Cover story: Taiwanese star Rainie Yang on hope, gratitude and acceptance
January 4, 2021
As the Taiwanese singer and actor enters the 21st year of her career, she’s more self-assured than ever. She tells Zaneta Cheng about the process of reconfiguring what it means to be “Rainie Yang” and why change will always be the only constant
It’s probably a safe assessment, after the year we all just had, that while technology facilitates many things, much gets lost in translation zipping across the digital stratosphere. There’s the odd glitch, the periodic audio freeze and everyone has to speak much louder than they would in a face-to-face setting to get their point across. So it’s a testament to Taiwanese diva Rainie Yang’s self-conviction that those working with her are able to glean a sense of who she is simply by looking at digital images of her wardrobe selections for the #legend shoot. Many on the team, who have listened to her songs for years, unanimously agreed they were “very Rainie”.
But what, we wondered, would Yang consider to be “very Rainie”? After all, she’s gone through multiple transformations during her 20 years in the spotlight, starting as a member of Taiwanese girl group 4 in Love at age 16 to spreading her wings as a solo artist, actress, “Leader of Cuteness” and, finally, emerging as a goddess admired by women and men alike.
“Frankly speaking, I’ve never defined myself as an artist,” the Taipei native says. “The titles and nicknames given to me by the public weren’t things I coined myself so I’ve never felt confined by them, and along the way I don’t think that I’ve had one fixed image. If I have to pinpoint something, then perhaps it’s that I’m always looking to cultivate a new image for myself. But it’s not even that –I think I’m just doing what seems right in the moment.”
Not only did Yang make the jump from teen girl group singer to music producer to mentor on Dancing Diamond 52, she’s also embraced YouTube with aplomb, documenting a visit to the gynaecologist on her first vlog and speaking out for LGBTQ+ rights.
“I’m happy that I’ve always been someone who welcomes challenges, whether it be singing in a group, solo or even entering acting. There have been many changes along the way but the one thing that has always been constant, I think, is my insistence that my work can’t stay the same,” she says.
“I think this attitude, this sense of constant re-awakening, is necessary particularly in people who devote their entire lives to a certain job and who have been in that profession for a long time. Otherwise, they might burn out. If you can allow yourself to make certain changes in your life or in your friendships, you can be brave and accept the new in anything that you endeavour. I think this attitude has certainly made my life more interesting.”
Now 36 years old and married to Chinese singer Li Ronghao – the composer and lyricist of the title track on her newest album Like a Star – since last September, Yang shows no sign of slowing down. From trap-pop to neo-soul, Like a Star shows its creator’s artistic curiosity and willingness to play with the best in her field, teaming up with the likes of Jolin Cai, Vivian Hsu and Cyndi Wang to push her creative boundaries.
“I think that for every new challenge, there’s always some anxiety in the beginning because there’s so much that’s unknown and you can’t be sure that you’ll achieve what you set out to,” she says of working on the album. “But I’ve enjoyed every stage of my career.”
Having spent most of 2020 working on Like a Star, Yang was keen to celebrate its release and her two decades in the music industry with a three-day concert series at Taipei Arena in November.
“I think it’s a very happy thing to be able to hold a concert during a pandemic,” she says, smiling. “I was working on the album that this concert was based on at the beginning of the year, so the fact that there were some work delays gave me more time to do an even better job with my tour and album. It was also quite special to see the entire audience wearing masks during the concert. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
Indeed, Like a Star was a new experience on many levels for Yang. “The idea was to get back to my original intentions, to what I wanted to achieve right at the beginning of my career, because I don’t think I’ve really explored music the way I have with this album,” she says. “I’ve also tried to reinvent the way I put on a concert and ventured outside of my comfort zone, so I think the 20th anniversary concert marks a more interesting, multifaceted performance.”
It was also an opportunity to share an important message. “The purpose of the concert was to convey a message of hope – that everyone can be a shining star in their own right because many people regard themselves as unimportant and even feel that they are living very indifferent existences,” Yang says. “So, I hope everyone can truly value themselves and their lives.”
It’s this attitude that made Yang the perfect choice for mentor on Dancing Diamond 52, a Taiwanese competition for aspiring female idols. While her extensive experience in dancing and singing proved indispensable, it was Yang’s focus on mindset and the importance of learning through trial and error that she felt left a lasting impact.
“I did give them a lot of advice but even with all that, it’s still important to allow them to police themselves,” she says. “In the face of setbacks, I think that each person’s own management of the experience is far more meaningful than anything someone else can tell them.”
Indeed, one of Yang’s most important tenets is placing the utmost confidence and reliance on oneself. “You have to shut out the opinions of others,” she says. “Because once you decide to change something, even if you muster up the courage within yourself, not everyone will appreciate that bravery nor will they feel inspired. There will be people who haven’t changed and feel opposed to your change. So, I believe that the greatest difficulty when aspiring to do good work is definitely to block out everything around you and focus on your new goals and your transformation process.
“When I’m facing difficulties, I think it’s important to believe in myself. Of course, it’s easier said than done and it takes a long time to truly believe in yourself, but I think the most important thing is to believe in myself and that I must become my own biggest supporter. We absolutely need the support and encouragement of others, but I have to be the first person to support myself. When faced with any uncertainty, I tell myself that my decision is the most correct decision for now.”
Looking ahead, Yang plans to continue embracing a life of gratitude and acceptance. “To be honest, the plan for the 21st year of my career is the same as it was before. With the pandemic, I can’t really plan out what I’ll be doing in the future. It’s more a matter of taking it one step at a time. I’m very lucky. I have work that keeps me busy and a career that I love, but it’s still a pity,” says Yang, who hasn’t seen her husband since the beginning of last year due to travel restrictions. “I’ve definitely felt reluctance in the face of this pandemic but at the end of the day we must face it and accept it like other challenges. All we can do is accept it as part of our fates and see what we can do in spite of it.”
As to where she finds such strength of character, Yang points to her mother. “She worked so hard when my sister and I were children, taking on several jobs to support us,” Yang says. “She had a very difficult childhood but has always faced life with optimism and positivity. She’s tough and soft at the same time, and that makes her my #legend.”
Photography / Icura Chiang
Videography / Zhong Zhong
Creative Direction / Zaneta Cheng
Styling / Eddie Yeh
Make-Up / Carlin Chen
Hair / Jacobs Hsieh at ZOOM Hairstyling