Kris Wu Wants To Be The “Jackie Chan Of Music”

Photograph by Kenneth Cappello.

“I’m trying to bridge the East and West with my music”

Kris Wu wants to prove to the world he’s more than just a superstar in China. With a cult-like following, the Chinese-Canadian artist aims to perfect his craft and become a mainstay in the realm of R&B and hip-hop. And he's well on his way: His most recent single “Like That” made him the first Chinese artist to hit the Billboard Hot 100, securing the No. 73 spot.

Being a former member of Chinese-Korean boy band EXO, Wu is no stranger to crooning melodies and flexing his vocals. And, at the end of last year, the 27-year-old became the first Chinese artist to land the No. 1 spot on the U.S. iTunes Chart with his collaborative record with Travis Scott, “Deserve.” The crazy part is… he’s just getting started.

Below, we talk with Wu about his unique sound, what it was like to work with Pharrell, and how he wants to become the Jackie Chan of music.

For those who don’t know, who is Kris Wu?
I’m an artist. I do urban music. I produce. I write. At the same time, I come from China. I’m trying to bridge the East and West with my music.

How would you describe your sound?
I’m very familiar and comfortable, and I get super-creative with melodic-style rapping. That’s kind of what I love and enjoy the most. So a lot of my sound is going to be in that alley, like that one that just came out, “Like That,” and the one with Travis Scott last year, “Deserve.” At the same time, there’s going to be some diversity. I have this album coming out that we’re planning to drop later this year. On the album, people can expect different types of sound. Still in that alley, but I have a couple songs that I incorporate Chinese [into], whether it’s in the melodies or lines in the songs.

You’ve already worked with some of hip-hop’s hottest artists such as La Flame and Trippie Redd. What other features can we expect from your album?
I can’t tell you exactly who yet. I can say this though: I didn’t want a feature-heavy album, because this is my first official project. So I want to make sure people get to know who I am first, and my sound. For the ones that I’ve been talking about, like with Pharrell, I do have something coming with him. And he’s actually the person who inspired me a lot. He told me to put the songs out in Chinese. He said it’d be really dope. 

How’d you link with someone like Pharrell?
We did an event in China together, last year in Shanghai. It was a big event, and we performed together. Basically, he wrote a song for that event, and then he wanted a feature. Someone who’s Chinese, that can write and spit in Chinese. And then I just hopped on the track. While we were working on that, he was like, “Oh, do you want to check out some more beats?” I was like, “Of course.”

What was that studio session like?!
It was crazy. I still can’t believe it. I was nervous! Before I stepped into the room, 100 percent I was really kind of anxious, whether he’d like my music or not. 'Cause obviously he’s worked with so many great people, so many great artists. So I was just trying my best to get the best out of me, and hopefully, he likes it.

Can you talk about being a superstar in China? How does the States compare to your hometown?
Culturally, it’s very different. I get a lot of attention when I go outside in China, so I tend to just stay at home. Sometimes it can be very chaotic. But it’s cool because obviously there are so many people that are supporting me out there. And my face is all over the streets and somewhat everywhere. So I kind of just have to stay low-key. Out here, I get to actually be normal, I guess, and live a normal life. I can drive around and walk around. I just kind of have to avoid areas like Pasadena heavily.

Because of the Asians?!
Mmmhmmm. Yeah. When I’m around these areas [Mid-city], I’m usually fine.

I feel like you’re so humble and I really can appreciate that, honestly. 
Thank you. Yeah, I just want to keep it real. Because a lot of people, when they talk about hip-hop and this whole industry, everyone wants to kind of show they’re dope or whatever. I just keep it real and be myself. I come from a different culture. I didn’t grow up on the streets or anything, so just keeping it real. And I think being humble is really one of the greatest parts of Chinese culture. Because my parents growing up, they would tell me to be humble. And everything will work out.

How did you start out?
I started out doing a Korean boy band. And then I moved back to pursue my solo career.

What’s been the most difficult part of transitioning from boy band to solo artist?
I would say time. I’m just so busy, schedules and everything, and traveling back and forth. A lot of times, I just have to really make time and really push things aside for my music. And it doesn’t happen all the time, because I can’t just stop working. Obviously, there’s so much stuff going on and people hit me left and right every single day, asking me to go to this event or do this or that. And do this movie and do this TV show. So it’s really a matter of figuring out what I have to sacrifice in my schedule to make time for my music.

What do you do for fun?
I love cars. I’m a super car enthusiast.

How many do you have?
I have like 10 cars, in a short amount of time too.

That was one of my questions, what did you do with your first advance? Was it a car?
No, it wasn’t! I remember that clearly. When I got my first big paycheck, I went to a high-end fashion store and copped some dope gear for myself. 'Cause I love fashion, too. And cars I kind of got hooked on recently, but I know I had a passion for cars ever since I was a kid.

You’ve collaborated with a bunch of brands, including Burberry. Can you talk about your fashion sense?
Again, just being myself and just wearing whatever’s comfortable for me. And try to look as fly as possible wherever I go. That’s all. When I’m casual like this, cause I know we weren’t going to go on camera, I just kind of dress super-casual. When I’m on stage or know I’m going to be on camera, or in front of fans, I try to always dress to impress. Because it’s the first thing people see. 

What advice do you have for an aspiring Kris Wu?
Put the necessary time and effort into your work. You have to spend a lot of time in the studio to really find your own sound and just be on your platform. Be authentic in your own way. A lot of people ask me, “Why do you want to be this bridge for East and West? What does it mean for you? What do you think people back home are going to think?” 

I always say, first of all, there hasn’t really been anyone when you talk about music. Artists from China—you can’t really think of anyone. But if you talk about actors, you think about Jackie Chan. I want to be the Jackie Chan of music. And also someone that, in general, his home can look up to. And I feel like I’m kind of doing it already. ‘Cause I’ve been saying this ever since last year, and now you’re actually seeing more and more of these Asian artists putting out music globally. Whereas before, they would just keep it in the China market. And I kind of started doing this about two years ago, and now you’re seeing more and more. So I feel like, yes, I am doing something to really inspire people, and just keep it going. And I think it’s only a matter of time before someone breaks through. And I hope I can do the right thing and be that person. 

Last question, who do you think the best rapper is in the U.S. right now?
Kendrick Lamar.

Photograph by Kenneth Cappello.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds



Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.