It’s easy to forget that G.E.M. is only 25. For almost a decade, she’s been ever-present across Hong Kong (TV, newspapers, billboards, medical endorsements), commanding the kind of profile you’d expect of a veteran of stardom. But as she sits on a stool in a Chai Wan studio, that youthful exuberance is inescapable. ‘Oh, she’s a good friend of mine!’ she laughs when we mention that we’ve also interviewed Shila Amzah. ‘We talk about everything, especially girly subjects, like “I like that boy, but he doesn’t like me”.’ She’s all cherubic smiles and laughing quips, with a welcoming friendliness of someone who is still very much in her 20s.
That’s not to say that G.E.M. is the same baby-faced 17-year-old that debuted in 2008 with a fresh mix of R&B, rock and dance. Plenty has changed. The story of G.E.M. can be summed up (if not entirely done justice) as such: teen singer-songwriter, discovery by an independent label Hummingbird, Hong Kong success, a Chinese reality TV singing show, megastardom. By the end of 2014, with her appearance on the show I Am A Singer, G.E.M. was one of the most popular singers in China.
‘That experience dramatically changed my life and career,’ says G.E.M. ‘The most important change wasn’t popularity. It was about personal growth and how much I was able to absorb and develop creatively and emotionally.’
At the studio, G.E.M. is understandably reflective. We meet just hours before the premiere of G-Force, a documentary that traces her life from nascent schoolgirl singer-songwriter to uber-pop diva, including the controversies along the way.
‘I felt quite emotional after watching the film. Most people only know me through things they see on the surface, but this film reveals what happens behind the scenes. It’s all very revealing,’ she says. ‘With the cheers come the challenges. I have to accept there’s going to be drama, but also be more aware that there are situations I have to learn from. Ultimately, my main purpose is making music.’
In a way, the documentary represents G.E.M. entering a new era. The 25-year-old is at the peak of her popularity, hailed as the pride of the Chinese pop scene and pegged as the Chinese artist that may just make it across the world. Western media have dubbed her the ‘Taylor Swift of China’ (young, influential, social-media-savvy and representing a new brand of girl power). And with this momentum behind her, G.E.M. has her sights firmly set on going global.
She’s working on a new album and has recently penned the Chinese theme song to the sci-fi Hollywood film Passengers. And later this year, G.E.M. is embarking on her second film project. She will be the voice of Sleeping Beauty in fairy tale animation Charming alongside a host of big name divas including Avril Lavigne, Sia, Ashley Tisdale and Demi Lovato. ‘It’s not your typical fairy tale and it goes against convention,’ says G.E.M. ‘This project is very important to me because it’s the first time I’ve collaborated with American musicians, and I will also be performing my first official English-language song.’
If working on a new album and digging her feet into Hollywood wasn’t enough, G.E.M. is also setting off on a new world tour, Queen of Hearts, which starts in Guangzhou in April and will see her play dates across Asia, North America, Europe and Australia. ‘We are hosting dance auditions at the moment with dancers from all around the world,’ says G.E.M. ‘Watching all the talents is getting me all excited for this tour. I’m not sure when my next album will be out, but it will come out during the tour.’
Queen of Hearts is G.E.M.’s second global showcase, following her frenetic two-year X.X.X. LIVE tour, which included 73 shows spanning 49 cities. ‘Touring for me involves getting up super early, then going straight to rehearsal after getting off the plane. It can be taxing at times. But I like getting on planes and just zoning out without disruption,’ she says. ‘It’s a time for me to recharge my batteries.’
For G.E.M., one of the few Chinese pop stars who writes her own songs and lyrics, planes are also a place of inspiration. ‘When I’m on the plane, I like thinking and looking out at the clouds. Even though it’s just the sky that we’ve seen over and over, it’s magical how it can give you a different spark each time,’ she says. ‘I remember writing my song Therefore, from my latest album Heartbeat, while flying on Cathay. This song is about the past being in the past. And no matter how you suffered, time won’t stop and the world won’t stop spinning. So, life has to go on, which is what I thought when I looked at the sky. No matter what chaos goes on beneath the clouds the sky will remain unchanged.’
With the tour, travel is set to be a big part of G.E.M.’s life in the next few years. G-Force shows her amid the skylines of China, cruising beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, flying in a jet plane in the Netherlands and taking in some of the world’s great sights. But this time around, there’s one thing that tops her travel list: ‘I really want to go to the Philippines. I had so much fun diving last time when I went to Thailand. It was an unforgettable experience,’ she says. ‘So everyone keeps telling me that I have to go diving in the Philippines.’