Pop Singer Jiayun Yu B.M. '17 Reflects on Bridging Chinese and Western Music Industries

Bryan Parys
December 21, 2017
Chinese pop singer/songwriter Jiayun Yu B.M. '17
Chinese pop singer/songwriter Jiayun Yu on a recent visit to Berklee, his alma mater
Jiayun Yu B.M. '17 was singing in English before he could speak his native Chinese, setting a course that led him Berklee, from where he began building a viral fan base in China.
Yu recently returned to campus to take part in a symposium that featured many of the top executives and pop stars from China's booming music industry.
Image courtesy of the artist
Image courtesy of the artist

Growing up in Ningbo City, China, Jiayun Yu B.M. '17 was already singing songs in English at age 4. His parents, duly impressed, commented, "You can sing English songs when you can’t even speak Chinese yet!”

The support he received early on from family and friends pushed Yu to continue learning music, including teaching himself guitar and piano, and eventually brought him across the world to perfect his craft at Berklee. While pursuing a professional music major with a focus on voice, Yu began releasing original songs, slowly building a devoted fan base back in China to the point that when he released the single "Almost Home" this fall, the song received hundreds of millions of listens on Chinese music streaming giants NetEase Music and QQ Music.

Yu is, in many ways, helping define the future of a booming Chinese music industry that is making significant inroads into Western markets. Just this year, Western industry giants Spotify and Kobalt inked collaborative deals with Tencent (the parent company of QQ Music) and NetEase. Recently, many of China's top pop stars—of which Yu is one—and industry executives visited Berklee for a symposium on this rising market. During the visit, Yu discussed cultural crossover, the art of collaboration, and what inspires his own songwriting, among other topics. The following is an abridged version of that discussion.

On Bridging the Chinese and Western Music Industries

"I want to mix all my Berklee knowledge with my Chinese pop music background. I don't want to just do jazz or Western music—I have to put some Chinese flavor into it."

"One of the main topics [of the Berklee symposium] is about sharing experiences from companies in China [as well as] connecting with Chinese students studying at Berklee—looking for Chinese students to go and work in the Chinese music industry."

"Five years back, I could not imagine talking to the bosses of Chinese labels [about crossing into Western markets]. But right now, it's really happening."

As a singer-songwriter, you have to feel the world. You need to catch all the little things and then make [them] bigger into a song.—Jiayun Yu B.M. '17

On Collaboration

"I’m a very confident musician. I know my type. You don’t want to talk to someone you definitely know you can’t collaborate with. I always find the right people at the right time. Let him or her do their job, because you know them."

“The most important part is to trust each other."

Regarding a recent collaboration with Chinese rapper Jony J for the hit song "Almost Home:" "I didn’t ask him to change anything. We didn’t talk about much [beforehand], but we were always talking through the music.”

On Inspiration/Songwriting

“As a singer-songwriter, you have to feel the world, feel everything—the stranger, the friend, your lover. You need to catch all the little things and then make [them] bigger into a song.”

“The more you know, the more you don’t know. That’s why I keep moving all the time. I still have a lot to learn for the future. I never stop studying, because if you do, you never move on.”

Watch Jiayun Yu perform with Berklee classmate Naïka on a cover of "Actor" by Xue Zhiqian (aka Joker Xue):