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After a shot of fame, Zhang Liyin gets frozen for 3 years

At 13-years-old, she entered a newcomer singing competition, where she was discovered by Korean company SM Entertainment, becoming an artist under the same label as major acts like TVXQ, Super Junior, Kangta and Girls Generation. When she was 17-years-old, she released her first single, “Timeless,” and in the same year, received the award for Best Newcomer in Korea. But to pursue greater success, she was secretly trained for three years before being allowed a re-debut in 2010.

With a near-perfect voice accompanying the new trend of R&B, she has quickly won the hearts of many fans. Being the first Chinese female soloist born out of the Hallyu Wave, she was given the nickname of the “Chinese BoA”. Currently in Korea, but born in Chengdu, Sichuan, her name is Zhang Liyin. Yesterday, Zhang Liyin did an exclusive interview with the paper, telling the story of her journey into the South Korean market.


Believing the talent scout at the singing competition was a swindler

In an idol-based Korean market, Zhang Liyin does not have the beautiful face nor the hot body of an idol, but with her own talents, she has steadily created her own fame with her own strength.

“Thinking back, it feels like a dream,” she says, speaking of the time when she got scouted by the Korean company. “My elementary school friend loved the H.O.T. group, and would often give me magazines of theirs to read. One day, a magazine published an advertisement for a talent recruitment contest. Because I’ve liked to sing since I was very young, I decided to go. I did not think all this would happen. After participating – after I stepped down from the stage, a person suddenly came up to me to give me a business card, expressing that they would like me to give their company a try. On the card, it said, ‘SM Entertainment’.” After seeing those two words, Zhang Liyin said that she could not think straight.

“When I returned home, my parents said that the star scout could be a swindler.” But more surprises would follow for the next few days. “My mom, reading my upset emotions after that, she called up the phone number on the card one day. Unknowingly, the phone number and the company were both real. We discovered that the man who presented the card really was a star scout. After further discussions with the company, SM invited me to their company as a trainee. Feeling like I was an actress in some movie, I took my first step towards South Korea.”


After a shot to fame, she gets frozen for 3 years before a chance at re-debut

In 2003, thirteen-year-old Zhang Liyin started training in Korea, becoming a junior of idol groups like TVXQ and Super Junior. Under the guidance of SM Entertainment – “Building from China, Japan, Korea and across the world” – Zhang Liyin released her first single in 2006. Outperforming expectations for a girl her age, she received her first award 16 days after her debut on SBS Inkigayo. The award for Best Newcomer Soloist at Korea’s MKMF award ceremony swiftly followed, solidifying the nickname of “Chinese BoA.”

Everybody thought that this young Chinese girl would be bringing more surprises and more success in the future, but Zhang Liyin was suddenly ‘frozen’ by her company. “I wasn’t completely ‘frozen’. At the time, my company believed that I was too young, and did not have solid foundation as a strong artist yet. Hoping to ‘recreate’ so to bring out the best of me, I was secretly trained between 2007 and 2009.”

According to Zhang Liyin, a typical artist training course in South Korea includes: Korean language, music, dance, etiquette, and English. A special focus were on vocal lessons, which happens every day. “Sometimes after vocal training, I would sometimes lose my voice. But even then, I would have to keep practising… Movements, facial expressions… You can’t lie down for 5 minutes without falling asleep.”


Emotional Sichuan girl likes to eat fish-flavoured pork

“If you want to work in Korea, language fluency is a must. From learning Korean, a lot of funny misunderstandings have happened. One time, on a skiing trip, I asked someone, ‘Do you know how to ski?’ But instead, I said, ‘Do you know how to kiss?’ Because in Korean, “kiss” and “ski” sound very similar, I couldn’t tell the difference then. Right after I asked, the boy automatically turned red.”

Besides having amusing moments, being away from home caused Zhang Liyin to go through many suffering times. “Sometimes, after training, I would feel very lonely. As soon as I heard my parents’ voices over the phone, I would immediately start crying. I remember once, it was Chinese New Year and I had just woken up. My mom called me not long after and for ten minutes, all we did was cry over the phone. During that phone call, I could not even say, ‘Mom, I miss you’… Hearing my mom call my name was too painful. I would walk the streets in order to kill time. But who would think that taking walks at night would be even worse? Watching people returning home to their families made the feeling even worse.”

Currently living in Chengdu, Zhang Mama tells us that the Chengdu-born Zhang Liyin is a quiet girl who keeps to herself. When she was a child, she had learned 8 years worth of violin and 4 years of the piano, before discovering she really only liked to sing. “Since she was young, Zhang Liyin has always been timid, so crying would be a common thing, but she would only cry when no one else could see her.”

As someone who liked to eat spicy foods, Zhang Liyin also felt troubled in Korea where foods were slightly less spicier. “I love to eat Sichuan fish-flavoured eggplant and hotpot, but whenever I had a craving, I could only settle for spicy cabbage. Occasionally, I would go to Han Geng’s mama’s dumpling place to eat, where there would be a greater selection of Chinese foods.”


Fearing she will not be accepted on her return to China

Early this year, when Zhang Liyin ends her 3-year long secret training and prepare for a new appearance, the news of Han Geng’s and SM Entertainment’s contract scandal has made her fans worried over her future. As the sole Chinese soloist in Korea, Zhang Liyin said yesterday that she only hopes to sing well for everybody to listen, and to let other things run its own course.

“I hope there is an opportunity to return to China and expand, but that is also my current worry – fearing that everybody will not accept me. From now on, there will be an increased number of performances in China. If the opportunity presents, my biggest dream is to return home – maybe even in Chengdu – and hold my own solo concert.”

  • Source: Sina
  • Translation: Wendy @ Chocolyn
  • Credit: day_dreamer @ Chocolyn – Zhang Li Yin International

29 Responses

  1. “Secret training for 3 YEARS”? puh please. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to her if they let her gain some experience from singing live to an audience once awhile. There’s only things you can learn and improve if you actually sing and promote your songs. They should at least let her do collaborations with other SM artists during those 3 years.

    And yes she’s not pretty. She’s beautiful and graceful.

  2. SM wasted so many talents =_=;
    now i hope they give CSJH chance to be on the stage, performing. ZLY fighting!

  3. I really like her.
    “Timeless” was really2 amazing!!!
    I’m still listening to it even nowadays.
    She has a wonderful voice.
    Hope for her successful comeback.

    I’m lookin forward to her comeback!!!I’ll definitely buy her album if Im able to find one of hers in M’sia!!

    JIA YOU!!!

  5. Her voice is absolutely amazing. She blows me away with her R&B ballads.

    She does lack confidence sometimes. It shows, but everyone takes time and how is she supposed to gain that confidence without experience? SME sucks at promoting her ever since her “frozen” time period ONLY promoting her alongside Super Junior M. She deserves more than that. I really hope the part about promoting her more this year is true.

  6. i hope sm will not waste her talent after all her hard work..must be her dream..i think she maybe have think to give up but since she already go this far..just do it..i will support her..i want to listen her new song..

  7. I can’t wait for her comeback I’ve always loved her voice… she has real talent not auto-tuned like some of the newer ones now (no offense to them because I kinda like those too… Good work out music lol)

  8. […] After a shot of fame, Zhang Liyin gets frozen for 3 years « K Bites […]

  9. i think that sad ! so young but she’s very talented

  10. i love ZLY. i think she has the potential but her execution isn’t quite their yet. hopefully things will work out for her and i’m awaiting her return.

  11. I was obsessed with Timeless when it came out. That being said, during her live performances she seemed to have problems controlling both her breath and pitch, and didn’t have much stage presence (especially next to the much more experienced Junsu). I also thought at the time that she had a naturally strong, beautiful, and unique voice (kind of opposite of Jessica, who has great vocal control but not a naturally beautiful voice), but unfortunately lacked ‘star quality’.

    I’m curious to see how much she has matured! I always thought this girl had a lot of potential. 3 years is a long time though.. and she was probably put on the back burner after SNSD debuted :(.

  12. she’s overrated. she sings out of tune most of the time and has a sharp tone that’s unpleasant to listen to but that doesn’t mean she’s not good. she’s a good singer but not as amazing as she was made to sound.

    • ah, someone just had to bring in the haterade. -.-

    • I think that’s why SM put her on a break and trained her again so that she have a solid voice and performance. She has a very strong voice but she’s shaky and can’t hold her key well. But that was years ago. I hope her comeback will be the much improve her..

      just don’t judge her yet until her re-debut..

    • And which performances have you been watching? The ones from four years ago, or the ones from last year?

    • @andiwaslike Totally agree. personally I find BoA way better than her. (boa can sing and dance really well AND she has a lot of charisma)

    • BoA was meant to dance and sing. But Liyin was meant for only singing. Boa has years of experience and before when she first debuted, she could hardly sing well. Hard work paid off for Boa and that is why she is so good now. To me, Liyin was amazing in Timeless, but her somewhat recent song with DongHae featured in it, it was blah. Hopefully she comes back better.

      • totally disagree with andiwaslike…hard to be overrated when she has had lack of promotions so not a lot of people actually knows her.

        my opinion…ive been following zhang li yin career for sometime now and i can definitely say shes improved since ’06, she is as good as the recorded cd now.

        as for boa and liyin…2 different people..like angie says boa has been doing both now for ages and trained in both, zhang li yin has said before in a interview that she has always been focusing on singing in her training days and not a lot on dancing…they are very different.

        obviously everyone has their taste of music and opinions.

  13. “Zhang Liyin does not have the beautiful face”

    What is that supposed to mean?? She looks pretty enought to me.

  14. her voice is amazing…and sm wasted it!!
    hope to see a better Liyin in the future!!
    i really like Timeless by the way ^^

  15. oh since i’m a chinese, really proud of her!!
    cant wait to see her performance again~~

    fighting Liyin* ❤

  16. I don’t know much about her, but I already love her for the fact that she debuted with a duet with Shinee’s Jonghyun~

    Bling Bling ❤

    • =^^= She didn’t debut with Jonghyun. She debuted with a duet with DBSK’s Junsu, singing the song ‘Timeless’.

      But she did sing “Wrongly Given Love” in Mandarin with Jonghyun (track no 7) in her Mandarin “I Will” album. Hope that helps! 😀

  17. sm wasted her.
    Now i expect something even more wow from her….

    wow i didn’t know that when she debut,she is only 16

  18. she’s definitely one of the most talented girls in SM, and she plays violin well, too… i kinda hope she could move to other company =(
    it’s just sad seeing that MUCH talent get wasted…

  19. I know about her! I have her songs! She is extremely talented god damm it. She is sooooo wasted. Wish she had a better entertainment company

  20. finally a very nice article about liyin! she is very talented, i only hope that SM wouldn’t waste this girl talent. 🙂
    i wanna hear her new songg 🙂

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