K-pop star Tao wants to sing Chinese pop

The former member of boyband Exo has set up his own label and plans to go solo in China

Tao has set up his own management label and released two mini albums this year.
Tao has set up his own management label and released two mini albums this year. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Singer Tao, who has left Korean- Chinese boyband Exo, seems to be pulling out of the Korean pop industry altogether in favour of a solo career in his native China.

The 22-year-old tells Life in Mandarin: "I feel the path I have chosen is right. This is life, you can't always stay put. If you don't muster the courage to move forward, you'll never know what you can achieve.

"Even if I get scolded by others, I'm living my own life. It has nothing to do with them. If I fail, I'll just move on. It's my choice, it's my life. I'll die with no regrets."

Tao, whose full name is Huang Zitao, was in town this week for the opening of luxe down-jacket label Moncler's boutique at Ion Orchard.

He is in a legal tussle with SM Entertainment, the mega Korean talent agency behind Girls' Generation and Super Junior, over his departure from Exo. In August, he filed a lawsuit to terminate his contract with the agency.

Meanwhile, he has already entered the China market. He did a cameo in Chinese romance movie You Are My Sunshine (2015), starring actor Huang Xiaoming; and has appeared on Chinese TV variety shows including Impossible Challenge and and X. Singer.

Determined to carve his show business career on his own terms, he set up his own management label Z.Tao Studio in June and has released two mini albums T.A.O and Z.TAO in July and August.

"Now that I'm on my own, I can do the things I really want to do , be it music or movies," he says.

"I want Chinese pop music to be heard by more people. I learnt wushu when I was young, so I hope to emulate Jackie Chan in promoting awareness of martial arts ."

Tao performed stunts during concerts and variety shows when he was with Exo and has met Chan. The two are starring in Railroad Tigers, a war movie to be released next year.

At the interview, Tao shows signs that he is not a K-pop product anymore. Unlike a typical K-pop star's immaculate, if sometimes stiff, demeanour in front of the media and tightly controlled replies, he is at ease with being himself. Tired from an early morning flight, he plonks himself onto the couch before yawning and stretching his arms out wide.

His new management is relatively lax on the "no-go zones", including questions about Exo. The only time a staff steps in is when Life asks Tao if he keeps in touch with Kris and Luhan, his fellow Chinese members who left Exo last year.

Most of all, he speaks from his heart and tackles head-on tough questions about his recent departure from Exo.

Tao's father had said on Chinese social media site Weibo that he made the difficult decision to pull his son out of the group because of health concerns: "In the three years since Huang Zitao debuted, he has sustained major and minor injuries. He has hurt his waist, body and leg countless times. Each time I watch him perform somersaults, I'm on tenterhooks as I worry that he will aggravate his old injuries."

Detractors accuse Tao of faking his injuries and betraying the group responsible for his break into show business.

The singer shrugs off the online vitriol, saying: "It's not a bad thing, at least I am getting some attention. As a celebrity, I have to be prepared that there will always be good and bad comments."

Last month, he released a single titled She Bu De, which expresses reluctance to part with someone. While he says the melancholic song was inspired by his love life, is there not anything that he will miss about being a K-pop star?

He says: "I miss the training room and my good friends. We practised hard there. We went through a lot together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'K-pop star Tao wants to sing Chinese pop'. Subscribe