Arts major takes charge

By William Axford (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-25 05:53
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 Arts major takes charge

Meilin Gray chases her dream of stardom in China. Wang Jing/ China Daily

Chinese-American girl says she doesn't seek fame, it chases her. William Axford finds out why.

Meilin Gray is as ambitious as they come, but that doesn't mean things have always been easy. The 21-year-old Chinese-American singer has met a few tough challenges while chasing her dream of stardom in China. The first challenge was learning how to speak to her classmates. "I'm quite adventurous," Gray said. "I moved to a Chinese boarding school when I was 13 because I wanted to learn more about my half-Chinese background," said Gray, whose father is from California and whose mother hails from China.

"No one at the school spoke English and I didn't speak Chinese. I cried every day after school and called my parents at least five times a day."

Arts major takes charge

Determined to fit in, Gray chose a few words a day and looked them up in a Chinese dictionary. She spent hours after school struggling to learn the words. Her hard work paid off and within a few months she was able to communicate well with her classmates.

Her trial by error method didn't stop there, though. The approach has helped her throughout her musical career, which sprouted in 2005.

"I started out on Beijing Television's Arts of Our Land show. It was like boot camp, and I had to learn a lot of things on the spot. But it was worth it."

Her experience on TV opened up other opportunities, such as working as a singer for Walt Disney Co shows in Asia.

Gray quickly found out that she had little creative control over her music. It's a conflict that clashed with her fierce need to create her own identity.

Turning down contracts for projects that raise the potential for instant success hasn't slowed her. Gray talks about her career with astute confidence and is all smiles when it comes to ruminating about the future.

"I'm not looking to be discovered," she said. "That's already happened before and it's not for me. It's making my own music that's important to me. You can have good packaging and a great publicist but if your music can't stand on its own, no one will remember you in five years," she said.

Currently taking a break from performing, Gray is finishing her last year of college at Tianjin Normal University, where she will obtain a degree in performing arts.

Despite a three-year break from the spotlight, the college student is very serious about education.

"I don't want to be one of those artists who know nothing," Gray said. "Education is important and it's good to enrich yourself."

After college she plans to realize her dreams - on her own terms. The strategy includes releasing a CD next year with songs in Chinese and English.

"I'm starting a record label called Mestere Records. Creative control is really important to me. All of my music is in-house and all my songs are written by me," said Gray, who has a website,

"I'm the kind of writer who writes from experience," she said. "If you can't relate to it, how can you expect anyone else to?

"This is the time to do it. I'm still young and can rest after I've realized my dreams," she said.

Q & A

Q: Do you do anything else beyond music?

A: Music is the most important thing but I act as well. I have been on a TV miniseries in Shanghai called Sophie's Diaries. I'm also going to start a fashion line next year. What fun is music without the fashion?

Q: How would you describe your music? What makes you stand apart from other singers?

A: My voice is unique, especially for the Chinese market. It has a poppy but "sandy" tone to it.

I'm both American and Chinese, so I want it to influence my music. It's a collaboration of East and West, a fusion of both.

Q: You're taking time from performing to focus on school. How has that worked out?

A: I feel like the last couple of years allowed me to grow up. I've focused more on discovering my sound and standing my ground when it comes to my music.

Q: You've lived in the US and various cities in China. How long do you plan to stay in Beijing?

A: Beijing is my home. I love it. At this point in my life, I'm not sure where I would rather live. It's fun. I love the international crowd.

(China Daily 06/25/2010)