SHANGHAI -- After making sure to graduate from a university here, a 22-year-old from China's Hunan province is making her simultaneous debut as a singer in Japan and China with an old Japanese tune that was unexpectedly reborn in China.
Long Mengrou, romanized as "Ron Monroe," is a member of the eighth-largest minority group in China, the Tujia people, and was born in a small farming village in the Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in the northwest of Hunan province in southeastern China. She graduated from Shanghai Ocean University in June, and made her long-awaited debut as a singer with her first single "Planet" on June 20.
At an event held in Shanghai on June 19, Ron said, in a choking voice, "I never thought I would be able to become a real singer and be able to sing in front of so many people."
Ron's home village, a farming community, only had 165 households, and many young people left for larger cities in order to make money to send home. Only few went on to university. When she was a child, even on days when she did not have classes at a local school, she would wake up at 6 a.m., make a meal for her family, feed the pigs and chickens before noon and deliver food to her father who worked in the corn fields. She would harvest the corn with her father and return home to tutor her younger brother. Ron was accepted to a university in Shanghai, and majored in accounting along with her parents' wishes.
To the several hundred fans who gathered in Shanghai for her debut event, Ron explained her journey from a farming village, to Shanghai, and now, to Tokyo.
"My dream was to be a singer, but coming this far was definitely not easy. Up until now, I've just been a regular university student, and being a singer seemed like such a faraway thing," she said. Ron had taken the top spot on the China Central Television audition show "Come, Cinderella," and had received numerous offers from entertainment companies to sign her for her debut as a singer. However, "I couldn't betray the expectations of my parents back in our village, so I continued to study at university. When I graduated, I met wonderful people who helped me, and I decided that now was the time to chase my dream. I will now continue down a new path. I will work on improving my skills while never forgetting who I am and where I came from."
One of the people she met was Japanese singer and songwriter Shinjiroh Inoue, who composed and wrote the original Japanese lyrics for Ron's debut single "Planet." The twist is that he wrote the ballad in 2006 for his band Lambsey, which has since disbanded. While the song was innocuously released as the third track on one of Lambsey's singles, there awaited a surprise: The song is hugely popular with young Chinese -- to the extent that it has become "the song" for Chinese graduation season in June.
It all began in 2016. "Planet" was played in the background at the wedding of a famous Chinese entertainer, and introduced through the Chinese video upload app "Doyin," or "Tik Tok." It was an instant hit, and gathered over 1 million positive reviews. A song almost completely unknown in Japan had been reborn in China without Inoue knowing.
Inoue, who also appeared at the Shanghai event, said it was around July 2017 that he started hearing rumors that the song had gained popularity in China, but he did not give it much thought. Then, in March 2018, he was flooded with requests from Chinese entertainment companies saying they wanted to cover the song or use it on a television program. As Lambsey had disbanded, Inoue searched for a new male vocalist, but couldn't find one he liked. It was when he was looking for female vocalists that he stumbled on Ron.
"When I first saw the videos that Ron posted on Instagram, I imagined her as having an air about her like a college girl in a big city in Japan, but when we actually met, I found that she was completely different. I felt her simplicity and pureness, as well as her potential as a singer."
Indeed, Ron was involved in the lyrics and arrangement of her cover of "Planet." Saying she didn't like the original lyrics and wanted to make them cooler, she rewrote them herself, even involving herself in the new Chinese language version of the song. Her debut single has two versions -- in Japanese and Chinese.
When Inoue came to Shanghai, he finally felt the positive response to his song -- one that was completely beyond his expectations.
"The original draw of J-POP (Japanese pop) songs is that they are delicately composed and have a dramatic build up. The melody is on the heartbreaking side, and the lyrics are not direct, but subtle," Inoue explained. "Japan and China both use Chinese characters, and I think this kind of poetic expression somehow resonated with young people in China." Now, he plans to deliver more songs for Ron as well as the youth of China.
"I was really surprised that this song would cross time and the ocean to become this loved by people, but it also motivated me. I'm glad I continued to make music," Inoue added. "There is a lot of attention on anime as Japanese culture, but I want to convey to the youth of China that there is also amazing J-POP, too."
Ron shares Inoue's goal of building understanding between the two countries through their work. "Music has no borders," she told the crowd in Shanghai. "I will become a bridge between China and Japan, and do work to show the current landscape in China, as well as help as many people in China as I can to learn about Japan today. That is the role I would like to fulfill."
(Japanese original by Akira Kudo, Shanghai Bureau)