After a huge year that saw him break into the Billboard 200 as the highest-charting Mandopop star to date, hold his first U.S. concert, perform at Lollapalooza, and a non-stop streak of TV and movie appearances throughout Asia, Lay Zhang isn’t ending 2018 quietly with a holiday single released with just a week to go before the year ends.
Released on Christmas Eve, “When It’s Christmas” is Lay’s latest Christmas release and new English single for fans around the world. Complete with a crackling fire intro, the 27-year-old delivers the cozy type of song only the best kind of holiday music can, capturing the excitement one gets in winding down with loved ones at the year’s end: “January’s just cold, April’s nothing but showers / September’s means summer’s over, I’ve been counting down the hours til it’s Christmas.” Crafted alongside a slew of collaborators including longtime Lady Gaga collaborator DJ White Shadow, “When It’s Christmas” adds to Lay’s growing holiday tunes that includes last year’s ballad “Goodbye Christmas.”
While the EXO superstar didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas as it’s not commonly celebrated in his native China, the singer-songwriter-producer says he finds ways to tap in the festive feelings of the season. “It makes me feel really romantic,” he tells Billboard over the phone. “I really like how everyone is happy and that makes me happy too.”
As a last-minute gift to make his fans happy, Lay’s “When It’s Christmas” is available on digital platforms now. Read on for some exclusive thoughts shared with Billboard including notes on creating the single, his reflections on his past year, and what’s coming in 2019.
What inspired your new holiday song?
This year, 2018, my music did really, really good. It’s broke records in China, I made it on to the Billboard 200 so I wanted to give my fans a song to say thanks for all their support. I think as an artist, giving a song is the best gift, the best way, to give thanks to my fans.
You worked with a team that included DJ White Shadow and Anthony Russo. What was that collaboration like?
Yeah, DJ White Shadow was very kind — and very tall! His goatee was really impressive. [Laughs] It was great working with someone so experienced and I learned a lot working with him. We both were able to share our ideas, it was good and hopefully you’ll see more of us together. The guys helped me a lot with the lyrics — my English is not that good — so the guys helped me a lot to bring some very good lyrics.
Do you have a favorite Christmas song?
Yes, but it depends on the mood. When I’m happy, my favorite is “Jingle Bell Rock” and when I’m sad, I will listen to my song “Goodbye Christmas.” I listen to it when I’m sad because, you know, if you don’t have a girlfriend maybe every day you’ll feel really lonely. [Laughs] So, the sad song is best for the situation. But this year is different! Because this year I received a lot of love and support, so I want to be happy. I want to make a very warm song to make the listeners happy.
Do you have any holiday plans this year?
My plans for the holiday are, hopefully, relaxing. Though I don’t really want to get a lot of rest because I want to prepare my solo concert, I want to spend more time in creating a great concert for all my fans. For sure you’ll see me back in the U.S., I really want to go to New York City and meet you, meet a lot of my fans, share my music and make a great show for my fans.
It feels amazing. I was very nervous about my album, I was not sure if people were going to like it or like it all. Now I have to do much better! It’s really great to see people enjoy my music, but it’s not enough! I think I need to upgrade my production, my vocals and my tracks — all the things — and next year you can expect more good music. I think I can make even better music now. I’ve been in songwriting camps, collaborating with some great producers and singers. Earlier this month, I went to L.A. to do a really great song camp, I worked with a lot of really good producer and made one really special track. But my best memory was probably performing in New York City, at Times Square. I met a lot of good people and I ate a lot of hot dogs — a lot of chili cheese dogs.
Any New Years resolutions or goals for 2019?
I want to try to perform on the Grammy stage. It’s a journey, but I’m on my way, I will work hard and try harder.
Last thing you want fans to know before the year closes?
I want my fans to know I always love them and always need them. I can never say enough, but they are amazing. The love and support always gives me power and motivation. I just want to make more good music for them.