Meet G.E.M.: The Chinese Pop Star About to Take Over America
By James Patrick Herman
Singer-songwriter G.E.M., who was born Gloria Tang Tsz-kei in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, has emerged as East Asia’s resident queen of pop. In her home country, the 23-year-old has more than 17 million followers on the website Sina Weibo and when iTunes debuted in China in 2012, nine of the top 10 singles belonged to her. G.E.M. (not to be confused with Jem and the Holograms--the moniker actually stands for Get Everybody Moving) has already made a serious social media dent in the U.S. what with 4 million-plus followers between her Instagram and Facebook accounts and a whopping 137 million views on YouTube.
Now G.E.M. is setting her sights not only on North America and Europe—where she will play such stadiums as London’s Wembley Arena this fall—but also outer space, where she plans to make an appearance next year. Because for G.E.M., the world is evidently not enough.
ETonline met up with the young star recently in Los Angeles debut to talk about competing with sexy American singers, whether she worries about Chinese censors and her dream collaborations.
ETonline: What was your first exposure to American music?
When I was 13 years old, I discovered a singer named Christina Aguilera. I was like, Oh my God, this is so cool. Her voice is like nothing I heard in my entire life. They started to have Internet [in China]. I did searching online and I discovered a lot of other great singers—Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. So I think America is the home of great music.
Any stars you hope to duet with in the future?
My goal is to sing with my idol, Christina Aguilera. Or Beyoncé. She is another fabulous woman, not only as a performer but as a mother, a wife, an all-around independent woman.
Beyoncé’s last album had a lot of songs about sex. Did that shock you?
If I would do it now, it would be very shocking to my fans because I’m not married yet. And I don’t have a relationship recently. So it would be quite shocking if I did it. But I would say Beyoncé’s kind of sexy is a healthy kind of sexy. You don’t feel like it’s slutty or anything like that. It’s still a very bright and sunshine kind of sexy.
How will you present yourself to American audiences in terms of your image? Do you feel any pressure to dress provocatively because of Rihanna or Miley Cyrus? Unlike you, they tend to show a lot of skin.
If I ever have to do this, then I have to run harder in the gym, because I don’t want to show some fat belly or short legs with a lot of chicken fat here and there. I would have to work hard. If someday I could be sexy, but in this Beyoncé way of being very healthy, then I would be comfortable to do it. But because of my [religious] belief I think being loving and caring—positive influences to people—is more important.
Madonna once said that her ultimate goal was global domination. And you’ve joked that you feel like "the king of the world." Are you striving to take over the world’s pop charts?
My ultimate goal is to be the best of myself. God created everyone to be a gem, but we were born as a stone. So I think throughout this whole life, we are experiencing different ups and downs in order to craft you into the best of yourself the way that God created you to be.
You're playing all stadiums on your first North American tour in November. Will you only do arenas from now on?
No. I’d love to perform in a [subway] train station in New York. Maybe I’ll film a video there.
As an artist, how do you deal with censorship in China?
Censorship? What is the meaning of censorship?
In other words, as a lyricist, do you feel like there are certain things you can’t write about because of government restrictions?
They do a lot of checking and stuff like that, but I didn’t have an experience that when I wrote my music they returned saying, 'Oh, this song, you can’t come into these places.' I did not have that experience at all.
Do you have a celebrity crush in the US?
Yes! Justin Timberlake.
His 'N SYNC band mate Lance Bass still says that he will be one of the first pop stars in space. But you plan to take off next year and beat him there, right?
I have already been to Amsterdam for space training. It was quite challenging. I lost my vision for a few seconds because all of the blood was pushed down to my legs. I had another so-called classmate who passed out. It’s going to be very fun and it’s a chance that not everybody is going to get, so I am thankful.