Xu Wei (许巍) is one of the most popular musicians in China, and with good reason: the man writes and sings some very good songs. Anyone living in Qingdao is sure to have heard Xu Wei on the radio, or the bus tv, or on the stereo at Cafe Kona – he’s pretty popular, and still going strong years after his first record Elsewhere (在别处) was a big hit in 1997.
Xu Wei was born in 1968 in a village near Xi’an. He started learning guitar as an adolescent and in 1993 formed the band Flying (飞) in his hometown. Xu Wei later migrated to Beijing and started working as a solo artist with some of the best musicians and producers in the country, including Zhang Ya Dong (a famous producer of Wang Fei and a member of the studio band on Elsewhere (在别处), and later, keyboardist Zhang Jian (half of the project FM3, known for the Buddha Machine). These are just two of the many excellent musicians who added texture and nuance to the well crafted compositions that propelled Xu to national fame.
Xu Wei’s first couple of records are rock guitar based and lean towards grunge with dreamy melancholic vocals.
His second album called That Year (那一年) features Hometown (故乡), an epic rock anthem about a timeless and very important theme in Chinese culture, one’s birthplace. The title track showcases Xu Wei’s trademark penchant for inspirational choruses and harmony. That Year features many other hits including Impetuous (浮躁) and September (九月). The plaintive vocals on the closing track Warm (温暖) are at once sad and sweet, representative of Xu Wei’s ability to write catchy and emotionally charged songs with sticky appeal.
This record has the broad appeal and accessibility that cemented Xu Wei’s status as the brightest new singer in China at the time, leading him to become the voice of a new generation of music fans interested in more than traditional offerings of vocalists singing other people’s songs (a la Karaoke style). After the 2001 release of some previously recorded songs as I Only Have Two Days (我只有两天), Xu Wei signed to EMI, signaling his breakthrough to a mass audience.
Xu Wei’s first record for EMI came out in 2002. Through The Time (时光漫步) was a huge success, and contained therein are the tunes heard all around China today, like Blue Lotus (蓝莲花), Time (时光), and Swan Tour (天鹅之旅). If one has to choose one and only one of Xu Wei’s records to buy/listen to, Through the Time (时光漫步) is probably the best.
In 2004, Xu Wei released Every Moment Is Brand New (每一刻都是崭新的), a decidedly more pop record with the hit Once You (曾经的你), which hints at his Northwest China roots in its folksy chorus. This album was also a return to Xu Wei’s heavier rock guitar sound, continuing in 2006 on the next record On The Road… (在路上…), with the solo acoustic guitar smash hit Persistent (执着), recognizable for its partial English chorus with the words “oh my baby“.
In 2008, Xu Wei shifted to pop with the release of Love Like A Youth (爱如少年), a record with soft strings accompanying songs of nostalgia, a common theme for Xu Wei.
The verdict is still out on Xu Wei’s latest music, though some say he has sold out, lost the fire of creativity of his own youth and is now cashing in on the marketability of his image as China’s greatest singer/songwriter of the 90’s and 00’s.
Xu Wei represents an older generation that is becoming increasingly less relevant to today’s post 80’s and 90’s young music fans, but that’s to be expected as times change and “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts”. One thing that seems certain is that Xu Wei will always have a place in the canon of Chinese music gods, and with good reason: the man writes and sings some very good songs.