LAY Zhang is a quintuple threat; he can sing, rap, dance, act, and, behind the scenes, he produces his own music. LAY honed many of those impressive skills as part of the nine-member K-Pop group EXO, which debuted in 2012 and is still going strong in 2020. But part of the reason EXO endured so long is that the members have the freedom to explore projects outside of the group. In LAY's case' that project is his solo career. Four years after releasing his debut solo EP, Lose Control, LAY Zhang's new album LIT combines everything he learned as a member of EXO and on his own — and it's his most experimental project yet.
"When I began on my music journey, I didn’t know much. I couldn’t even make a beat," LAY tells Elite Daily. "But now, after so many years of practicing and performing, I can write, sing, and produce my own tracks. I can go on stage and perform in front of thousands of people."
Leaning into a solo career is a natural next step for LAY, but handling the spotlight solo comes with its own challenges. "When you are a solo artist, you have to do everything," he says. "You sing all the parts, and all the attention is on you, so there is pressure to perform well. When I perform with my bros, we can share the challenges and pressure."
Fans will see a very different side of LAY with his latest release. Duality is actually one theme LAY explores profoundly in LIT. In it, LAY showcases his personal identity more than ever, specifically when he puts his Chinese culture at the forefront in his lyrics and visuals.
"The first part of the album talks about the past, which is why there is an emphasis on traditional Chinese instruments and historical stories," LAY explains. "The second part of the album focuses more on present and things that are happening around me. I talk more about my hometown, family, and self-doubt. The sound is more modern and includes popular music tastes."
Altogether, the album represents how LAY is defined by both his past and present self. The album's title, LIT, embodies this message because it's named after the lotus flower, which blossoms out of the mud and is a cultural symbol of growth in China. Having been part of the music industry for over a decade (he got his first taste of fame on the Chinese talent show Star Academy in 2005), LAY's journey as an artist is reflected in the lotus. He grew from a rookie who, as he said, couldn't even make a beat, into a multi-talented musician and performer.
"The main message for the album is about chasing your dreams. Along the way, you will face challenges, and people may not believe in you. But that’s fine. Like a lotus flower, they start from nothing and become something beautiful," LAY explains.
LAY has definitely come a long way, and he flaunts a bit of that success in his album's title track. "I am the king in the music kingdom. Kiss my ring. It belongs to me. I wear my crown. I got the power," he sings in "LIT."
Those aren't just empty words. LAY has become an integral artist for introducing Chinese culture to the world. Apart from singing in Mandarin, he also incorporates elements of his heritage in his music videos. "I just want to create art that lets people see my culture and people," LAY says.
As the highest-ranked Mandopop star on the Billboard 200 and the first Chinese artist to enter the iTunes Top 60 in the U.S. with his third album NAMANANA, LAY is breaking down barriers within the music industry.
LAY says seeing fans sing his lyrics no matter where they're from means everything to him. "It is really cool to see music bring people together and closer," he says. "[In the future,] I hope music looks more global. I want to learn more about other cultures. I want to hear other people’s traditional sounds ... I think language will be less of an issue for people when listening to music."
Despite all his mind-blowing achievements, having a global fanbase who appreciates his music is the most important one to LAY. "I am who I am now because of the support I have. [They give] me the power to keep creating and making music," he says.
LIT is now available on all streaming platforms.