Alice Longyu Gao is very stressed out.
It’s just three days until her new single, “Karma Is a Witch,” is set to drop (the song is out now), but the multi-hyphenate (a Chinese-born, New York City-based musician, DJ and artist) can’t contain her excitement (or her worry) about the defiant anthem’s impending release — a common occurrence as she struggles with anxiety, particularly when it involves a transitional career moment.
?As one watch of her new clip confirms, Gao’s bold, saccharine (and Harajuku-inspired) style aesthetic is an easy target for copy-cats, but she doesn’t need to try too hard to innovate — it comes naturally. She recalls purchasing a “song ideas” notebook from a Sailor Moon souvenir shop in Harajuku, Japan, with the cartoon character — and her bad AF attitude — inspiring much of the new single’s lyrics. “She is so cute and so perfect. In real life, I hope there are warriors like that to guard us, so wack people can be punished effectively,” she says. “We don’t have to wait for buddha’s karma anymore.”
The track doubles as a clap-back for her robust network of artist friends to all of the naysayers that get in their way. “All of my friends are always on a photoshoot, or a film project, a fashion show or a music project. This digital culture of getting ‘liked’ drives us to please our audience first,” she laments. “We want to be cool, we want to do rad shit, we are young and we are hustling, trying and we should strive to make our own unique impacts. I want all my friends, my people, to follow the idea of ‘unfollow.’ The joy of living a creative life comes from working on what your authenticity inspires you and leads you. But I see repetitive ideas all the time. It is not only hard but also risky to be an authentic bitch.”
An ‘authentic bitch’ she certainly is — the track “Karma is a Witch” was inspired by her fascination with cults and “new” religions, citing her studies on the topic at a Harvard University summer program in Kyoto, Japan as paramount. “I learned and believe in the existence of karma. Even though karma ensures that there is a balance exist in our universe and lives, we shouldn’t be passive. Some people say: ‘ugh, whatever, karma comes back, she will be punished somehow,’” she says. “I have to admit that sometimes I think this way too. I don’t want us artists to rely on karma. After all, we are poor and you should be paid if someone takes your idea. Simple solution, right?”
To celebrate Billboard’s Summer of Pride and her new release, Alice — who identifies as pansexual — put together an exclusive Pride-themed playlist as a nod to the Eastern sonic influences (and LGBTQ artists) that shaped her innovative sound. “Like Lady Gaga to English-speaking LGBTQ community, through their music and art, there are queens and kings who empowered LGBTQ people in the east,” she says. “This playlist features artists like Jolin Tsai (Lady Gaga of China), Kumi Koda (Beyonce/Rihanna of Japan), CL (Nicki Minaj of Korea).”
Elsewhere, she cites a “lesbian-inspired song” Christine Fan released in the early 2000s — “a period that LGBTQ people/culture was still under the table in China” — as well as the many “queens” beloved the world over such as Kim Petras, Charli XCX and more. Some of the tracks nod to the “indie world” of Japan and China. I remember when I was little, I was confused, and lived in my own world, because I felt like no one understood me,” she says. “Therefore these cool tunes were the ones that I used to massage my delicate soul in my bedroom — Cheer Chan and my little airport.”
As an expatriate based in the U.S., Gao has had a long journey towards self-acceptance, which she links to her ultra conservative upbringing. While she has never “come out” to her parents, she also hasn’t hid her sexuality and identity, either. Born and raised in the small town of Bengbu, China, the artist describes the region as “literally the middle of the country,” and notably adjacent to the Huaihe River which separates China down the middle geographically. “We don’t really have culture, cool hippy stuff. We’re not Shanghai,” she says, citing only one local museum that is typically “covered in ash” because of a lack of frequent visitors.
In middle school, Alice recalls first feeling a same-sex attraction, but didn’t have any support from the limited LGBTQ community locally in her native China. “I always just thought I was gay. Like ‘hi I’m gay, bye!’ After I came to America when I was 17, I realized that sexuality is much more fluid and it’s a real spectrum. It’s not right or left or black or white, ya know?” she says. “So I would question myself. Am I queer? Am I bisexual? Still at this point in my life, I’ve never had a boyfriend. I would have crushes on boys, and to me that was so confusing.”
Pride! Ok so I need to stop brag about how good I was when I was in school, BUT my essay on LGBTQ activism in my rural chinese hometown did got me into 11 top 60 university in America…tysm @saks & @thestonewallinn for inviting me to your celebration — it was so great to see familiar faces and this year’s campaign video did make me cry, so good– 50 years and only stronger&better guys ————–
After moving to the U.S. to attend Boston University, Gao’s full acceptance of her own queerness began to take shape, despite fear of reproach from her family. When applying to schools, she was concerned her SAT scores were “so bad” that she wouldn’t be accepted. After penning a very personal essay — about fighting for LGBTQ rights in her rural Chinese hometown — she was admitted to “11 top universities,” she says. In college, she brought her then-girlfriend home for the first time and her parents were not fazed, referring to her as just a “friend.” “Obviously my parents knew that my college essay was about my experience with the LGBTQ community here, but they weren’t aware that I was very active, or even a part of, that community,” she says. “They would be like ‘do you have a boyfriend? You need to think about this and eventually get married and find a solid rich Chinese guy to get married to’ (Laughs).” Alice plans to reveal her sexuality to her parents this year. “They might go crazy, honestly,” she says. “My family is super conservative and my father really puts all of his pride on me. But I’m not afraid – this is part of me and bottom line I am financially independent and I’m not relying on them.”
Since moving to New York City post graduation, Gao has become a staple of the city’s club circuit as an uber in-demand DJ, spinning for branded events from Hennessy, 88Rising/Red Bull, Milk, NYLON, V Magazine, and Galore, and assisting British it-girl Chelsea Leyland. “DJing is about playing music other people will like,” she says. “I sort of started to learn all of this classic music that everyone would dance to, and that really helped in making my original music, because all of my song ideas and concepts are kind of crazy.” Since she has featured in W Hotels’ #QueerMeOut campaign (in 2017) and last year’s official NYC Pride campaign, and collaborated with brands like Dr. Marten, Ipsy, and Juicy Couture. “That was one of my high points,” she says of her collaboration with the latter “iconic” brand, who tapped her to create an original “runway mix” for a recent show. “I’m a girl from the middle of China, the middle of nowhere, and I got the job 36 hours before their show,” she says. “It was super stressful to put together the tracks so last minute, but when the music was played at the show, I literally cried because no one would ever know this super chic, fashionable music was made by a Chinese girl from somewhere super rustic and conservative.”
Throughout her still-nascent career, Gao’s hustle is undeniable, despite the many “unjust people” she encounters daily in the biz — from those who always scamp on payments to just being generally “shady.” “I remember I had to fight with some greedy disgusting club promoters for 200 dollars. A lot of the times I just cry, in my shoebox-size east village apartment,” she says. “I wish my family were here, I wish my mom could help me like when I was little. But no, adult-life in a foreign country is just me myself and I. I know New York is the only place I can grow my artistry into the best possible big tree. I have to prove myself here. After tears I am also resilient, strong and a problem solver.”
Her work as a sculpturist inspired her to create her very-own art installation — dubbed PERICURA and described as a window into her creative process — which debuted during Miami’s Art Basel in December 2017, and featured at New York City’s The Moxy Times Square for its second iteration “PERICURA 2.0” during New York Fashion Week last February, which included a pink fortune cookie-inspired sculpture, manicures by nail artist Mei Kawajiri (based on the Japanese cartoon “The Rose of Versailles”) and manga-style haircuts by stylist Kahh Spence. Alice is currently planning another iteration of the installation as a 360 “The Alice” fantasy experience based on her upcoming EP, tentatively titled High Dragon and Universe — which will include her own sculptures, as well as her own version of a Dance Dane Revolution-esque game, featuring her own original music, and plenty of Alice-curated bubbly for guests. “It’s a little ambitious, but I am the princess of manifestation!”
Elsewhere, she’s excited to announce a forthcoming Chinese-language collaboration with pop duo Iconapop set for release later this year, as well as an upcoming live gig in at New York City’s Ludlow House (June 28). “The theme is sailor moon- aka our ultimate kawaii queer icon.”