Pharrell Williams, Daya, OneRepublic: GRAMMY Festival China Makes Fans "Happy"
Pharrell Williams' "Happy" brought the house down, OneRepublic wowed the crowd with an unplugged performance, Macy Gray honored China by dressing in red, and Daya showed natives what it means to have "girl power!"
These were among the many highlights at the inaugural GRAMMY Festival China at ChangYang Music Theme Music Park in Beijing on April 30. A partnership between the Recording Academy, Bravo Entertainment and China Music Vision Ltd., the festival played host to a collective of GRAMMY-nominated and -winning artists as well as Chinese musicians William Chen and Nicholas Tse.
Beginning with "Sit Still, Look Pretty," Daya had the honor of kicking off the festival, rocking the stage with her all-female band. Speaking with China Radio International's EasyFM following her set, she revealed that her stage name Daya means "kindness" in Sanskrit while describing her personality in terms such as "weird," "chill" and "passionate."
Those words seemed to resonate as Daya interacted with the audience, portraying a sense of humor as well as passion through performances of her hits "Hide Away" and "Don't Let Me Down."
Next, veteran GRAMMY winner Gray performed a standout set, delighting the audience with a rendition of Radiohead's iconic hit "Creep." She channeled her roots with a rendition of the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted Louis Armstrong classic "What A Wonderful World," in addition to rolling out her own hits such as "I Try." Decked out in red and sporting red hair — an obvious homage to the Chinese audience — Gray gave the fans more reasons to show more passion toward her music.
Learning phrases and songs in Chinese proved a popular move to help connect with the Chinese audience. Case in point: Phoenix's set included a special version of "Happy Birthday," which was sung for a crew member in Mandarin. Reportedly, the GRAMMY winners extensively practiced this version. Aside from birthday wishes, Phoenix lit up the sky with performances of "Entertainment," "Lisztomania," "J-Boy," Ti Amo," and "Fior Di Latte," the latter three from their 2016 album, Ti Amo. The reaction from Chinese fans was palpable, especially when frontman Thomas Mars started waving his hands during the chorus of "Fior Di Latte" — the frenzied audience returned the favor through the entire song.
Before the festival, Carly Rae Jepsen told China Radio International's EasyFM that she is choosing among 120 different songs for her new studio album, which the GRAMMY nominee promised would be coming soon. Adorned in pink, and rocking a new blond hairstyle, Jepsen channeled a Marilyn Monroe-esque look.
The Canadian singer/songwriter's performance of hits such as "Run Away With Me" and "Making The Most Of The Night" were ripe with star power, moving the audience to their feet. But it was her viral 2012 hit, "Call Me Maybe," that undoubtedly drew the biggest cheer from the Chinese fans.
As part of a continuous loop during the festival, promotional videos ran as backdrops on the big screens, including Lay Zhang, GRAMMY Festival China ambassador, who spoke highly of the performers and introduced the production team behind the festival.
Silver pants and a complementary T-shirt revealed James Bay's good sense of style onstage. The former Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee drew big applause with performances of songs such as "Hold Back The River" and "Let It Go." New songs such as "Us" from his upcoming sophomore album, Electric Light, were also rolled out as James' set coincided with sunset, adding a bit of atmosphere to his set.
OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder was in a buoyant mood onstage, speaking a few sentences in Chinese to the obvious delight of Chinese fans. He also took time to draw attention to his wardrobe choice, noting that his T-shirt was adorned with a dog pattern to honor the Chinese year of dog. Songs such as "Stop And Stare," "Secrets," "Counting Stars," "Apologize," and "Born To Race" were enough to make OneRepublic among the festival's standout performers. Virtually every song became a sing-along, but it was an acoustic version of "Halo," the GRAMMY-winning hit by Beyoncé co-written by Tedder, that added a special glow to their performance.
Taking the stage for the finale, Williams admitted he had been suffering from a cold and was concerned about losing his voice. The GRAMMY winner did not disappoint, however, telling the crowd he was in awe of what he's seen in Beijing, noting that it's his first time visiting China's capital.
Williams made good on his first visit, with his hit-filled set featuring "Blurred Lines," "Feels" and "Happy," which electrified the audience and sent everyone home in a great mood and feeling optimistic that GRAMMY Festival China will become an annual addition to the music industry's international festival calendar.
(Beijing-based Abu Zhao focuses on writing about pop music and has also been a songwriter, whose music used for TV play and albums. She started her career at China Radio International's EasyFM.)