To most of the city dwellers living in Shanghai, October 20 was just another day spent in a vast, fast-paced metropolis. Unknown to them, however, hundreds of cabs were making their way across the city at around 7 pm that night. Upon nearing EXPO Avenue, dozens of taxis could be seen dropping off hordes of eager passengers—myself included.
"Eh, there are so many people here," my driver noted. "Is there something going on tonight?"
As a matter of fact, someone very special would be performing in the Mercedes-Benz Arena that evening. After befriending two girls from Hangzhou and restraining myself from purchasing any more posters, t-shirts and concert memorabilia from the throngs of vendors on the sidewalk yelling, "Yíngguāng bang! Yīgè sān kuài! (Glow sticks, one for three kuai!)", I finally navigated my way through the swarms of excited concert-goers.
At 8 pm, I found myself perched at the edge of my seat inside the indoor arena, surrounded by sea of equally restless fans—many of them waving glow sticks and luminous signs bearing the singer’s name. To my right was a girl who looked to be in her 20s, and to my left was an older woman, yelling animatedly about how the show should be starting in any minute....
As if right on cue, the lights in the arena began to dim, and in that instant, the entire stadium erupted into a thunder of feverish roars and wild chants. The sound of spectators screaming swallowed the entire Mercedes-Benz Arena, nearly drowning out the dark and melodious instrumental played during the concert’s opening. As a 3D projection of the superstar began to flash across the backdrop, shattering into shards of even more images of her face, the rhythm from the music began to quicken along with the heartbeats of the thousands of fans who flocked to Shanghai from near and far—all to see the legendary Li Yuchun (李宇春, Lǐ Yǔchūn).
As the music gained momentum, rising to a loud crescendo, a hooded hunchbacked figure limped eerily across the stage while a line of freakish backup performers, clad in white powdered wigs and Marie Antoinette’s old gowns, appeared under the spotlight—it was unlike any concert I had ever attended in my life before.
Freaky stuff, to be sure. Very Lady Gaga-esque (…but better than "Mother Monster," I assure you.) And while Li, who has never been an ordinary Chinese pop singer, is one of the first Chinese singers to attempt a theatrical this unusual or dark, the audience didn’t question any of it.
After a few more performers broke out into a trance-like dance, the singer herself finally emerged from behind the dividing backdrop. Adorned in a sharp, black and blue minimalist gown trimmed with metallic embellishments, Li strut fiercely toward the audience, flaunting her sleek signature boy-cut and an attire custom-designed for her by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier.
All eyes were on Li as she was lifted into the air by a high-rise platform. Towering over the other disguised dancers, the singer hoisted her slender arms into the air. Resembling a royal figure to be worshipped, Li officially opened the Shanghai concert of her first international "Crazy" World Tour, appropriately singing "我的王国 (My Kingdom)," a number from her 2007 album 我的 (Mine).
Let's just put it this way... in the very moment that Li stepped out from behind the stage, all of my 14-year-old-self's dreams had come true.
Li, who took the country by storm after achieving overnight fame in the 2005 Super Girls competition, is a pop diva China had never seen before. With her hair chopped short like a man’s, Li stood out among the other Super Girl contestants for her tomboyish look, winning the hearts of millions while pioneering an androgynous phenomenon throughout the nation.
Performing both tracks from her older albums as well as songs from her most recent album, it was not until the final half hour of the concert that Li addressed her fans directly, prompting the whole stadium to burst into delighted shrieks.
In fact, every time Li spoke to or thanked her fans, the crowds would break out into minutes of chanting "李宇春，我爱你！ (Li Yuchun, I love you!)". I'm pretty sure my voice was completely gone by the end of the night.
The downside to Chinese concerts, though, is the fact that the shows of most big-name singers are usually held in large concert halls or stadiums. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, for instance, was huge, and I was seated so far from the stage (despite being front row on the upper seats) that I still found myself watching a screen for the majority of the concert.
And I don't know about you, but seated concerts just don't cut it. How does one enjoy a concert while sitting down? Impossible.
Of course, that didn't stop the thousands of us from jamming out and having a good old time. It's definitely true what they say about music bringing the people together. If you've never been to a concert in China before, it's definitely an adventure worth experiencing.