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Through the window of this love

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The Dixingren: An Exclusive Interview with Shen Wei

We meet up in the studio. Despite being a celebrity, Shen Wei values privacy, as his personal assistant explains, letting me inside the building.

Shen Wei, aged 32, a former member of Hei Pao Shi, and now independent artist whose name doesn’t disappear from the lists of most influential artists in the country, certainly has reasons to protect his privacy. With more than fourteen Grammys to his name, a title of an “Artist of the Decade”, and numerous other awards, Shen Wei has achieved both a wide commercial success and critical acclaim, a holy grail every musician strives for.

With millions of fans worldwide waiting for his newest album it would be expected for him to have expensive whims, but the man I’m meeting is a perfect gentleman, no trace of arrogance around him.

TD: Shen Wei, how do you stay so modest after the success you’ve achieved?

SW: I don’t consider myself successful. There is plenty of things I still want to do, numerous stories I want to tell and ideas to explore, so I’m not there yet.

TD: You seem very passionate about your music now. Many fans would say that your solo albums are completely different to what you sang as Hei Pao Shi’s vocalist, but they also point out that it seems like you enjoy yourself more. Is this true?

SW: Hei Pao Shi and singing with Ye Zun was something that I took pleasure in, as I was back then, but I can’t see myself in this repertoire as I am now. So in that regard, yes, I enjoy myself because the music I’m playing now suits me, but I wouldn’t compare these two experiences.

TD: Considering Ye Zun’s comments regarding the breaking up of Hei Pao Shi, your reply seems more diplomatic than honest.

SW:… I don’t have any other. (smiles shyly)

TD: I understand. A lot of your fans inquire about some lyrics about love, are they written with someone specific in mind?

SW: No. In my songs I explore love as an ideal, one of many things I take interest in.

TD: So no significant other in sights?

SW: No, I’m focusing on music for the time being.

TD: Alright, so let’s focus on music. How would you describe your newest album? What are its main motifs?

SW: It’s a collection of songs I’ve felt some emotional connection to. I write a lot, sometimes they are stories, sometimes just emotions, feelings, other times simply concepts that I like to explore. For this album I chose ones that made me feel a certain way after reading them.

TD: Would you call your album sentimental?

SW: Not necessarily, though there is one song inspired by a band I’ve heard at the beginning of my career, so this track can be seen as… nostalgic.

TD: So if you had to pick main motifs of Millennium of Dreams?

SW: I think longing? Searching for peace and contemplation of the past, but also growing wiser.

TD: Very mature indeed, I think we can’t wait for it to be finally available! Last question – I’d like to ask about the band you’ve mentioned, the one that inspired one of the songs. What’s its name?

SW: Its name is Kunlun of the Mountains. I haven’t heard it for years, but I remember being charmed by their songs.

TD: I can’t say I’ve heard about them either… Thank you so much for the interview!

Shen Wei’s new album Millennium of Dreams will be available on 27th December 2021.

 

*

 

“Zhao Yunlan!” There was a sudden crash, and then a weight of one not-teenage-anymore boy fell on him. “Zhao Yunlan, get up!”

“Get off,” Zhao Yunlan mumbled, rolling away from the nuisance who he unwisely allowed an access to his apartment. It seemed a good idea, back when Da Qing joined SID as a bright eyed high school graduate – Zhao Yunlan did feel better knowing the kid lived right next door and someone could always check on him. It didn’t seem such a good idea now, when Da Qing already lost all respect for his band leader and came over solely to eat all of the food in Zhao Yunlan’s fridge. And, apparently, wake him up at dawn – or before 12 pm.

“No!” Da Qing protested, trying to deprive Zhao Yunlan of his duvet. Zhao Yunlan, who had years of experience in winning this particular fight, just rolled himself into a tighter burrito. “Get up, now, now! Zhao Yunlan, we’re famous!”

Zhao Yunlan groaned, fighting the urge to shove his head under a pillow. He had been having such a nice dreams, too. “Did you go viral on Douyin again?”

“No!” Da Qing jumped a little up and down. Unfortunately for Zhao Yunlan, the kid was still sitting on him, which meant the movement deprived him of all the air left in his lungs. Well, murder was one way to wake someone up. “I mean it, we’re really, properly famous!”

Da Qing waved his phone before Zhao Yunlan’s eyes, who fought off a yawn. He reluctantly sit up, before plucking the phone from Da Qing hands. The screen showed the SID homepage on Weibo, only it couldn’t be right. Their follower count, which was around a hundred thousand last time Yunlan had checked, was now closer to a million.

Yunlan blinked. What kind of jokes were his subordinates – eh, bandmates, same thing – playing on him now?

“What?” he asked. “What? What happened?”

Da Qing grinned, taking away his phone and searching for something. “Okay, so you know Shen Wei?”

“That Shen Wei?” Yunlan raised his eyebrow. “Of course I know Hei Pao Shi. Everyone knows him.”

“He’s no longer Hei Pao Shi,” Da Qing corrected him absent-mindedly. “But that’s not the point. The point is, he apparently knows you.

“What?” Zhao Yunlan repeated. “No, he doesn’t. I’m pretty sure I’d remember meeting Shen Wei.” If only because he would never forget meeting someone that beautiful.

“Not if you were drunk enough,” Da Qing pointed out resolutely. “But no, he doesn’t know you you. But he knows Kunlun.”

“What?” Zhao Yunlan’s vocabulary had been, apparently, reduced to one word. “He does?”

Da Qing shoved his phone at Zhao Yunlan again, but this time the screen showed some music magazine webpage. Yunlan scrolled through it quickly. A typical interview with Hei Pao Shi – no, sorry, Shen Wei, as he was known now, after splitting up with his much less talented twin brother – in which he said very proper, very boring answers and absolutely nothing his fans would really want to know. Except, this time, he apparently mentioned Kunlun.

Zhao Yunlan blinked again, confused. He still felt half asleep. He hasn’t used the name in ages, not since they formed SID with Zhu Hong, Lin Jing and Chu Shuzhi, which meant whatever music he made back then was known by exactly five people: his mother, Da Qing, and whatever unfortunate soul his mother managed to drag to one of his “concerts”. How did Shen Wei even hear of it?

“But I haven’t been playing as Kunlun in ages. That’s stuff, like, ten years old at least.”

“Well, maybe he doesn’t know that,” Da Qing nudged him with his head. “Maybe you should tell him.”

Zhao Yunlan laughed. “What, just slide into his DMs? And then what, ask him out?”

“Why not?” Da Qing shrugged. “You used to have a crush on him.”

Yeah, and now his teenage crush knew his name – well, his old name, at least – and one mention from him was enough to double the SID’s following, in a way almost a decade of hard work and playing in every place they could, hadn’t quite managed to. Zhao Yunlan couldn’t decide it he should find that funny or insulting. Either way, it was much too early to deal with this.

“Everyone has a crush on Shen Wei, have you seen the guy?” he asked instead. “Which is exactly why I shouldn’t do that.”

“I don’t.” Da Qing pointed out.

“Yeah, but you’re not even human. And you’re like 17.” 22, actually, but Zhao Yunlan wasn’t about to admit he remembered that.

Da Qing shot him a dark look. “You could at least try.”

Uh, yeah, Shen Wei was definitely waiting for him to sweep him of his feet, and then they would get married, and adopt five babies, and Zhao Yunlan’s dad would accept his choice of career, and the world peace would be achieved. Maybe he could’ve believed that fairy tale scenario at twenty, but- No, scratch that. Zhao Yunlan had never been that naïve.

“Da Qing,” he said patiently, “the guy clearly doesn’t know me and doesn’t care. Just because he mentioned one song from like, a decade ago, doesn’t mean he would be interested in me. Or the SID. He doesn’t even know who we are now.”

“Yeah, because the name changed, but…”

“Uh huh,” Yunlan shook his head. “A fact that is easily searchable in five seconds on Baidu. I’m pretty sure the guy just doesn’t care.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re throwing away your chance at true love,” Da Qing chin was doing that thing he had when he was being especially stubborn. Like when he wanted popcorn, or Zhao Yunlan to play video games with him, or apparently for Zhao Yunlan to score a date with a superstar.

Zhao Yunlan rolled his eyes.

“Save it, Da Qing,” he said. “This will blow over in like, a week at most.”

 

*

 

It did not blow up in a week. In fact, it got even worse – as a quick investigation conducted by Lin Jing, their resident technician proved, they didn’t have one celebrity to thank for their sudden rise to fame, but two.

It was Ye Zun, Shen Wei’s brother that outed SID to the wider audiences after the Internet exploded with thousands of conspiracy theories – from ‘Kunlun is not real’ through ‘Shen Wei is perfect but maybe he has a small flaw and didn’t remember the name correctly’ to Zhao Yunlan’s personal favourite: ‘Kunlun is Shen Wei’s artistic alter ego from the beginnings of his career and the song is a letter to his past self’. He almost considered adding fuel to the fire by spawning some even more atrocious ideas and watching the world burn around him, but it was already too late – they had been made, after all.

All because the lesser half of Hei Pao Shi actually identified them and shared his findings with the world.

“How does he know?” Zhao Yunlan asked, his eyes glued to Ye Zun’s post which went like: ‘Actual proof Shen Wei has no taste – his favourite band now goes by SID and plays jazz. Jazz. Let that sink in.’

Lin Jing next to him shrugged and went back to scrolling his phone, letting Zhao Yunlan look his fill on the laptop.

They were sitting in their usual pub where they played on Friday and Saturdays, enjoying the food provided by Owner Li and stalking celebrities online instead of doing what they had promised to do i.e making sure the new microphones were working properly. Owner Li would understand, he’s been with them for years and he would probably agree that the future of the band depended on the research. Kinda.

“Maybe he actually followed your career with great interest. Maybe all of your fans are actually celebrities. Maybe you are that celebrity that has no idea how popular he is. You are a harlequin protagonist, Chief,” Lin Jing said finally and earned himself a well-deserved swat at the head. He didn’t even wince, the bastard, next time Zhao Yunlan wouldn’t hold back.

“I wish. Then I would just have to wait and act clueless the moment Shen Wei appears at my doorstep with a bouquet of roses and a proposal of marriage. Alas, I am not, and our fanbase consists of our friends, some people visiting this pub, people crushing on Zhu Hong, and a fork, so…” Here, Zhao Yunlan trailed off.

This newfound spotlight might be very beneficial for the SID but he would really hate to make a breakthrough because of a media interest around them and not because of the music they play. He used to laugh at people who were famous just because they were Internet-famous and this wasn’t how he wanted to make the world know his name. Then again, if more people learnt about them because of Shen Wei, then more people could get acquainted with their music and genuinely like it, and that was a good thing, right?

Unless they agreed with what Ye Zun had written.

Zhao Yunlan narrowed his eyes at the post.

Just as he was considering whether he should reply, a new post by the The Lord of the Night – and what kind of username was that, anyway? Was that guy trying to start a cult? – appeared, this time providing a link to one of their old performances.

Zhao Yunlan clicked the link and watched himself sing a song from a year or two ago and it was rather good but… They were even better now. Aside from Da Qing and Lin Jing’s comments about Zhao Yunlan’s future as a celebrity’s secret lover, a better chance was unlikely to come. Not to mention that the video was rather grainy – they’ve just recruited Lin Jing by then and the things the kid did to their recorded performances ever since were Oscar-worthy, it was a shame so few people got to watch them… Except now they might.

It’s not like he asked for it, but if Shen Wei and Ye Zun decided to bring SID to the spotlight, Zhao Yunlan would make the best of it.

Under Lin Jing’s watchful eye, he logged onto his account and started to read through the whole thread.

 

*

 

The Lord of the Night @yezun

If you guys were wondering just who my idiot brother is listening to these days, here’s an example: https://youtu.be/gRl_4Cfsyv8

The SID – Hometown – live at Longcheng festival 191030

 

Long is the night @yezunarmy

@yezun As usual, our lord and saviour is delivering the goods.

 

The Lord of the Night @yezun

@yezunarmy And don’t you forget it!

 

Li Hua @huahua

@yezun Not to be lesbian on main, but damn, Zhu Hong is something else.

 

Crying at SW eyelashes @shenweis

@huahua @yezun QUEEN 😍

 

Waiting for you @shenye

@yezun Wait, is this the guy from Kunlun?

 

JiaJia @backtothepillar

@shenye I think so… Gotta say, he looked better without the bread.

 

Stream Millenium of Dreams NOW @hpstan

@shenye @backtothepillar Ugh, yeah… But to be fair, we should’ve figured out this was the kind of music HPS would be into. He really moved full into the indie stuff these days.

 

The Chief @zyl_sid

@backtothepillar Excuse me?!?!?!

 

The King of Cats @daqing

@backtothepillar @zyl_sid You know they’re right, Chief.

 

The Chief @zyl_sid

@daqing Unfriended, unfollowed, don’t come begging at my doors.

 

The Chief @zyl_sid

@backtothepillar – check out something newer with good lights: http://y2u.be/iZTDnWsioOI and accept the greatness of the beard.

 

Shen Wei@shen_wei

@yezun Thank you, didi.

 

The Lord of the Night@yezun

@shen_wei That wasn’t for you!

 

*

 

Li Qian loved her job. She really did, even if it meant waking up at dawn and talking on the phone with different people trying to convince her that Shen-laoshi should work with them, for them or that they would love to work for him. If she got a coin every time someone boldly applied to her to get her position, she would have three coins, which wasn’t much, but still weird that it happened so often. She has dealt with these people with grace and professionalism her employer so appreciated and at this point she was also rather good at handling over-excited representatives of modelling agencies and smartphone marketing experts.

Most of the time, she even liked checking all of Shen-laoshi’s social media – no one expected him to be very active, his fans quickly accepted that he didn’t care much for his online presence so his Weibo and Twitter were updated whenever the occasion called for it – a new album, a concert or a TV appearance, Lu Ruomei simply posted the links and Li Qian watched the reactions. Not often, because she was too busy to be permanently glued to her phone, but checking the responses was in her job description and if she was to be quite honest, Li Qian liked seeing her employer so well-appreciated by thousands of people, because he truly deserved it.

Despite his status, he was the kindest, most modest person Li Qian has ever met and there were days where she seriously wondered if it was possible to be the way Shen-laoshi was – kind, supportive and shy, and be in show-business. She’d been his agent since the moment he decided to go solo, so she had no idea how he behaved during his Hei Pao Shi days but whenever she listened to other agents complain about their wards, she silently thanked heavens for Shen-laoshi, who had no secret children, no crazy exes, no drinking scandals and no addictions. Or, it used to be so, because now Li Qian wasn’t so sure about the last one.

When Ye Zun had posted that he’d found Shen-laoshi’s favourite band after all these years, she was the one who told him about it. She didn’t know they were still active and she really wanted to make him happy – he sometimes bemoaned the fact that all he had of Kunlun were three videos from their concert, filmed with a telephone camera the quality of which left a lot to be desired; so when Ye Zun of all people posted the link to their new song, she alerted her boss and witnessed something that happened once in a blue moon – Shen-laoshi online. Not only engaging with people on Twitter, but also checking out all of the SID videos, a small, happy smile on his face.

That was a week ago. Now whenever he wasn’t busy writing music or preparing for his television appearances, Shen-laoshi was re-watching what seemed to be all of SID’s performances, or at least all that were available on their official YT channel. There was also a pile of very new albums on Shen Wei’s bedside table, but Li Qian pretended not to notice that. She was just grateful SID didn’t release their albums on vinyl, because she had no doubt Shen Wei would’ve gotten them as well.

It got to the point when Li Qian had asked him if he wished to have those videos downloaded on his drive because watching him fight with YT every time it tried to play him something fitting its algorithms, despite it not being a SID video, was new kinds of painful. Li Qian didn’t exactly regret doing that, because Shen-laoshi was truly happy to be able to enjoy these new videos without the need to access the Internet every time he wanted to appreciate SID’s music, but… But at this point Li Qian was sure she could represent SID as their agent because she knew their music just so damn well.

So it wasn’t entirely surprising when she walked into Shen Wei’s study to find him lying down on his floor, eyes closed, with SID music playing from the sound system.

“Laoshi?” Li Qian walked in, wondering if it would be better if she just left Shen Wei to it. He really could use some down time, and it was pretty rare to actually find him relaxing. Then again, she did have some things to go over with him. “Are you still busy?”

Shen Wei blinked, still on the floor, and smiled at her. She knew that smile well – it was the same one he always gave to interviewers when he didn’t want to answer their questions.

“No, no, of course not,” he said, picking himself up from the floor and moving to his desk. He didn’t turn the music off, though. “I was just… It’s not anything important. What do you need?”

“We still need to confirm your schedule for the next week.” Li Qian thought it was probably best to jump straight into it. “The album sells are good, of course, but we still got a little bit of promotion to do. I scheduled a radio interview for Monday. The music video is coming out on Thursday, and then you could do a short livestream on Friday? No more than half an hour, I will set everything up.”

“Yes, of course,” Shen Wei agreed easily, as he always did. He really was ridiculously pleasant to work with.

“We also had a couple of requests to fit you into a TV interviews and variety shows, but I can turn them down,” Li Qian said, then paused at the sight of Shen Wei fidgeting behind his desk. He actually looked pretty nervous. “Unless… you don’t want to?”

Shen Wei hesitated. “Do you think I should accept?”

“You don’t like variety shows,” Li Qian pointed out.

“The fans like them,” Shen Wei said.

“Shen-laoshi,” Li Qian started. She didn’t like this strange hesitancy and nervousness. Whatever made Shen Wei think he should be more public or approachable by making a fool out of himself on television, it would be best to address this now. Li Qian was actually good at her job, even if said job sometimes involved putting some common sense into Shen Wei’s stupid, self-denying head. “You know you don’t have to do anything just to please your fans, right? It’s not… You don’t have to do that anymore.”

Shen Wei smiled again, but this time it was a real one, even if a little self-deprecating. “I know. And I’m very grateful. It’s just that… maybe I should show that gratefulness a little bit more?”

“We could do that, if you want,” Li Qian said carefully. One of these days, she would teach Shen Wei to respect his own boundaries. “But we don’t have to. And there are other ways to show your fans your appreciation.”

Shen Wei looked at her with naked hope in his eyes. He really did hate the variety shows. Li Qian could relate.

“We could do a small meet-up. Or a secret show, just for selected fans?” She was pretty sure he would prefer the second option.

Shen Wei nodded. “A show would be good.”

“Great!” Li Qian smiled brightly. “I will check the available venues. We want to do this here, in Dragon City, right?”

“Yes,” he agreed.

“I have a few places in mind – I think a club would be better, if we want to keep it more intimate. And it’s been a while since you played anywhere other than a stadium, right?”

“A while,” Shen Wei repeated drily.

Li Qian laughed. “Give me a week, I will draw up a plan. It will be good.”

“Thank you,” Shen Wei said. “I don’t know what I would do without you, Li Qian.”

Li Qian smiled, an idea half-forming in her head. She did like her boss to a probably unhealthy degree, and she really appreciated him as a person – but that didn’t mean she couldn’t tease him a little. And he probably should come out of his shell a little more.

“By the way,” she asked. “Do you want me to get in contact with the SID? They’re getting a lot of exposure from this, I’m sure they would be down for a collab.”

Shen Wei blinked, opened his mouth, and then closed it again. The tips of his ears were definitely turning more red.

“I… I…”

“Yes?” Li Qian prompted. It wasn’t everyday she managed to turn her boss speechless.

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Shen Wei finished weakly.

Oh yes. Li Qian was definitely going to enjoy this.