Back in October 2016, Chinese pop star Jane Zhang released the Timabaland-produced “Dust My Shoulders Off”. The song shot up to the top 5 on the iTunes U.S. charts and it’s video collected over 12.5 million views on YouTube. This feat placed Jane on the cusp of successfully breaking the U.S. market as a Chinese artist.
However, Zhang is no stranger to the limelight, as she started a career at 15 — singing in pubs to help earn money for her family, before going on the famed Chinese reality singing competition, Super Voice Girl. Although she didn’t win the competition, she became a household name in her home country, garnering Top Female Artist honors at the China Pop Chart Awards for 7 consecutive years. She also boasts a trophy for Best Asian Artist from the Mnet Asian Music Awards.
Currently, Zhang is busy in the lab with Timbaland, now executive producer of her upcoming album, and is continuing to pave a path to stardom in the States. Billboard caught up with Zhang over phone to talk about the challenges of cracking into the U.S. market, what she hopes to accomplish this year as an artist, and what message she wants fans to take away from her music:
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m preparing more songs for my English album. I started about 2-3 years ago, and some arrangements that aren’t fresh anymore, so I’m trying to do something [newer] — like the brand new stuff with Steve Aoki — and I’m still looking for more collaborations with DJs, etc.
You worked with producer Timabaland for “Dust My Shoulders Off,” and he’s executive-producing your album. What do you like about him as a producer?
I’ve never tried that kind of style before. But now that I have, I can’t say no to any beat he has created. [Laughs.] Everyone on his production team is so amazing. I found a lot of fantastic tracks from him and he gives me great ideas for every single song. Dust My Shoulders Off is just the first of many. I want to finish the whole album with him.
What are some of your dream collaborations?
I’m looking for some new producers to work with. I already got what I want with Timbaland because he’s a great producer. Now I just want to do collaborations with someone who can give me a new feel, because the last ten years I’ve done music along the same lane. With Timabaland allowing me to do a different style, I now want to try anything that’s fresh.
What’s the challenge of cracking the U.S. market?
The language is kind of a challenge. Every time I do an interview, I feel nervous, and I don’t know what to say. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m the lucky one, because I have a chance to challenge myself and have a different language to sing in a different market. I still am doing the things, I like because I love to sing so much.
What’s the message that you want people to take away from your music?
I just want to share with people — everyone has feelings, whether it’s good or bad. Everyone has good days and bad days. No matter what or where you are in life, sometimes when people hear my music, they feel what I’m feeling in that moment. If people hear some of the lyrics, part of a song, or a whole song, they can express themselves and their feelings. I may not know everyone personally, but can still share a personal connection.
What American artists inspire you?
Since I was 11 or 12, I’ve been listening to Mariah Carey. Celine Dion, Whitney Houston. Those are all great artists I love. I listen to younger singers as well, like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Pink. I think there’s a lot of great artists out there right now. I enjoy it all.