as a musician and as a woman. She is outstanding and I am honored for people to describe me in this way.

After touring internationally outside Asia, what about your music do you think resonates with fans in North America or the UK?

I think music is a language. To me, it is not a language for people to communicate, but rather it is emotion. I believe different people in the world are experiencing the same things every day. When you feel love, you feel the world is bright; if you can’t feel love, the world is dark. When emotion is the linking bridge in between people, music is a language. I think it can strike a responsive chord in the hearts of people. As long as you have real emotions while writing the music, people from all over the world will be able to feel it.

What similarities and differences do you see between the pop music scenes in mainland China, Hong Kong, and North America?

What’s popular in these three regions differs a bit. In Europe and North America, they really enjoy trap music, but in China, electronic music and trap music are actually not very popular. I think which types of music become popular are kind of influenced by culture. But I think in Europe and North America, there are many songs that are uncomplicated and will move anyone no matter what city they live in—I think fundamentally, people are the same everywhere.

This interview was translated from Chinese.

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