In this Ones to Watch feature, we catch up with Lexie Liu, a recent signee to 88rising nurturing a career on both sides of the Pacific with preternatural grace.
Prior to dropping her debut project, Lexie Liu was already being hailed as the definitive voice of the next Chinese generation. Obviously, that's a lot of pressure for anyone to live up to, but after listening to her 2030 EP it's clear why so many of Liu's peers believe in her abilities. The afternoon that we meet at W Hotel in New York, she's rolling through a press day full of meetings and interviews with different outlets. Speaking about the 2030 EP ahead of its official release, she's a wide-eyed bundle of nerves and excitement.
"I feel like it's a lot," she says with a shy smile. "I feel very excited to hear it at first because I can see the potential [and] maybe people can see that too. I feel more encouraged to make music of my own, but then I was like, 'Okay, this is getting a bit far...'"
Even though Liu didn't plan for it, she has always been a student of music—as a child, her parents sent her to lessons for piano and Chinese folk dance. She recalls it as "the first influence that I've ever gotten in my life." Early on, Liu's parents recognized that she loved the art form, but encouraged her to pursue other subjects for her profession, so she focused on her school work and enrolled at Fordham University in New York to study global business.
Music became the main priority for Liu when she realized that it was the only outlet where she could truly express herself despite the other things that were going on in her life. So when she decided that she wanted to fully invest in it as a career, she also made the hard call of moving back to China to establish herself there first.
"People [in China] are getting more open minded about accepting different sounds and different genres," she explains. "People [have] started to not just stick to their comfort zone, they started to break through it. That's what musicians wanted to see too, so everything's getting better and more standardized and industrialized when it comes to copyright."
But before all of this happened, Liu was mildly exposed to the industry as a contestant on the Korean music competition show K-pop Star 5 when she was a teenager. She finished in fourth place, but the most valuable takeaway from the whole experience for her was understanding the importance of practice. Liu is the furthest thing from an industry plant, so she was never trained to be an artist in the traditional sense.
On the flip side, being subjected to a more structured environment pushed her toward the independent route even though she was navigating it without a firm outline. Liu didn't want to be forced to sing songs written by other people or perform choreography for every single sequence – she didn't belong in that part of the music world.
"I feel like I just got a new understanding of this industry and what it's leading to as well," she says. "I'm more expressive in a way, so I want to take more control in music and the creative [side]."
Signing to 88rising could have been perceived as a risk, but Liu felt confident about taking that step having known the label for a long time and being a fan of the content that they produced. She adds, "As we started getting to know each other we realized that a lot of things that we want to do are on the same page – crossing over culture and trying to make more people notice us, this culture, and this new breed of music power."
As of right now, she and NIKI are the only women on the label, but they stand out for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with their sex or gender. The narrative behind Liu's debut EP is driven by her experience of leaving New York to make the transition to a full-time artist – she bottles up the sensation of her "daily overthinking" and the way in which she views the world at large and pours out her struggles to make sense out of vague concepts like love and humanity.
Although Liu hasn't quite figured out how to describe her sound yet, she doesn't want to be trapped in a box of expectations. Sonically speaking, she's inspired by artists like Rihanna, Lana Del Rey, and PARTYNEXTDOOR.
"I try to incorporate as many genres that I'm attracted to into my music, but I'm still looking for that sound," she says. "I've filtered some already and still trying to mix every element that I like together and try to make something that people haven't heard before."
Of course, Liu has all the time in the world to mould herself into the artist that she wants to be. After all, she's already made it this far on her own and now she has a whole team to support her on this mission to connect with as many people as possible through her music. Even though it's extremely ambitious, Liu is determined to make something new that hasn't been heard before.
"As an artist, I'm just trying to keep making quality, controlled music that comes from my heart," she adds. "It's difficult to keep up both standards moving forward, but I have to so more people can notice my music... Incorporating both languages, playing with the rhymes and melodies unexpectedly, I think that would raise a question mark. I feel like that's enough for me."