It’s only been a month since the massive success of Crazy Rich Asians (“CRA”) hit the cinemas, and all the buzz and hype amongst Asian communities are still alive. Not only did this film celebrate the race, culture, and actors but also did put a spotlight on Asian dialects, music and talents with its well-curated official soundtrack which took the movie on a whole different emotional level and made us melt in our seats.
Having won the audience in the key scene at the end where a Mandarin version of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ played, sung by the incredible 19-year-old Katherine Ho, this LA-based singer received a lot of recognition and praises on her track cover. Though not all of us understood and can sing her version fluently, the charming and heartwarming ‘Yellow’ we all know still resonated strongly with everyone.
We caught up with Katherine to talk about her journey of being part of Crazy Rich Asians, the representation of minorities in pop and mainstream culture, and everything that happened in between and afterward.
It’s so cool that you’re involved in this film on this level. I really love your version. Can you give us a brief backstory of how you got this part?
I guess it all started because I did summer camp called Acapella Academy for 3 years in high school. It was one of the directors there, Ben Bram, who contacted me for this job. He reached out to me and asked me if I could sing in Mandarin and that he wanted to submit me for a film/TV project but he didn’t know what it was for at that time. So I said yes. I was excited about this opportunity since I thought I probably would never use my Mandarin singing again after I left hometown for college.
So what was the whole process like since you got the offer which lead you up to here?
They basically needed the ‘Yellow’ demo the next morning so it was a really quick turn around. I called my dad the night after I got a call from my director because he knew a vocal contractor for CRA. They sent me the demo material and asked me to do the verse/chorus of ‘Yellow’ in Mandarin which is actually based on the cover from The Voice China by Liu Wenhui so they had me learn that.
I remember being on my phone with my dad late at night because he was helping me with pronunciations, more importantly, the nuance of the lyrics since it was very emotional and poetic. We worked really late into the night and I woke up the next day at seven in the morning and just submitted what I had.
What went down on your recording session when you knew it was for CRA?
A few days later the vocal contractor emailed me and said I got the job. I was really excited and nervous. They actually wanted to record pretty quickly so I think the time span from when I sent the demo to recording day was only five days maybe. I was in a studio with the production of the Warner Bro’s executives and I didn’t know what it was for until an hour before the session. I just remembered getting a phone call and they told me it was for Crazy Rich Asians and I totally freaked out.
Much has not been released about the film back then. This was early February this year, few months before the trailer came out. I didn’t really know the plot of the movie or anything as I read the book later but I did know that Constance Wu is starring in it because I’m an avid Constance Wu fan. I just admire her so much as a person and activist so I was really excited that I’m gonna be a tiny part of this project she’s leading. And it wasn’t until the recording session that they played me the part of the movie it’s gonna be used in and I was like “Crap not only it’s gonna be in the movie but it’s like at a pivotal scene.” It was honorable but a lot of pressure.
Did you meet any of the team or cast from the film?
I did. Jon Chu, the director, was really kind. He stopped by for a while during my recording session just to say hi and check in creatively. He actually graduated from the University of Southern California where I’m attending at the moment so we were talking about college. He was really nice and he really did put his whole heart into this project. He supervised every aspect and I really admire that. It ended up being a really fun one but I was just really nervous at first since it was a lot at once for me.
Did you know about Chu’s letter to Coldplay? What are your thoughts on it?
I actually didn’t find about the letter until the rest of the world did. I just remembered being so touched that he fought so hard for this song and that there was such a significance behind the word ‘yellow’ because I think when I was singing it in the studio I was just focused more on the literal definition of the Chinese words and overall emotions of the song but I wasn’t really thinking like what it could mean to the film and Asian Americans. I actually got pretty emotional reading it and just hearing about Jon’s journey and his relationship with the word yellow is eye-opening.
Would you say your perception of the song or film as a whole changed in some ways after discovering the backstory of Chu’s letter?
To some extent I could relate because there were times where my Asian identity made me feel insecure, sometimes I would wish I wasn’t Asian because people would look at me differently but all of these were self-imposed. Thinking I was lesser than the rest because of my skin color was damaging growing up. So this letter and movie really changed my perspective on what it means to be Asian American. It really boosted my confidence, and just growing up if I had a film like this, seeing faces my own portrayed in such a striking loveable way on the big screen would probably really help me in my middle school, high school awkward years.
So I definitely think this is huge not just for Asian Americans representation and entertainment but also just for being confident in your own skin and for all the young people that are finding their way in the world right now. The letter did really stick with me. Jon totally redefined what it means to be yellow. He really did a great job for picking this song for sure.
Tell us about the first time you saw the movie. How did you feel and react to it?
I actually got to see it twice before it hit the theaters. There’s another girl on the soundtrack, her name is Cheryl K, and she was able to talk to Warner Bro’s and get us a private screening around late June this year. We just had a little room and TV and at that point, it was just a rough cut like they haven’t put all the music and edit yet but I remember getting emotional. It was so cool to see and hear the full context of the movie. Just seeing everything come together was really heartwarming. And first of all, I was relieved that I didn’t get cut out in the movie so it was a great feeling for sure.
What about your families and friends? What did they think of it?
I only told my best friend and the rest just found out about it when I posted something on social media. They’re all so happy for me and the amount of support I’m receiving is just overwhelming. Especially with my Asian American friends, I dragged a lot of them to the cinemas to watch it. They were all crying out of the theater I think partially because it was not only a beautiful movie but also just hits close to home seeing faces of our own on screen. I have the most supportive friends and family. My parents and brother are over the moon about this.
Instagram에서 이 게시물 보기
So I have some really exciting news that I’ve been wanting to share for a while! A few months ago, I had the amazing opportunity to record a song for the upcoming Warner Bros film, “Crazy Rich Asians,” directed by the incomparable @jonmchu, based on the phenomenal best-selling novel by @kevinkwanbooks. Today, I finally got to attend a screening of the movie thanks to @wbpictures and @cherylkapuchinana (who is also singing in the movie!! This gal is insaaanely talented y’all aren’t ready!). The movie is frickin INCREDIBLE and every single cast member, many of which I have idolized for years, absolutely mesmerized me. What’s even more special is that “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first Hollywood production in decades to have a majority-Asian cast. I’m so humbled to have played even a tiny role in this major milestone for Asian representation in entertainment. I love that the film sheds a much-needed light on the uniqueness/beauty of Asian/Asian-American culture while simultaneously maintaining a sense of emotional, thematic universality. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to @thebenbram and @encompassmusic for trusting me with this opportunity and to @3chordsstudio and The Math Club for producing and tracking this lil potato. Absolutely cannot wait for y’all to see this gem of a film on August 15th! Keep an ear out for ya girl 🙂 #crazyrichasiansmovie
It’s actually lovely seeing people’s reactions to it. Any memorable feedback you got?
I definitely am guilty of that. I care a lot about what people thought. I have definitely been addicted to my phone these past few weeks and the responses have been great! I think the most memorable comment I received was one on my Instagram, this was like a 26 year old Chinese American and they said that my song was the first time in their lives that they felt the Mandarin language was beautiful and I just can’t believe I made it and just allowing people to enjoy the culture more.
The fact that someone associated with this cover I did with the beauty of being Asian American was really special. And I got really excited too when Jon retweeted some of my interviews because I respect him a lot obviously and even though I only got to meet him for a little bit I still feel grateful and he’s going to continue to do so much more great things in the future.
Crazy Rich Asians really speaks to the power of people of this generation. What do you hope for fellow young people take away from watching the film?
This was mentioned in John Chu’s letter that CRA is not only a romantic comedy film but it’s also about Rachel, the main character, just becoming a more confident person. I remember there’s a line in the mahjong scene at the end where she said: “I know I am enough.”
I feel like it’s important to realize that this movie is also about Rachel becoming a woman and realizing how amazing she is and that she doesn’t need anybody’s validation to be whole. If there’s anything I want young people to take away here is just to be confident about who you are because at the end of the day that will get you furthest in life, when you believe in yourself. This film is just about someone who’s ever felt insecure and realizing that self-confidence is the most attractive thing. And in terms of Asian representation, I hope anyone who wants to pursue arts and entertainment see that there is a place and space for them here.
To wrap this up, why does representation matter to you?
Representation is really empowering because it shows that we can be the hero of our own narratives and we are just as much part of the society like everybody else.
Representation matters because it directly correlates to how confident somebody feels in themselves. Representation matters because if you only see yourself on screen as the sidekick or waitress no.2 you’ll assume that your role in the society is small, but if you see people like you owning their identities on screen it makes you feel validated too. I’ve never felt more part of a community than now. Not all Asians are the same obviously but with this movie, I feel like we all have that sense of togetherness because we’re already such minorities. It’s the universal pride amongst us all Asians. And it’s so important for non-Asians too because now they can kind of see the glimpse of what it’s like and not just the stereotypes.