Kris Wu Talks 'Antares,' Being Louis Vuitton's Brand Ambassador, and Mental Health in Hip-Hop

Kenneth Cappello
Kris Wu

On Tuesday (Nov. 6), Kris Wu celebrated his 28th birthday by hosting an invite-only album release party at a private location in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district. It was put together by Interscope Records and Beats, providing a packed space of his mostly female fans an opportunity to see the Chinese-Canadian star perform songs off his debut album Antares, released the prior Friday.

Wu came through on the freight elevator, making a swift entrance with his entourage. He stopped to greet fans, friends, and media who came out to support him. Established as one of Asia’s biggest stars, he was previously a member of Korean boy band EXO, dipping into acting and modeling while building his name as an artist who wants to bridge the gap between East and West. His brand continues to gain more recognition, driving this convergence of fans who either love him as an ambassador for luxury brands, his acting roles, or his music, to the center. When they all come together, it is hysteria.

At around 11 p.m., Wu hit the stage to perform a quick set that consisted of “November Rain” (coincidentally, it was raining in New York that day), “Deserve,” and the Chinese version of “Tough Pill” a cappella, which many of his fans knew the words to already. With support by DJ Wizz Kidd and DJ Whoo Kid, Wu just wanted to wrap up performing so he could hang out with his fans and have a few drinks. Before leaving the stage with “Like That,” he thanked everyone for coming out this evening.

“This is my first time spending my birthday out here in the States. And usually, on my birthday, I have a big birthday concert. This year, I’m with you guys and everyone is special,” he said. Later, he received a birthday cake decorated with the Antares cover, in which he blew out the candles to a round of cheers.

Wu’s Antares officially dropped on Nov. 2 in the United States. The album was not released in China until Nov. 6, and the delay caused controversy when Ariana Grande fans suspected he was using bots to keep Antares tracks in the top spots on the U.S. iTunes sales chart -- preventing Grande's "Thank U, Next" from reaching the chart's top spot -- creating a wave of speculative headlines to the point the data was being reviewed by Nielsen Music and Billboard.

Scooter Braun, Grande’s manager, has personally reached out to Wu to clear up any confusion and wrote a lengthy statement on Instagram, claiming that Wu's rankings were due to his Chinese fans purchasing his music via the U.S. iTunes, and recognizing that “the music community is international and no longer held by borders.” Wu, too, maintains it is actual humans who are buying his music, even poking fun at a “Kris Wu uses bots” meme on Twitter.

In our conversation below, Wu speaks on Antares, working with popular American producers, the discussion of mental health in hip-hop, and more.

What’s the meaning behind your album title, Antares?

Antares is one of the brightest stars. It’s like 1,000 times brighter than the sun.

What made you land on that name?

I just love the space and galaxy ever since I was a kid. Even if you look on my Instagram, it says, “Galaxy Fanfan.” So all my fans know that I am super interested in exploring space. When I was thinking about a name for the album, I started looking at random stars. Whether they were dope or special names, special meanings -- any stars that could be related to me. This one kind of popped up.

The meaning is kind of dope. For one, in the Western world, it means Heart of a Scorpion. In China, it means Heart of a Dragon. It’s kind of dope because my horoscope, I’m a Scorpio, and in China, Chinese people would call themselves the center of the dragon. It’s a super powerful symbol. I feel like it’s an East and West kind of connection in this one star. That’s why I decided to name it Antares. I also feel like the name kind of generates curiosity. People don’t know what it is until they Google it or something.

In April, Billboard reported you signed an exclusive international recording contact with Universal Music Group. Take me through the deal and what it means for a Chinese artist?

It was just good that now I have a label behind me. Before, I was always kind of independent. Even all the singles I put out in the States were independent. The song with Travis [Scott] -- “Deserve” – [was] pretty much independent. It wasn’t until this album that I finally got a label deal. Universal and Interscope, they always wanted to have an international artist to break through in the U.S. I told them how I felt, how I wanted to bridge the East and West with my music. And then, they liked it and they were with me on that. We kind of share the same goal: Really building me as a global artist.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Kris Wu x @LouisVuitton -- @virgilabloh New Campaign--

A post shared by Galaxy Fanfan (@kriswu) on

You also became a brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton and modeled Off-White’s S/S 2019 Collection.

They have never had an global ambassador, and it is definitely an honor to be the first ambassador for Louis Vuitton. I definitely had connections with them. Obviously, Virgil [Abloh] is with Louis Vuitton now. I’ve been friends with him for three, four years already.

When he first came out with Off-White, I was one of the first supporters in Asia to rock his stuff. We became Instagram friends at first. He was like, ‘Oh, you’re rocking these? These are dope.’ We were DM-ing and he said he wanted to make some custom piece for my concert. This was back in the day, so we always had a connection. And when I heard he was moving to Louis Vuitton, I thought it was really dope.

Do you see yourself creating a line with them?

Yeah, probably. I was even thinking about back in the day doing something with Off-White. Virgil and I were talking before, just doing a limited run. I was super busy and I couldn’t make it happen. I think with Louis Vuitton, we have a deeper connection now. I think we might be able to do something. It would be Louis Vuitton x Kris Wu or Off-White x Kris Wu.

What do you think about Off-White being the most popular brand right now?

Yeah, especially in China. It’s just so popular. Everyone rocks it.

Let’s talk about the features on the album. You have Travis Scott, Rich the Kid, and Jhené Aiko.

The one with Rich the Kid, it was just a really fun song. I wanted to write a song about cars because I love cars. I wanted to have something to bump in the car while I am driving. So that’s why I made the song, “Coupe.” You can tell by the name that it is a car type of song.

And Rich the Kid, he liked the record and hopped on it. It was really fun shooting the music video. I brought out like 10 cars. They were all mine. My personal cars. We were on set, shooting, and it was super lit. He was really feeling it and vibing to the music. We shot it super fast and it looks great. And it’s done. It’s probably going to drop soon.

“Freedom” with Jhené Aiko, we wanted to see if we could find a female vocalist because I never had a female artist collaboration. The hook is super melodic, and it would fit an R&B type of vibe. We just thought about Jhené Aiko almost instantly. I thought she would be perfect for the song. She’s also very picky about her choice of songs. It turns out she really likes the song and she cut the song. We shot a music video for it.

“November Rain” is produced by Murda Beatz, who has had a run with Migos and Drake. Talk about working with him.

He’s super dope. Before I even met him, we were just FaceTiming. A couple days ago when the record went No. 1 on iTunes, his manager and him just FaceTimed me right away. They were like, ‘Oh, the record is No. 1!’ We were just really celebrating. It was good. It was definitely dope working with him. I think he is a very talented producer. I look forward to making more fire stuff with him in the future.

What about Travis? Do you want to do more music with him?

I think we should. Once this album is done and I do all the touring, once I am getting ready to go back in again in the studio, I’ll definitely reach out to some producers or artists before that I have a good synergy with and we’ll see what happens.

You have some Travis’ producers on your album -- Wondagurl and Frank Dukes.

Yeah, Wondagurl is super lit. The whole vibe that she’s on, I love it. I’m definitely thinking about working with her again. Definitely thinking of doing some more tracks with her. The second you hear her stuff; it says "Wondergurl." She’s very talented.

Louis Bell is on Antares too, who produced Post Malone’s “Congratulations” and “Rockstar.”

Louis Bell is making so much money. Next to Metro Boomin, he’s like the second-biggest producer making the most money. I read it somewhere. There’s like a chart, and Metro Boomin is No. 1. This may be last year, maybe not this year. Louis Bell is No. 2. He’s super talented. He makes all kinds of sounds, all kinds of stuff. [He has] really good musicality, and really good sense. I definitely want to work with him again too.

You spoke about this album having a lot of melodic-style rapping. Was the whole idea to showcase your versatility in doing pop and hip-hop?

Not really, not in that sense. I still wanted to keep the album urban. The base should always be hip-hop and urban. There’s more stuff leaning towards pop. Some stuff leaning towards R&B. The foundation I always had was very urban leaning. That never changed.

In terms of the tracks, I wanted to have different types of sounds in there. I feel like it is my first album so I wanted to tell people what I have been on for the past couple of years. So they have a general idea of what type of sound that I’m doing and what I am influenced by. I definitely changed the songs a lot. What I thought was going to be on the album I took out and replaced it with other songs.

You have three songs that are completely in Chinese.

Yeah, one is “Tian Di” (天地) and that is in completely Chinese. The other two songs [“Tough Pill” and “Hold Me Down”], I actually have two versions for it. There’s an English version and there’s a Chinese version. I wanted to make them for my fans back home in China.

“Tian Di,” I just wanted to keep it only Mandarin, only Chinese. I just wanted to add a different taste, and because the album would come out in the West, I wanted people to know where I come from. I definitely wanted to keep that all in Chinese, and that’s why this track is on the album.

What does the song mean in English?

It means "Heaven and Earth" -- it just means, sky's the limit. Breaking boundaries and conquering. Don’t care about people doubting you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Very positive energy, very strong attitude.

On “November Rain,” you sang “suicide when I can’t see my shorty.” Is that something you felt before about someone?

Yeah, maybe at some point when I was younger. This song for me is quite personal. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. Growing up, I always felt that I was the outcast. I’m with my mom all the time and she’s always busy. The cities that I grew up in Guangzhou in China or Vancouver, it would always rain in the month of November. I guess New York, too, because it’s been raining so hard. [Laughs.]

I always catch that very moody and sad type of vibe. In my memory, I always had that. Maybe I was younger, I had some heartbreaking break-ups. If this was the 15-year-old Kris, and this was on the radio or popped up on my playlist, I would definitely add it on my playlist and listen to it.

Mental health in hip-hop has been an ongoing conversation these days. Take me through the difference of mental health in China versus mental health in America. Is China open to these discussions?

Sometimes, it can get very sensitive. You just can’t really say too much about it. That’s how the culture is. Especially me, because I have so many fans that are very young, I don’t think people will like it. It is definitely different.

Is it a sign of weakness?

Nah, I just think that’s how the culture is and how kids are raised by their parents. And how the society is. People [keep] more to themselves. Frankly, people just don’t express themselves.

What do you think about the conversations in America about mental health?

I think it is dope. If a song is able to help someone, inspire someone, or heal someone’s pain, that’s the most beautiful thing that can happen. That’s definitely one of its purposes that music can provide.

On “We Alive,” you rap, “Coming up, coming up, I remember that road/ I was living at home, it wasn’t too long ago/ Now we on a ride, yeah/ It’s like I’m always on the road, but they love me back at home.” Can you tell me a time when you were at your lowest point in your music career and felt like you wanted to give this up?

There were times when I felt tired from all this, and I just wanted to step away. There’s times like that. Obviously, I kept going. I mostly do it for my fans. I felt like I didn’t want to disappoint my fans.

Why did you want to get away? Was it because you were juggling acting and modeling?

I definitely have done a lot of stuff. Because I never settle and I always try to be a pioneer, I try to almost do the impossible in China. A lot of times it’s people who don’t really understand what I am doing besides my fans. People don’t try to understand you, and frankly, they just don’t and they won’t understand what you’re doing. I really don’t care what these people think because I know I’m doing what I like to do and this is me. And I have my fans supporting me. If I care about them and I quit, that’s not me. That’s not who I am.

You’ve said when you’re in the studio, it just feels right. What is that feeling?

I think it’s just a getaway for me when I’m in the studio. When I am working or I am somewhere else, there’s the internet. I got my phone. Everyone is texting me. All these things. All these voices. But when I’m in the studio, I can just really get in and just be one with the music. Be myself. I feel peaceful.

Have any Chinese artists reached out to congratulate you on the album?

Yeah, they all did. It’s my birthday and they all texted me, ‘Happy Birthday!’ They all checked out the album, and they all thought it was really fire. They gave me really good reviews on it. So in China, we use Weibo, so a lot of guys reposted the album link. I’ve been getting really good feedback.

What is one that you can share?

His name is MC HotDog. He’s an OG rapper from China, and he was on The Rap of China with me as a judge. He actually said when he reposted it, ‘First of all, happy birthday Kris. And second of all, it ain’t easy putting out a full album right now in China. Current day. I support you no matter what.’ That was pretty dope.

People out here won’t understand what he is saying, but that is the case in China. A lot of people don’t put out albums anymore cause all they do is singles. A little bit more would be an EP, three songs or four songs. But the album is kind of dead in China. The whole music industry hasn’t been doing well in the past 20 years. Really a lot people stopped putting out albums because there’s really no point for it. People don’t even listen to it. There’s really nowhere to promote your music. You can’t make much money with your music. Royalties, a lot of stuff is pretty messed up. People stopped putting out albums a long time ago.

It’s not really a common thing when you see someone at the peak of their career put out a full-length album. When he said that, I was like, ‘Dang. Word, thank you.’

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