Who Are the Vintage Voices Behind Crazy Rich Asians’ Soundtrack?

(Photo: Business Wire)

WaterTower Music announced that on December 7th, 2018, they are releasing two very stylish vinyl versions of the Crazy Rich Asians Soundtrack: one in appropriate gold and one in emerald green. Noting that a majority of the soundtrack are revivals of classics, from Elvis Presley to Madonna, vinyl sounds like the perfect match.

We all know about the letter to Coldplay and Awkwafina’s rise to stardom. (If you don’t, please take a Google break.) But who are the voices behind the crooning covers of the vintage classics? We’ll take you through some of these stars who are the core inspiration for immortalizing the Crazy Rich Asians Soundtrack in vinyl.

1. Grace Chang – “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” and “Wo Yao Fei Shang Qing Tian”

Grace Chang, (a.k.a. Ge Lan) was born in 1934 during the Shanghai Golden Age of Jazz. Moving from her hometown in Nanjing, Grace grew up in Shanghai where the colonial-imported-music was all the rage. Soon after, she moved to Hong Kong with her family to pursue music as a career. She arrived on its shores as a teen excited to explore the bustling metropolis. It was 1948. Back in Shanghai, China was starting its crackdown on Western culture, and in a few more years, jazz would also be on the chopping block.

Once in Hong Kong, Grace quickly rose to fame. The starlet shone on the HK silver screen for a decade, her apple cheeks and fiery Jazz performances lighting up every scene. She worked consistently in film and music, from 1954 to 1964, when she took an early retirement for marriage and family. During her short-lived career she recorded in multiple languages, including Thai, in a Hong Kong-Thailand joint venture.

Probably the most popping and additive song on the soundtrack, Grace Chang’s “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” is a rendition of Louis Jordan’s “I Want You To Be My Baby”. It’s hard to shake after just one listen. Even the most elementary of Mandarin speakers (myself included) can shout out the lyrics with gusto.

“Wo Yao Fei Shang Qing Tian” was released on her 1961 Album, “Hong Kong’s Grace Chang”. Composed by Min Yao and Yi Wen, the song doesn’t appear to be a cover – unusual for a movement that relied heavily on Western influences.

2. Yao Lee – “Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi”

Yao Lee (a.k.a Yao Li) was born in China in 1922 and raised in Shanghai. Similar to Grace Chang, Yao Lee came of age during a spectacle time for jazz in Shanghai. At 13, Lee found herself on the radio and, a year later, recorded her first single. She was the voice behind the hit, “Rose, Rose, I Love You”, composed by Chen Gexin. The song was later covered by American Frankie Laine in 1951. Yes! That’s right! Yao Lee had it first! And it remains the only major pop music chart hit in the United States written by a Chinese composer. Lee’s Mandarin-version was even released in the US in the 50s. She was credited as “Miss Hue Lee”.

The silky voice of Yao Lee can transition from the sweet and high octaves in “Rose, Rose, I Love You” to low and sultry, like in “Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi”. She often teamed up with her famous brother, Yao Min, recording duets. Her work came to a halt when she married in 1947. But Shanghai’s golden age was on a timer. Like many of her colleagues, Lee fled China for Hong Kong in 1950.

Lee was able to restore her career in her new home, both on stage and on the silver screen. She stopped singing in 1967 when her brother passed away. She continued to support others in their pursuit of music by working with EMI Music Hong Kong.

3. Lilan Chen – “Ni Dong Bu Dong”

Lilan Chen was assuredly the most difficult of singers to track down on this list. Her wiki page is sparse and I had to get it translated by a co-worker. Born in Taiwan in 1951, Lilan gained the nickname “Queen of Blinking” because of her signature fluttering eyes. She was entering singing competitions while still in high school. In the late 60s, she also made her debut on TV shows and participated in the Taiwanese television program called Happy Birthday.

Lilan married in 1979, immigrated to the United States after marriage, and faded out of the entertainment industry.

“Ni Dong Bu Dong”, with its hip-shaking Cuban-inspired cha-cha-cha rhythm, has turned into a line-dancing favorite on YouTube. What is line dancing? Oh, you’re in for a treat.

Crazy Rich Asians didn’t just give us young millennials of 2018 representation on screen. It also brought back and paid homage to a lost generation of music and talent. The power of the arts can do that. It can bring life to the forgotten.

Written by XiaoHwa S. Ng
Digital Strategist

Why We Released A Mandarin In-theater Spot before Crazy Rich Asians

If you have watched or plan to watch Crazy Rich Asians in the theater, this is a before-the-movie commercial that you’re likely to see.

Playing an authentic bilingual Asian-featured commercial in theater in front of a diverse audience group is unprecedented. Envisioning Crazy Rich Asians’ appeal among Asian Americans, we, together with our client State Farm, decided to release “Smart Living”, a spot original developed for Asian Americans, alongside the much-anticipated RomCom in nearly 3,000 theaters nationwide. And it’s proven to be a smart move – according to Motion Picture Association of America, during Crazy Rich Asians’ opening weekend, about 40% of the moviegoers were Asians. It’s an amazing turnout, considering that Asians only make up to 6% of the American population.

What has driven us to push this theater release is we believe the story is universal, transcending language and culture and appealing to the ever increasingly diverse and intersectional American audiences. Anyone that has frustrating experiences talking to Alexa or Google Home would have a chuckle, regardless of race.

And the spot’s bilingual scenes come naturally with the storyline, and they vividly reflects the true-life moments of the majority of Asian Americans – speaking English as a professional at work, and chatting in a second language with friends and family. Be it Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi and many more. Crazy Rich Asians says it all – Rachel and Nick, two professors in NYU, switch their language when meeting their families.

“Crazy Rich Asians does not promote any Asian cultural superiority, nor deliberately fakes any story to feed Western aesthetics. It tells America that Asian Americans are just like everybody else in this country, having funny life stories.” This is a most liked viewer comment, spotted from a popular US-based Chinese language online forum, which applies to not just the movie but also the “Smart Living” spot in this context.

Just like Crazy Rich Asians is a pioneer of Asians’ presence in silver screen, “Smart Living” also leads the trend of showing authentic bilingual Asian American depictions in mainstream advertising environment.



For Asian Americans, the most anticipated weekend of the year finally arrived, and it was a triumph

Yup, you guessed it. It was the opening weekend of Crazy Rich Asians – the talk of the town, the watershed moment of Asians’ on-screen representation, the movie with the mission to achieve a thunderous success big enough to shake Hollywood.

And it has exceeded every expectation. The RomCom has wowed critics, gained a 92% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and has taken the top spot at the weekend box with a whopping $26.5 million – the highest grossing comedy debut of the year thus far and the highest opening for a RomCom in three years. Hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans have been eagerly and anxiously waiting and planning for this weekend. It is the moment of victory they have fought and dreamed for far too long.


From streaming to silver screen

Asian Americans’ journey to mainstream on-screen representation started decades ago, but the rising popularity of online video sharing platforms in the mid-2000 helped accelerate its progress. Often sidelined by Hollywood, Asian Americans have taken their stories to democratic platforms like YouTube where original content can shine. Fast forward to 2015. Realizing the mainstream appeal of Asian stories, ABC created Fresh Off the Boat, a comedy sitcom featuring an Asian immigrant family, which was a big leap from self-generated content to a professional production. What happened since has been histroic – Netflix launched Master of None starring Aziz Ansari and Ugly Delicious starring David Chang; Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina joined the dazzling cast of Oceans’ 8; Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman nominated for an Emmy in a lead actress category…and finally, the triumphant arrival of the all Asian cast major studio film on silver screen. Hollywood, are you finally feeling the heat?


From martial arts to desirable Asian men

Crazy Rich Asians challenges stereotypical depictions of Asians, which makes it feels real and modern.  The way news travels in an Asian family circle is depicted with near total accuracy – funny gifs and animated emojis crossing time zones on Instagram and WeChat, super active family chat groups that always include a few gossiping aunties. And, thank God (and the movie’s makers) for not forcing any martial arts scenes in the movie! Much to our delight, the movie actually brings a fresh breath of air by changing the clichéd Cinderella plot and shifting the balance of power to the middle class female lead rather than her ultra-rich boyfriend. Plus, against Hollywood’s troubled history of portraying Asian men, Crazy Rich Asians finally shows the world that there are plenty of gorgeous Asian men out there that everyone can swoon over.


From silence to #GoldOpen

What’s also groundbreaking is the way Asian Americans have rallied and supported the movie’s premier. Crazy Rich Asians bears the huge burden of proving its worth at the box office in order for Hollywood to recognize the value of Asian stories, and Asian Americans banded together to make sure that this would happen. A group of Silicon Valley Asian entrepreneurs came up with a social campaign idea called #GoldOpen, calling Asian Americans to host private screenings or buy out movie showtimes to help Crazy Rich Asians score a crazy rich opening weekend. Numerous Asian influencers – Instagram fashion guru Amiee Song, film makers Wongfu Brothers, roboticst Grant Imahara, entrepreneurs Boba Guys, WeChat blogger Much Ado, just to name a few – have enthusiastically promoted and contributed to the campaign. In fact we, an Asian American advertising agency, have also organized our own private screening event (and saw our State Farm Smart Living commercial in theater!) The ripple effect is enormous. Fandango says that advance online ticket sales are among the best results for a comedy release in 2018.

For brands, this social campaign is the most telling and convincing case, better than all research data, in illustrating the modern Asian American consumer profile – vocal, aspirational, social savvy, not crazy rich but certainly have a lot to spend, if you get them right.


OK, what’s next?

Crazy Rich Asians is no doubt a landmark success, and it is only the beginning. Asian Americans embody a vast array of cultural, linguistic and religious identities, and we should keep pushing the boundaries to tell fuller and deeper stories of them all, and eventually normalize Asians as complex and real characters on screen of all sizes.

For brands that want to win the hearts and minds of Asian Americans, the Crazy Rich Asians rules are loud and clear – keep your content authentic yet up-to-date, fun, social worthy, and oh please don’t stereotype.

We can’t wait to see it all happen.