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Interview: The "Crazy Rich Asians" Teen Musician

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

The Homegirl Project interviewed Katherine Ho, a USC pre-med student and the voice behind the song “Yellow,” about what the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack means to her.

by Shermarie Hyppolite

What sparked your interest in a musical career?

For three years in high school, I attended a summer camp called A Cappella Academy, founded by Ben Bram, Rob Dietz, and Avi Kaplan. I’ve learned so much about a cappella, music, and life in general from attending this camp. Every year I leave camp feeling inspired and refreshed by the beautiful, insanely talented campers and staff that I meet there.

How did you feel about the opportunity to record a song for Crazy Rich Asians?

Ben Bram, the GRAMMY award-winning arranger and producer of the a cappella group Pentatonix, texted me last January and asked if I could sing in Mandarin because he wanted to submit me for a film/TV project, but at the time he didn’t know what it was for. I told him yes and he got me in touch with a vocal contractor for Crazy Rich Asians. From there, the vocal contractor had me submit a partial demo of “Yellow” in Mandarin. I was really excited, even though I had no idea what this project was for besides that it was going to be used in a TV show or film. Every year since I was 5 years old, I’ve either sung or danced in my city’s annual Chinese new year festival, so I was really excited that I was going to get to sing something in Mandarin and pay homage to those 13+ years of Lunar New Year Shows I did growing up.

Your song, "Yellow," is performed in Mandarin. What impact has this had on audiences watching the film?

Growing up, I was always very active in my local Chinese community. From kindergarten to 8th grade, I attended Chinese school on Saturday mornings, where I met some of my best friends. I am also super passionate about singing and dancing in my city’s annual lunar new year show, which I did every year since I was five. So, I definitely celebrated my culture growing up and felt a sense of community with other Asian-Americans in my city. However, as much as being Asian was a source of pride, it was also a source of insecurity at times. I would sometimes believe that I was lesser than people of the dominant culture and wish I had been born with a different color skin. However, this movie totally shifted my perspective on what it means to be Asian-American. Seeing faces like my own portrayed in such a vibrant, lovable, striking way on the big screen made me immensely proud to be Asian-American; prouder than I have ever been in my entire life, actually. Until watching this movie, I didn’t realize the power that representation could have on a young person’s confidence and self-image.

Why was this song, in particular, chosen for the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack?

The phrase "Liu Xing" (流星) means “shooting star” or “meteor” in English. Jon Chu, the incredible director of Crazy Rich Asians, wrote a heartfelt letter to Coldplay after they had initially rejected the use of the song in the film. In the letter, he explains how their song transformed the term “yellow” from a derogatory, negative slur into a beautiful, powerful adjective that had infused high-school-him with a newfound pride in his Asian-American identity. I was incredibly touched reading and rereading his letter, but even before the letter came out, “Yellow” was still a very meaningful song to me. I remember that my brother first introduced me to Coldplay’s music when I was 8, and even though I didn’t really know what love/loss/all the other complex emotions of the song felt like at the time, I remember being incredibly drawn to the song regardless. Little did I know that ten years later, I would have the immense honor of putting a Mandarin twist on this Western musical masterpiece for a seminal Hollywood movie!

Katherine and director Jon Chu

What does the song "Liu Xing" mean to you as an Asian-American?

I sort of viewed this cover as a musical marriage between the two cultural worlds that have shaped my Chinese-American identity. In terms of what the Mandarin lyrics mean to me, the song is about taking a risk on a dream, thing, or person that you are passionate about. You hesitate at first, worried that you are chasing something elusive (like a shooting star!), but in the end, you summon up your courage and take the risk despite the possibility of downfall, and you watch love win in the end. I think this is a very fitting song for both Rachel and Nick’s love story and for our own personal stories, conveying a beautiful message and channeling a range of emotions that we can all relate to.

Who inspires you and motivates you to work hard, in both school and your music?

My parents are definitely the greatest support system that I have in my life. They truly just want me to be happy and are always there for me when I am at my lowest, even if that means staying on the phone with me until 2am despite having to wake up at 6 for work the next day. My dad was a huge part of the reason why I was able to sing for Crazy Rich Asians; he helped me so much by dissecting the nuanced meanings of the lyrics and perfecting my pronunciation during both the demo-recording process and the studio recording session. In music, I am most motivated by the campers and staff at A Cappella Academy, a music summer camp I attended for 3 summers in high school. I respect all of these insanely talented humans so, so much and they definitely inspire me to be a better musician. In school, I am motivated to work hard by my incredibly

awesome friends. They channel encouragement, support, and positivity at times when I need it the most.

Do you think Hollywood has a responsibility to represent minorities through television and movies?

Yes, absolutely! Like I’ve mentioned in my previous responses, I didn’t realize how important representation is to confidence and self-image until I saw the impact that this film had on me and many other Asian-Americans. Seeing faces like mine on the big screen truly made me feel so proud to be Asian, whereas being Asian was often a source of insecurity growing up. I think that films like this would have helped me tremendously during my middle school and early high school years, during which I struggled the most with confidence and self-worth, as is the case with many people. I can’t emphasize enough how personally important this film is to me, and how game-changing this film is to society at large!

What's next for you as a student and artist?

To be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure yet! I am very interested in health care (totally not something that my Asian parents are coercing me into, despite what some think!), so I am majoring in biological sciences, but I am still deeply passionate about music, so I am planning on pursuing a songwriting minor at my university (USC) and doing music outside of school. I feel so lucky to be at an institution like USC where I can explore both of my passions simultaneously and extensively. One personal goal of mine as a musician is to write and perform more original music and to post more regularly on my YouTube channel singerkho.

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