Wanting Qu’s personal style has created fans on both sides of the Pacific.
Wanting Qu admits she’s a pop singer. But there’s more to it than that. She wants you to know she doesn’t just perform her songs—she writes them, too. And that makes all the difference.
“They can’t be separated,” she says, leaning back in her chair and taking in the scenery from the 15th story of Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel. “The lyrics, the melody, my performance, how I play the instruments — they’re a whole. They’re one.”
The approach seems to be working. In the three years since the Chinese-born, Vancouver-raised musician burst onto the scene, she has quickly become one of Asia’s biggest pop stars. Her two studio albums have sold millions of copies, and her music has won almost every award available in China. Her video for “You Exist in My Song,” from her first album, racked up a combined 100-million views, and sat at the No. 1 position on the Chinese charts for two months straight.
Despite the enormity of her success, Qu is a star whose feet remain firmly on the ground. “People call me a star,” she says in an introspective tone. “[But] I feel like I’m just a girl who loves writing music, and putting my story, my life, in that. I’m not afraid to share that with the world.”
When asked about her fame, it’s obvious Qu is interested not only in the perks that come with it, but how it can enrich her art. “That’s one thing about being famous that I like,” Qu says. “I can connect with other celebrities, and play music together, too. If they recognize my work and love that work, and I love [their] work, we can work together—create something together.”
In August 2014, Qu began creating something very special — a life — with Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, after years of being colleagues and friends. Hints swirled publicly in January 2015, and they confirmed their relationship officially on Valentine’s Day.
“We have lots in common. We both want to make a difference in the world. The fact that we are both public figures — we’ve had experiences of being under the microscope, sometimes love and support, sometimes people passing judgments, and sometimes media manipulate and spread mistruths. All of that bonded us in a way that no one else could. We understand each other in that sense. And he’s a fun, happy, positive, caring human being. Plus, he loves music and he’s a fan of my music. What’s not to love?”
Qu, now 32 years old, came to Canada as a student at the age of 16 with the goal of pursuing a business career, but the call of the keyboard was too strong to ignore. “I was a rebel,” she admits with a grin that provides a sneak peek into an important part of her personality. “I liked music better. [Music] was one thing that I [never] stopped doing. Even through [my] business degree, that was something that kept me feeling good.”
It’s an honest answer — one that reflects who she is as an artist. “When you are real, when you are honest, when you are not afraid to be vulnerable and share your personal stories to the world, if there are people on the other side listening, they will like it,” she says. “I think it takes an open heart to get an open-hearted message.”
This attitude of openness comes through in her music and in the way she interacts with fans. “I always say yes to whatever request [fans] have,” she says. “The most they want out of me are photos, and a signature, and maybe a hug. If I have time, I [try] to make them happy.”
Speaking with Wanting, you get the sense she’s the kind of person who doesn’t hide much. “It starts from here,” she says, pointing to her heart. “I always write music because I felt something. It’s either heartache or happiness, anger, or something like that. It triggers here,” she points to her heart again, “and then I write about it.”
Case in point: her breakout single, “You Exist in My Song.” As Qu explains, she wrote the song for a friend who opened her eyes to the alternative music scene in China. While they were never romantic, the two developed an intense emotional bond in the short time they spent together.
The profound nature of the relationship led her to ask some deep questions about friendship, love, and destiny — questions that became the core of one of her best-known and best-loved songs. “Why do two people cross paths? How come you were in my life for a period of time and you were the focal point of my life — and all of a sudden you were not in my life?”
This desire to make meaning drives Wanting.
Instead of resting on her laurels, making money by touring Asia “just singing one song,” Qu intends to bring her songs to an even wider audience. Starting with her adopted home. “I feel I’m half Canadian,” she says with a self-assured tone. “Canadian culture has influenced me so much that I wouldn’t have written this music if I didn’t live here. It is kind of written all over the place, but behind the scenes.”
This in part explains why Qu writes songs in both Mandarin and in English. “I feel I have so many great English songs [with] messages in them,” she says. “It’s kind of like a healing potion, but they’re just sitting there. I want them to be spread out to the world, and serve [their] own purpose.”
“I feel like I have this invisible power,” she says. “I can make a difference.” And it’s true — you can’t see Qu’s power. But you can hear it, note by note, song by song, ready and willing to change the world.