A classical pianist, a contestant on Australia’s X-Factor, a budding K-pop star…these are all descriptors that in the past have been used to describe Julia Wu. Yet now, the 24 year-old Asian Australian stands tall as one of the Mandopop industry’s most popular and sought-after R&B acts. When quizzed about how all these bizarrely different career trajectories led her to her current path, Wu’s answer revealed even more of her down-to-earth nature.
“I think when I took up all these challenges and opportunities, to me it’s always been learning opportunities, everything I did. I didn’t think too much going into it, I thought … I love singing, there’s an opportunity to go into that industry, I’m gonna take it.”
Debuting just two years ago in 2017 with her first album 1:28, Wu saw niche interest in her music accumulate with several lo-fi R&B tracks such as Under the Taipei Night Sky台北夜空下 and 你是不是有點動心 , before collaborations with some of the Taiwanese hip-hop community’s hottest tracks of the year (Walk Until We Fly走到飛, Mybong買榜) saw her visibility skyrocket exponentially in 2018.
“Being an artist at first, I didn’t even know what kind of artist position I was going to have. And neither did my company. They were like ‘Julia do you want to be a cool girl or do you want to go the sweet route?’ … I was like ‘I don’t know, how am I supposed to know?’ And that was at the point where no one was listening to my music, I was very new. But as I went along, people really related to my music, Under the Taipei Night Sky 台北夜空下，Do You Feel It Too 你是不是有點動心，and that kind of got the word spread out … because I’m not packaged I just came out and said hello to everybody (laughs). And I’m just grateful they like what they see and what they hear.”
Yet as unprepared as they were, Wu and her team navigated the waters as best they could; rolling with the punches and making the best of each opportunity. In part, Wu’s ability to keep up with all the changes came from her love for learning; and all the experiences she had accumulated before even stepping foot into Taiwan.
“I think the mentality to always have is that you are on this journey to learn, you are not there to be the best out of everybody, you’re not there to be the queen of C-pop or whatever. I’m here to learn about music, about culture and I want to share what I learned with the people here. So with every challenge, with every crazy thing that I meet here, I think of it as a learning process.”
From secretly listening to R&B music when her parents were home in high school to forgetting her lyrics on national television, Wu has certainly come a long way. And with the release of her second album 1994 依舊舊事 , she’s going back to basics and paying homage to the genre of music that inspired her the most in her adolescent years.
“Well I was born in 1994 and when I first started getting into contemporary music -cos you know, I’ve been doing classical my whole life-when I first started listening to other genres of music, it was jazz and also R&B from the 90s. so that kind of-like you know-Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera- the way they sing and their music style influenced me a lot and I feel like it influenced my singing style now too… It wasn’t just inspired by 90s music, it is literally a 90s album. From the synths that we used, the timbre of the drums, the sound of the piano, and to the melody style, the lyrics, it’s just very nineties.”
Julia’s tongue-in-cheek nature comes out even more prominently in this album. Where her last release included relatively more market-ready R&B stuff to test the waters, her personal story and playful attitude is very much on display throughout the album, even down to the names of the songs.
“Pretty much for the whole album we’ve been doing a play on words. Every title of the song, the meaning is not what the song is about. So it’s a bit of a play on words and people think you’re gonna get a song about playing Gameboy, but we’re gonna talk about boys. Like Starcraft星海, you think we’re talking about Starcraft, the game, but the lyrics are actually about my personal story, chasing my dream, walking the red carpet at the Golden Melody Awards, Mybong買榜, all of this. It’s very personal.”
However, there is a side to Julia that listeners based in Taiwan have yet to experience fully. Wu expects that all to change as she takes her music to Singapore’s Esplanade as part of their Huayi Festival in::music line-up this year.
“I think there will be a few different works in this show, something that I have not done here in Taipei. Because I can speak English (laughs). So a different side of me will come out, and maybe when I speak I won’t be so stilted (laughs). I think the vibe will be different and … I will prepare some songs just for the Singapore fans, so gonna be exciting.”
Laughing often and living earnestly, Julia’s down-to-earth nature showed us why she seems to have such an important connection with fans. Although her YouTube days seem faraway now, she’s taken her passion for interacting, engaging and learning to an even greater platform. Throughout our conversation Wu frequently emphasised the lack of packaging that surrounds her position as an artist; yet the innovation and creativity that exists in her music as one of the only new-gen female R&B artists around propels her forth in this exciting day and age. And it’s safe to say that we are just as excited as she is to see where her lifelong journey of learning takes her next!
Julia Wu will perform live in Singapore on the 23rd of February at the Esplanade Annexe Studio as part of their Huayi Festival in::music line up. Find out more here. Also stay tuned for more Julia content on APW coming soon! Watch this space!