Zhou Bichang

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Bibi Zhou Bichang
Chinese name 周筆暢 (traditional)
Chinese name 周笔畅 (simplified)
Pinyin Zhōu Bǐchàng (Mandarin)
Jyutping Chau1 Bat1 Cheung3 (Cantonese)
Birth name (1985-07-26) July 26, 1985 (age 29)
Origin China
Born (1985-07-26) July 26, 1985 (age 29)
Changsha, Hunan, China
Other name(s) Bibi Zhou, BiBi
Occupation Singer, songwriter, actress
Genre(s) Mandarin pop, Mandarin R&B
Instrument(s) Piano, drums, violin, guitar
Label(s) EE-Media (2005)
Yuelin Culture (2006–09)
Gold Typhoon (2009–12)
YUEHUA Entertainment (2012–present)
Years active 2005–present
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Zhou.

Zhou Bichang (simplified Chinese: 周笔畅; traditional Chinese: 周筆暢; pinyin: Zhōu Bǐchàng), also known as Bibi Zhou or Bibi Chow, is a Chinese singer and songwriter. She was the first runner-up in the 2005 Super Girl Competition, which is a Chinese version of Pop Idol for female contestants only. Her voice has been appropriated as a female version of David Tao, Leehom Wang, and Jay Chou, as she covered some of their songs during the contest.

On March 18, 2006, Zhou signed a recording contract with Yuelin Music. Since then, she has released several singles, an EP, and three albums. Her debut album, "Who Touched My Violin String", was released in August 2006. In Spring 2007, Zhou attended the Encore Program at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California, with a concentration in R&B vocal performance. On December 18, 2007, the singer released her twin albums, named "Now" and "Wow", each containing ten songs. "Now" features Zhou's iconic R&B style, and "Wow" showcases her versatility in music genre as she forays into rock, ballad, Britpop, dance, etc..

Zhou also started her acting career in 2006 as she starred in the films McDull, the Alumni and The 601st Phone Call.

Early years[edit]

Zhou Bichang was born on July 26, 1985 in Changsha, Hunan Province, to Zhou Zhongzhan, a government employee at the time, and Lu Yuanyuan, a teacher in Chinese folk music. When she was six, her family moved to Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, a special economic zone, or SEZ, on the southeast coast of China in close vicinity of Hong Kong. In Shenzhen she attended Yuanling Elementary School, followed by a period at Gangxia Elementary School, before eventually transferring to Fuhua Elementary School where her mother held a teaching position. Then she spent six years attending Futian High School in Shenzhen.

Zhou has been brought up in a family where music permeates everyday life. Her mother, being a music teacher and singer herself, is an avid fan of Chinese folk music. When Zhou was a child, her grandmother taught her to play the piano.

While Zhou was in junior high school, pop music from the adjacent Hong Kong and Taiwan was ubiquitous in Shenzhen, a far cry from the music her mother's generation was accustomed and attracted to. Zhou started collecting music CDs and listening to them non-stop. Soon in high school, she started to become known for her vocal talent and her ability to imitate the style of several popular R&B and Pop singers.

In her late senior high school years, as her interest in music escalated she was determined to pursue a career in music later in her life. In 2002, with an enviably high score of 681 on the College Entrance Exam she was admitted into the four-year undergraduate program in non-classical music at the prestigious Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou, named after the late famous musician Xian Xinghai.

In March 2002, Zhou released a single named "How I Miss You" on the web, which received limited popularity. During the period of 2001 to 2003, she had entered herself into a variety of youth singing contests and had won a few awards. But before long she grew tired of competing in singing contests and despondent about her prospects in the music industry as she came to realize that her musical style as well as her look – hip hop and tomboyish – was too unconventional for the industry where bubble-gum sweet-faced girl pop idols were prevalent. She then retreated to college life until an accidental entry on her part into the 2005 Super Girl's Voice Contest that later in the year swept the whole nation.

2005 Super Girl's Voice Contest[edit]

In the spring of 2005, one of Zhou's friends at Xinghai entered Zhou without her knowledge into the 2005 Super Girls' Voice auditions held in Guangzhou, the only city picked in south China for audition purposes by the contest organizer. The then 19-year-old showed up the day of the audition in her father's old oversize jacket without a trace of makeup. In her own words, she just rolled out of bed before going to the audition and did not even get a chance to wash her face. Her boyish attire almost made the security guard stop her at the entrance because the contest was supposed to be for girls only. But her talent had no problem shining through despite her slightly unkempt appearance at the audition as she impressed the judges by singing segments from "Regular Friend” by David Tao and "Forever Love" by Leehom Wang. In the following weeks, she coasted through the subsequent elimination rounds and soon found herself among the top 10 finalists for the Guangzhou Audition Region (*only the top 3 from each region qualify for the national finals which were scheduled to start months later in July). Her fan base had also grown exponentially as she progressed through the contest.

The sincere emotions in her vocal and her interpretation of others' works was a breath of fresh air into the competition; on one particular occasion she brought one of the judges to tears during her singing and all five judges to a standing ovation when she finished the song ("Extricate"). Her voice is sultry yet extremely powerful, a rarity among Chinese female singers. She also possesses a special talent of turning everything she sings into undeniably her own signature style, known as "Bi Style Vocal" ("筆式唱腔"). Without any suspense, she was voted by viewers all the way through to the top in Guangzhou Contest Region.

In July the national finals kicked off in Changsha, Hunan Province, where the top 3 contestants from each of the 5 regions got together and went through a series of eliminations. In these rounds, she went on delivering a wide spectrum of songs, mostly by male singers she has long admired such as David Tao, Eason Chan, Jay Chou and Leehom Wang. She successfully showcased her skills in mastering hip hop, R&B and pop songs. She was one of the judges' favorites; they never voted to put her in the bottom two up for elimination, a.k.a. PK (short for Penalty Kick, a term typically used in soccer) and she was the only one throughout the entire competition that had never been through a PK. When the finale was aired on August 26, 2005, some 400 million people tuned in to find out who garnered the most SMS votes from viewers. With 3,270,840 SMS votes, Zhou ended up in the second place, only a thin margin away from winning the competition. But she was content with the result and was grateful towards the millions who had supported and voted for her.

Post Super Girl days through early 2006[edit]

Soon after the finale ended, Zhou quietly withdrew herself from the frenzy of the contest and went back to college where she just turned a sophomore. Unlike many others who arose to fame overnight, she was not thrilled about her newly gained stardom. At times she was even annoyed when media and fans followed her around on campus as she did not want to draw attention to herself and cause inconvenience to her fellow students.

In the meantime, Shanghai E.E. Media, the agent for the Super Girl's Voice Contest, was busy organizing a national tour as well as a slew of commercial appearances for the finalists of the contest. Zhou at the time was very adamant about continuing with her study at Xinghai and not letting commercial activities interfere with her school work. However, due to her contractual obligations, she agreed to join other Super Girl's Voice finalists on the nationwide tour and subsequently performed at concerts held in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Fuzhou. Everywhere she went her loyal and fanatic fans turned up in droves and showed their support for her. In front of a full house at the Fuzhou concert she announced her retreat from the nationwide tour, which instantly drove many of her fans to tears fearing she might retire entirely from showbiz. Zhou's father later explained to media that frequent performances and commercial events had taken a toll on the 20-year-old. "She wants to have time for study and her family," he said. Zhou also admitted that during that time she was immensely unhappy.

On December 30, 2005, Zhou made an announcement through a video clip she posted online that she officially broke off her contractual obligations with Shanghai E.E. Media. She thanked graciously the organizer of the Super Girl's Voice Contest for giving her the opportunity to sing in front of millions. She did not go into the specifics about the breakup. As a result of the breakup, she was said to be held liable for a penalty of CN¥ 5 million (approximately US$ 714K). Speculations ran high afterwards regarding disagreements between Zhou and Shanghai E.E. Media and the recording labels in pursuit of her.

Music career[edit]

Yuelin Music and 1st single[edit]

On March 18, 2006, after having disappeared from media attention for months, she re-surfaced by signing into a record contract with Yuelin Music, a newly founded Beijing-based label little known to the industry. She explained that the blueprint presented to her by the label is most in alignment with her musical aspirations and concepts. Under the arrangement of Yuelin, Zhou started taking violin lessons. At the same time she was making time for schoolwork at Xinghai to the best of her ability.

  • "Swan"("天鵝"): Upon signing the contract, Zhou released her first studio single named "Swan"("天鵝“)in a not-for-sale limited-edition CD shaped like a flying swan. The song was written by Wang Zheng, a singer and songwriter also under Yuelin. The gothic rock song, a shock to many, met with mixed fan reception and critical reviews, since most people have gotten to know the singer through her signature R&B and hip hop style. The lyrics of the song alludes to the relationship between Zhou and her supportive fans. The song was wrongfully accused by some of plagiarism. The plagiarism controversy helped to inspire a rap song named "Uh", which was later included in her 1st EP, where she vented her anger and frustration over people who helped fuel the unfounded accusation.

Bibi's 1st EP[edit]

On June 1, 2006, Zhou released her first EP, entitled "Bibi's 1st EP", a collection of four songs.

  • "Me Left Alone" (“只剩我一個”): A blues song written by Zhou herself (lyrics by Wang Zheng). Zhou said she first recorded a demo on her cellular phone but initially was too shy to show it to the producer.
  • "Uh"(“呃”) (lyrics by Wang Zheng): Zhou co-wrote this largely rap song with Wang Zheng. As mentioned above, this song was inspired by the plagiarism controversy involving her first single released under the label Yuelin Music. There is reference of a number of Zhou's acquaintances in the song, including her boss, her producer and her assistant/friend.
  • "Unhurt" (“不痛”): This song is a collaboration with Machi (hip hop group) from Taiwan. Even though the EP was never released in Taiwan and Zhou herself had never visited Taiwan, the song got accidental publicity there as it was downloaded by mistake by fans of a popular Taiwanese female singer who released a song also named "Unhurt" around that time. Zhou's "Unhurt" became an unexpected hit as people who initially downloaded it started to spread it over the internet.
  • "Swan" ("天鵝") is also included as it was previously released in a not-for-sale limited-edition CD.

1st album “Who Touched My Violin String"[edit]

Zhou quickly followed up her EP with a full-blown album named "Who Touched My Violin String"("誰動了我的琴弦”), released on August 12, 2006. Many esteemed musicians and lyrists from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan joined forces in the making of this album. Much to her delight, Zhou's long-time idol, David Tao, even wrote an R&B song ("Don't love me, like loving a friend") (”別愛我,像愛個朋友“)for her and sang the demo himself. What is more, David Tao's team contributed two other songs in the album, "Silence" and "Poisonous Mushroom" (“毒蘑菇”). Other composers include Xiao Ke, Kubert Leung, Nicky Lee (Li Jiuzhe), Jin Peida and Gigi Leung. Lyrists include Lin Xi, Li Zhuoxiong, Chen Shaoqi, Lin Yifeng, Wawa, and Kong Lingqi. The song that shares same title with the album, "Who Touched My Violin String" ("誰動了我的琴弦”),is a Chinese-style R&B song written by Xiao Ke based on a pentatonic scale (five notes only: 1,2,3,5 and 6) typically found used in Chinese folk music. Another hit song "Telephone Number" appeared toward the ending of the 2006 movie "The 601st Phone Call" directed by Zhang Guoli in which Zhou starred.

Zhou later went on a trip to Vienna, Austria, for the filming of her music movie featuring four songs from her new album. Chen Bolin, a Taiwanese actor and her co-star in "McDull, the Alumni", appeared in the movie as the leading male character.

Studying in the United States[edit]

On March 26, 2007, Zhou flew out from Shanghai for California, United States, to attend the Encore Program concentrating in vocals at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Even though many people thought this could potentially harm her nascent career in the short run, the majority of her fans were very supportive of her musical pursuit as studying R&B in its origin country has always been Zhou's dream since she was in high school.

2nd and 3rd albums: “Now” and “Wow”[edit]

On July 6, 2007, after successful completion of the Encore Program at the Musicians Institute, Zhou returned to China and immediately immersed herself in the preparation for her new albums. The same summer she also graduated with honors from Xinghai Conservatory of Music with a bachelor's degree.

On December 18, 2007, she surprised both her fans and critics by simultaneously releasing twin albums, NOW and WOW, each containing ten songs.

"Now" is along the lines of her iconic "Bi Vocal Style" that she is best known for.

  • "Liuyang River 2008" (“浏阳河2008”): this song became a hit when it was first released in a not-for-sale limited edition CD prior to the official release of "Now". The idea of doing a crossover between R&B and traditional Chinese folk music was incubated while Zhou was studying in the United States. The folk song "Liuyang River" was written in the 1950s about the Liuyang river in eastern Hunan Province. The song is dear to the singer's heart, partly because she is originally from Hunan and partly because the song is also a favorite of her mother's – Zhou asked her mother to help record the vocal of the folk song intro of the song in the demo. "Liuyang River 2008" features Zhou with Li Guyi, a household name in China for her groundbreaking accomplishments in ushering in pop music in China in the 1980s. In the song Li's high-pitched vocal meshes with Zhou's signature R&B vocal style seamlessly. The lyrics read "Let me go through what you've been through yet still strive to be different", much a declaration of Zhou's generation born in the 1980s regarding their relationship with their parents' generation.
  • "How are you" (“你好吗”): This song is a duet with Nicky Lee, a Korean American whose singing career is primarily based in Taiwan. This song was also included in Lee's new album "Think too Much" released earlier in the year. Lee got to know Zhou via one of his own songs, "Extricate"(“解脱”), as he saw her singing it on TV and was impressed with her unique vocal and singing skills. The two first collaborated in Zhou's 1st EP, where he produced the song "Unhurt". He also helped produce Zhou's version of his song "Extricate" (never officially released) and "Deserted Island" (“无人岛”)(included in "Who Touched My Violin String") and did the rap part in the latter song.

Other hit songs include "Anniversary"("一周年“), a sorrowful song in which the singer exhibits her vocal range, and "City of Angels" (”天使之城“), a song custom made for Zhou reflective of her experiences living alone in L.A.. The album also includes "That Me Tells Myself"(”那个我对我说“), a self-reflective unassuming piece of work, "Future is Now" (”未来就是现在“), which she wrote for the Beijing Olympics, and "Each Other" (”彼此“), a dedication to her fans which she co-wrote.

In "Wow" she relentlessly challenged herself in wide-ranging music genres including rock, big band, jump blues, dance, Britrock, and ballad. Fans and critics alike ardently embraced her adventure and spoke highly of her courage.

"The twin albums", as Zhou put it,"represent the full me." Now embodies the more recognized Zhou's style – the softer and more mellow R&B and pop – and Wow on the other hand is audacious and unbashful. She also admitted that, compared to her first album, she had had more input and two-way communications with the musicians and lyrists in the recording process. The twin albums, particularly Wow, received critical acclaims since they debuted. The two albums have proven commercially successful as well. Although released less than two weeks away from the end of the year, they managed to steal the best seller of the year title with the one of China's biggest online music stores, Amazon.com.cn. Both albums continued their robust sales into 2008 and have been among the best-selling albums across China.

Music and the Olympics[edit]

In addition to "Future is Now", she was also chosen to sing the demos of two other Olympics-themed songs, "Dream in Sight" and "Light of Life", both works of Hong Kong musicians and lyrists.

  • Dream in Sight (composed by Kubert Leung, lyrics by Lin Xi): Suona, a traditional Chinese musical instrument which has a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, is used in the arrangement.
  • Light of Life (composed by Jin Peida, lyrics by Chen Shaoqi): the first characters of each line in the lyrics, strung together, read "One World, One Dream. Beijing Welcomes You."

The two songs above were released in a not-for-sale limited-edition CD. She also joined many other singers and entertainers in singing two official BeijingOlympics songs, "We Are Ready", the official one-year countdown song, and "Beijing Welcomes You", the official 100-day countdown song.

On April 20, 2008, Zhou as one of the two appointed "young ambassadors" participated in the filming of a series of Beijing Olympics promotion videos as part of a publicity campaign named "56 Ethnic Groups; One Dream". The other ambassador is Alex Fong Lik-Sun, a professional-swimmer-turned-singer/actor from Hong Kong.

Recent endeavors[edit]

  • So far in 2008 Zhou has received two major "Best Female Artist" titles (see "Select musical awards" section below for details), prior to which she had been awarded mostly the title of the "Most Popular Female Artist". She was excited about being acknowledged for her accomplishments in music by judges and critics.
  • Zhou was going to embark on her nationwide college tour promoting her twin albums. In preparation, she has been undergoing rigorous vocal and physical training for months. According to unofficial sources, she is scheduled to tour select colleges in major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Nanjing and Xi'an. Kubert Leung and his band will tour with Zhou. However, this tour was cancelled even before started by Yuelin because she did not want to continue the contract with the company.
  • Zhou has also been actively involved with several activities aiming at promoting the 2008 Beijing Olympics (see "Olympics" section above").
  • In April 2008, Zhou was invited to film a promotional video on Nike China website for the opening of NIKEiD Shanghai Studio, the first such studio in China. NIKEiD allows customers to custom design and create their own individualized footwear and apparel.
  • Since June 2008 Yuelin company had stopped her every activity and not allowed her to show up in public because they wanted Zhou to continue the contract. However, always looking for the best music and development, she kept her mind calm and insisted to leave. After Dec 31, 2008 she officially became free and wrote a blog to express her appreciation to her ex-manager for the past three years.
  • She made a contract with Golden-Typhoon(EMI) recently and will officially sign with the company on March 21, 2009
  • She has already signed with Golden-Typhoon on March 21, 2009.
  • Her album Time was the best seller in China in 2009.
  • Her last album 《i,yu,guang,jing》(2010) was considered as the bestseller in mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
  • Her photo album 《Sing along the travel in Beijing》(2010) has sold 100,000 copies since it was launched, which has broken the record of its kind.
  • In March 2014, she carried out a collaboration work with Korea's famous hip pop group Epik High.[1]

Philanthropy[edit]

Since November 30, 2005, Zhou Bichang has been serving as the Young Ambassador for the “Land of Love, Water Cellars for Mothers” project, a charity fund started by the China Women Development Foundation that finances building water cellars and small-scale water supply systems in the arid northwestern region of China. Zhou herself contributed CN¥ 10,000, or 10 water cellars at CN¥ 1,000 each. Thousands of her fans, nationwide, have since followed her lead. To date, their donation is estimated to have exceeded CN¥ 550,000, a large portion of which has already been used to build water cellars in said region. As the Ambassador, Zhou took a trip to Dingbian County, Shaanxi Province, to personally promote the project. During her trip, she visited families in dire need of reliable, clean water supply.

On December 1, 2005, Zhou was named the Ambassador of HIV/AIDS Prevention in Guangdong Province.

During the period of October to December 2006, Zhou participated in several events for the “I Want to Go to School” campaign, a two-month long initiative co-sponsored by China Music Radio and China Children Foundation. Zhou, along with other artists, showed her support for helping to raise awareness of children in extreme poverty. For the campaign, she also recorded one version of the theme song “ Kids” (“娃娃”), composed and written by the renowned Taiwanese musician Li Zongsheng.

Discography[edit]