Since 2013, Roy Wang [also known as Wang Yuan] has been one of China’s most popular young stars. As one third of Chinese boy band TFBoys since 2013, he grew up in the spotlight, singing about topics ranging from love to promoting communist values. Beyond his role in the group, he’s released several singles and albums as a soloist, pursued acting, and now he’s opted to study Stateside at Berklee College of Music in Boston, honing his craft as a burgeoning songwriter.
While in New York City to speak at the United Nations as UNICEF China Goodwill ambassador in November, Wang spoke with Billboard about how he’s growing as an artist while studying in the U.S.
Billboard: How are you doing today?
Wang: Doing good. How are you?
Good. How’s your trip to the UN going?
It’s also good.
How was your speech?
It’s good, but my English is not good.
That’s fine, please don’t worry!
Yeah. I think maybe this’ll help me. [Switches from English to Mandarin.] It’s my third time being here, so I was not that nervous. I was well prepared, so I felt that the opinions I presented and the way I expressed myself were more mature and dynamic.
You’ve been an ambassador for a while now and you’ve been working with UNICEF. How does it feel to be able to promote this positive message?
I have been focusing on child education the whole time, as I think children should get equal education wherever they are.
Is there any particular significance to you, to speak up about children’s education?
Every child should have their rights, and also we should be focusing on what exactly the education level the child should get when they should be getting it to help them grow.
Regarding you’re own education, you actually started studying at Berklee recently. How’s that been going?
Life here is more interactive. I get to discuss and do teamwork with my classmates way more than the time I was able to in China. So I learned not just textbook knowledge but also outside of the classroom, how to communicate with your friends and classmates. It’s quite different.
What do you feel like you’ve learned from that experience specifically? Does anything come to mind?
After learning from the professors, I actually get hands-on experience while I perform and practice with my classmates. Also, I get to hear their perspectives about things, recognizing that everyone has a perspective that is way different than others.
You’ve been doing music for years now. It’s your career. How does it feel to be back in school and studying formally in the U.S., at a prestigious music program like Berklee?
Over here, nobody treats me like a talent, a celebrity. The experience is quite different because, in China, they’re always, “Oh, you are you… You’re famous.” They treat you differently. And here I’m just another student on campus, just learning, experiencing.
How do you feel your approach to your music has changed since you started studying?
Over here, I have met with a whole bunch of students coming from different backgrounds, so I learned a lot of genres that I hadn’t been really familiar with in the past. So it’s quite interesting.
Anything in particular that you’re starting to learn about and come to like?
Fortissimo jazz, so it’s a lot different from how I perceived the genre when I used to listen to jazz, like the way they sing and the melodics, everything is quite different. And also people in Western countries, when they sing, they sing differently than we do in China. Yeah. I guess Chinese is more melancholic, with different style melodies.
You haven’t put out music since you started the program, so do you think you’re maybe going to approach your music differently for your next release? Can we look forward to something different? Are we going to hear, I don’t know, jazz?
I’m open to new things. Since I’m here, I’ve learned a lot and about so many differences in music, so you can be expecting some new things.
Are you working on anything now? Or are you just focusing on school?
I’m composing at the moment.
You’ve been really active since you were really young, and you’re one of the most popular singers in China. How do you feel, as you’re aging, how do you feel your approach to your music and your approach to your career is changing?
I used to just sing what I liked, and right now, I want to be more responsible for myself, for my music. I want to get positive feedback from the market.
TFBoys were very synced up with government-influenced ideology. When you think of the TFBoys in American media, people always talk about how it verges on pop propoganda and things like, “Oh, they’re associated with the Chinese government.” So for the past five years or so, you’ve been really kind of representing China musically. How do you feel about that, especially now that you’re studying in the U.S.?
I was really blessed that I was one of the most popular singers and being in one of the most popular boy bands. At this point, as everybody’s growing up, I have somethings that I like and the other Boys have things they like, but when we come together they are all still TFBoys and they’re going to be consistent and it’s going to be the same in the future.
As we approach a new decade, how do you feel looking back on your career and legacy over the past 10 years, and how do you hope the 2020s treat you?
Indeed, starting from day one of my career, we’ve had lots of attention. It’s been six years now and I’m like “time flies!” Time seems to speed up and makes me realize: this is serious, I must become better as a musician and keep learning, I have nothing but my work to say “Thank you, my fans, for your love and support.” My plan for 2020 is to release a new album, and I’m working on it. Hope I can share with you the songs as soon as possible!
This interview has been edited for clarity.