Zhang Yixing (Chinese: 张艺兴; born October 7, 1991), known professionally as Lay Zhang or simply Lay (Korean: 레이), is a Chinese singer-songwriter, record producer, dancer, and actor. He debuted as a member of the K-pop boy group Exo and its Chinese sub-group Exo-M in 2012 under SM Entertainment. He was first known after participating in the Chinese TV talent show Star Academy in 2005. Apart from his musical activities, he is also known for starring in numerous dramas and movies such as Ex-Files 2 (2015), The Mystic Nine (2016), Kung Fu Yoga (2017) and The Island (2018).
Zhang in December 2017
October 7, 1991
In April 2015, Zhang established a personal agency for his solo activities, serving as an exclusive management and record label. In September 2015, he released his autobiography, Standing Firm at 24, which broke several online book records. In July 2016, Zhang was appointed by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) of Changsha as a publicity ambassador, the first celebrity to hold such title. On October 28, 2016, Zhang released his first EP Lose Control in South Korea and China. The EP was a commercial success peaking at number one on the Gaon Album Chart as well as number four on Billboard's US World Albums chart, and made him the first Chinese artist to enter the iTunes Top 60. Kantar Millward Brown and China's business magazine CBN Weekly recently launched the CelebrityZ Top 100 Most Valuable Celebrities where he came in at the 23rd spot.
Zhang was born Zhang Jiashuai (Chinese: 张加帅) in Changsha, Hunan, China on October 7, 1991. His legal name was later changed to Zhāng Yìxīng. His first known acting role was at six years old, starring as Huan Huan in the 1998 Chinese television drama We The People. In 2000, at nine years old, Zhang participated in a Chinese TV show as a fan club member of the Taiwanese singer and actor Jimmy Lin, giving him his first contact with the entertainment industry. Zhang began his career as a local child star after winning third place in a competition organized by the Hunan-based TV show Star Academy in 2005. He also appeared in an episode of Yue Ce Yue Xin Kai and Liu Na's variety show, Na Ke Bu Yi Yang between 2005 and 2006. In April 2006, he auditioned for a leading part in Zhang Jizhong's The Duke of Mount Deer, but did not win the role despite being a finalist.
In 2008, Zhang auditioned for SM Entertainment at the company's global casting auditions in Changsha. At the time of the auditions, he was 16 years old and studying at the High School Attached to Hunan Normal University, where he was featured as an outstanding student for his achievements. After successfully passing the auditions, Zhang moved to South Korea for his idol training. In 2011, prior to his debut with Exo, he briefly worked with Shinee during their Shinee World concert tour as Jonghyun's dance replacement.
2012–2014: Debut with ExoEdit
Zhang debuted as a K-pop idol under the stage name Lay, which was taken from the Taiwanese television series Meteor Garden character Hua Ze Lei. He was first unveiled as one of the four Chinese members of Exo in a teaser video titled "Phoenix" in January 2012. Following the release of the singles "What Is Love" and "History" in 2012, he and the other eleven members held their pre-debut showcase in Seoul's Olympic Stadium on March 31, and a second showcase and press conference in Beijing at the Great Hall of the Beijing University of International Business and Economics. The group debuted on April 8, 2012 with their title song "Mama", and Exo-M's first performance in China was publicly televised at the 12th Yinyue Fengyun Bang Awards.
In December 2012, Zhang was featured in SM Entertainment's project dance group SM the Performance featuring SM's best dancers, alongside fellow Exo member Kai and labelmates Yunho, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Minho and Taemin. On December 29, the group performed their single "Spectrum", which was released the following day, at the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon. As his group gained commercial success, Exo's studio album XOXO (album) became the first album to sell more than a million copies in South Korea in 12 years. Their 2014 album Overdose (EP) entered US Billboard's 200 chart.
Early in 2014, Zhang composed and performed the song "I'm Lay" for his solo performance during Exo's first headlining concert tour The Lost Planet. Later in 2014, he performed another self-composed song titled "I'm Coming" on a special year-end television program on Hunan TV. Zhang also composed the song "Promise" from the repackaged edition of Exo's second studio album, Love Me Right. He also wrote the lyrics for the Chinese version of the song, while the Korean version was co-written by Chen and Chanyeol.
2014–2015: Solo activities and acting career beginningsEdit
In August 2014, Zhang joined his first variety show, Star Chef as a cast member. In April 2015, SM Entertainment announced that a personal studio had been established for Zhang's activities in China. In May 2015, he became a regular cast member of the Chinese reality television show Go Fighting!. Zhang subsequently starred in the second, third, and fourth season of Go Fighting, which led to increased recognition for him in China.
On September 18, the limited edition of Zhang's autobiography Standing Firm At 24 was published, while the standard edition became available on October 7. The book documents important events throughout his life and broke several online sales records by selling 68,537 copies in the first 24 minutes of pre-sales. With less than three month sale of 1.4 million in royalties, he took the fourth place on 'The 10th Chinese Celebrity Writers List', becoming the youngest celebrity author to enter the charts. He was also the champion of the 2015 installment of the 'Annual Celebrity Book Sales', and took the top spot of 'Asia's Best Books', twice during its monthly ranking and six times for the weekly chart. The book also locked in standings for Rakuten's listings, with 400,000 copies sold within six months.
In October, Zhang was announced to be starring as the male lead alongside label mate Krystal Jung in the South Korean-Chinese romance film Unexpected Love, the poster for which was revealed in the Cannes Film Festival.
In November 2015, Zhang made his big screen debut with a supporting role in the Chinese romantic comedy movie Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back, which was a box office hit, garnering 2 billion in sales within 10 days of its release. He later won the Best Supporting Actor Award at the 2016 China Britain Film Festival for his performance. He also wrote and recorded an original soundtrack for the movie titled "Alone (One Person)", which reached number one on the Baidu Music Chart, and later won Best Movie Original Soundtrack awards at the 16th Top Chinese Music Awards and 4th V-Chart Awards. Zhang also starred in the Chinese comedy movie Oh My God, and collaborated with his co-stars Coco Jiang Wen and Li Xiaolu on an original soundtrack for the movie titled "Happy Youth", which debuted at number eight on the Billboard V Chart.
2016: Rising popularity and solo debutEdit
In January 2016, Zhang and the other cast members of Go Fighting! appeared in the Chinese movie Royal Treasure. In April 2016, he received the Most Popular Newcomer award at the 16th Top Chinese Music Awards.
In May 2016, Zhang made his small screen debut in the Chinese television series To Be A Better Man, which earned high ratings throughout its run. Zhang received positive reviews for his acting as an aspiring chef. The same month, Zhang released a Chinese song titled "Monodrama (Chinese: 独角戏)" as part of SM Entertainment's Station music project. Written by Lay and co-composed and arranged with Divine Channel, "Monodrama" broke records by staying at number one on YinYueTai's VChart for five consecutive weeks.
In July 2016, Zhang starred in the Chinese action mystery drama The Mystic Nine, a prequel to The Lost Tomb. The series achieved success, placing first in television ratings and setting a record for the most online views garnered in a day, and has accumulated over 12 billion views in total. Zhang was praised for his portrayal of the Chinese opera singer Er Yuehong, and went to star in a spin-off of the television series titled The Mystic Nine Side Story: Flowers Bloom in February, which focused solely on Zhang's character. Flowers Bloom in February was a success and has accumulated over 500 million views.
In October 2016, Zhang's career as a solo singer began with the release of "What U Need?" as a surprise gift for his fans on his birthday. The song hit the number four spot on the China V Chart and Billboard's World Digital Songs He performed the song for the first time on October 10 at the 2016 Asia Song Festival in Busan, South Korea.
On October 28, Zhang released his debut extended play Lose Control, containing six Mandarin tracks, and the music video for the title song. Lay was involved in much of the production of album as the producer, and was personally in charge of the composition, arrangement and writing the lyrics of every song – as well as translating the lyrics himself into three other languages other than Chinese including English, Korean and Japanese. The song "Lose Control" stayed as number one on Billboard's China V Chart for six weeks in a row. Lose Control pre-orders surpassed 200,000 copies and peaked at #1 on the Gaon Album Chart. It also reached number four on Billboard's US World Albums chart. He performed "Lose Control" for the first time on the music program The Show on November 15.
2017: Mainstream popularityEdit
On January 27, Zhang made his maiden appearance on CCTV Spring Gala Festival and sang a duet alongside Chinese actor Jing Boran. The same month, he starred in the Indian-Chinese action film Kung Fu Yoga directed by Stanley Tong alongside Jackie Chan, playing an archaeologist assistant. He reportedly suffered minor injuries as per the action scenes required from his character. The film grossed $245.2 million, making it the highest-grossing comedy film in China at that time. A post-release music video, "Goosebump" sung by Fazilpuria featured him and Jackie Chan together.
On February 17, Zhang made his last public appearance with Exo on the Hong Kong concerts of their world tour Exo Planet 3 – The Exo'rdium. He halted his activities with the group due to overlapping schedules with his solo career in China.
In April, Zhang starred in the Chinese patriotic film The Founding of an Army, and was praised for his portrayal of Lu Deming. Later in April, Zhang starred in the Chinese remake of the hit Japanese romance television series Operation Love. He composed and sang the OST, "Pray" for the drama.
On September 25, Zhang released the music video for "I Need U", a pre-release track from his album Lay 02 Sheep. The music video ranked number one on Billboard's China Weibo Live Chart. The album was released on October 7, along with the music video for the song Sheep. On its first day of digital sales, the album broke five records on QQ Music: Gold, Double Gold, Triple Gold, Platinum and Diamond Record (¥5 million in 9 hours 11 minutes). The album premiere "2017 Zhang Yixing Showcase" was held at the Beijing National Aquatics Center on October 12, where he performed "I Need U", "Sheep" and other singles.
On December 22, Zhang released his second extended play Winter Special Gift on QQ Music and KuGou app. The music video of the lead song for the album, "Goodbye Christmas" was also released on the same day. Within one day of digital sales, the album broke four records of Gold, Double Gold, Triple Gold and Platinum on QQ Music.[better source needed] The album later broke Diamond record on QQ Music.
2018: US debutEdit
On January 15, Zhang released the theme song "Everything Like You" for the public welfare movie, I'm Beside You. The same month, Zhang was appointed as the presenter and production director of iQiyi's hit talent recruiting program Idol Producer.
On April 1, Zhang returned as one of the main cast in the fourth season of hit Chinese variety show Go Fighting!. On the same month, Zhang attended the 2018 CCTV New Year's Gala where he performed a dance collaboration stage with Huang Bo and William Chan. He also participated in the national anthem and its music video for Youth Day in China in May. In July, he made a guest appearance for the web series The Tomb of Sea, where he portrayed a descendant of his character from the hit 2016 TV series The Mystic Nine. In August, Zhang starred in Huang Bo's commercially and critically successful directorial debut film The Island, where he received acclaim for his performance.
Zhang made his first US appearance at the music festival Lollapalooza where he collaborated with Alan Walker. The duo later collaborated on a remixed version of Zhang's previous single "Sheep", titled "Sheep Relift" on August 30.
Zhang's second album, Namanana, was released on October 19, with the pre-release single "Give Me a Chance" being released on October 5. The album contains 22 songs including a collaboration with Bazzi, 11 of which are in Chinese language with English counterparts for each. The album debuted at 21 on Billboard 200, making Lay the highest ranked Mandopop artist on the chart. The album also ranked 1st on the World Albums and Independent Albums charts.
2019: International recognitionEdit
On January 20, Zhang attended a Samsung event held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China as the ambassador of Samsung Galaxy A8s and performed on-stage alongside ASAP Ferg and Steve Aoki, respectively. On the same month, Zhang returned as the production director and presenter of the Chinese survival show Idol Producer 2.
Zhang attended the 61st Annual Grammy Awards as its Promotion Ambassador on February 10, and was the only Chinese celebrity invited to the red carpet event and live ceremony. On February 26, a Michael Jackson tribute song titled Let's Shut Up and Dance was released by Zhang with Jason Derulo and K-pop group NCT 127. In the same month, his third wax figure was revealed in Madame Tussauds Hong Kong, following his wax figures in Madame Tussauds Shanghai and Beijing. Zhang also starred as the protagonist in the Chinese fantasy-adventure series The Golden Eyes, which was aired on iQiyi from February 26 until April 12, 2019. On March 15, Zhang released a digital single titled Lovebird as a collaborative song with American EDM and hip-hop group Far East Movement.
On May 6, Zhang made his first appearance at the annual fashion exhibition Met Gala in New York City as an ambassador of Valentino. He sported a custom-made suit titled "Time Traveller", designed by Valentino's award-winning Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli.
On June 14, Zhang released a digital extended play titled Honey and its title track of the same name. The EP reached over 1.87 million digital sales, four minutes after its release on QQ Music, breaking his own record for Namanana. It also earned QQ Music's Golden Hall status for breaking nine sales levels, and earning the Gold Diamond certification.
Zhang will embark on his first tour, "Grand Line", which spans four dates in July 2019. The tickets for the concert at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China had sold out in eight seconds, while the stop in Nanjing, China had its tickets sold out in twenty-five seconds.
Zhang has served as a promotional ambassador for Huawei Nova from 2015 to 2018. He is a brand ambassador of over 20 brands, including Converse, MAC Cosmetics, Samsung Galaxy, Chaumet Paris, Ray-Ban, Milka Chocolate, and Perrier. He also endorses several Chinese brands and mobile applications, including navigation site Tencent Map. As an ambassador of high-end fashion brand Valentino, he has attended multiple fashion shows and events in Asia and Europe, as well at the annual Met Gala. On 2019, Zhang was announced to be H&M's newest ambassador in China. He currently tops the list for K-Pop idols with the most endorsement deals.
In July 2016, Zhang was appointed by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) of Changsha as a publicity ambassador, the first celebrity to hold such title. Since then, he has served as the publicity ambassador for three consecutive years.
In October 2017, Zhang signed a contract with the vice president of Tencent Music Entertainment Group where he became a member of "Music+ Plan" (Music+ 计划) alongside TFBoys, Wang Leehom and more.
In September 2018, Zhang signed an agreement with Easy Entertainment whereby his personal studio will collaborate with Easy Entertainment to create a new team to manage Zhang's promotional activities.
Songwriting and composingEdit
Zhang has composed and produced multiple songs including "Exo 2014" by Exo and the whole of his solo albums, Lose Control (EP), Lay 02 Sheep, Winter Special Gift and Namanana. He also wrote and composed his 2015 SM Station single "Monodrama". Zhang composed "Alone", the original sound track for his 2015 romantic-comedy film Ex-Files 2, as well as "Prayer", for his 2017 Chinese web-drama Operation Love. He holds composition credits for the song "Not to be Continued" by Chinese female artist Karen Mok which was released in May 2018 for her 25th anniversary album and later for MC Jin's single "Debut" on the same year. In April 2018, Zhang won the "Best Producer" award at the Chinese Top Ten Music Awards. He revealed in an interview that he lost over 99 unreleased tracks that he composed over the years. Apart from Karen Mok, he holds composition credits to songs released by Yu Quan, MC Jin and Show Luo.
Many of Zhang's released songs were produced with traditional Chinese musical elements, such as the instruments Hulusi, Guzheng and Gong. Zhang mentioned in one of his interviews that his main genre is M-pop, which stands for "Mixed Mandarin pop" and is a variation of different languages. One song is his collaborative single with American EDM and Hip-hop group Far East Movement titled Lovebird, which contains English and Mandarin languages. The Assembly Call, the intro song for his 2018 album Namanana, is an instrumental track which showcases different traditional Chinese sounds and music.
Zhang has been associated with his Chinese zodiac sign, the sheep, which he used for his 2017 solo album Lay 02 Sheep and its title track Sheep. This concept has been consistent throughout his solo career, and he has been called Little sheep in China by his fans and even TV shows.
In February 2015, Zhang participated in the "Return Home with Love for A Thousand Miles", a large-scale public welfare activities and volunteer project. The project included on-site delivery of relief supplies to labour workers which helps them return home faster and to help labour workers in a timely manner to reinforce physical safety. On May 2, Zhang established his own foundation entitled, "Zhang Yixing Arts Scholarship" on behalf of providing scholarship for his alma mater middle school, Hunan Masters College Middle School where he will donate 100 thousand yuan annually. His intentions were encourage talented youth to pursue their dreams. On September 7, Zhang responded to a campus soccer public welfare project, "Summit of Hope" ("希望之颠"). He uploaded a video on his Weibo account in an attempt to publicise the project.
On February 1, 2016, Zhang donated an undisclosed amount to a joint Weibo public welfare funding project (#一起9加1#) which aids impoverished families for the upcoming Lunar New Year. In March 2016, during the second season of Go Fighting!, Zhang and the other cast members visited a community-run migrant worker dependent school located in Chuansha Xin Town of Shanghai as part of the "Go Fighting Welfare Development Project" ("极限公益成长计划"). The initiative donated more than 1.2 million yuan worth of materials for over 12 schools nationwide. On May 1, Zhang participated in the Youku "Go Fighting Minute Challenge" public welfare project on Weibo where he sent greetings to as many friends and families as possible in one minute and urged the public to express positive energy and to donate to charity. With previously having his own foundation established, he further donated another 1 million yuan and a piano to his alma mater. Later that year, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of his alma mater, Zhang once more donated another 1 million yuan of fund to his scholarship foundation. On July 2, Zhang was honorably appointed as the Publicity Ambassador of the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), expressed that he will dedicate himself to his appointment and appealed to the public to do charity through singing the national anthem. On September 9, Zhang attended the 2016 BAZAAR Stars' Charity Night which resulted in him donating 10 ambulances with worth amounting to 700 thousand yuan. Due to his charitable contributions, Zhang was ranked number 15th by the China Philanthropist Magazine in the '2016 China's Top Philanthropist Celebrity List'.
On September 9, 2017, Zhang attended the 2017 BAZAAR Stars' Charity Night and donated 15 ambulances, valued at 1.05 million yuan. In January 2018, he starred in a public welfare movie I'm Beside You in which he sang and composed the theme song. On March 30, 2018, he starred as a guest recitalist in CCTV's Trust in China talk show. Zhang ranked number 18 by the China Philanthropist Magazine in the '2017 China's Top Philanthropist Celebrity List'.
|Year||English title||Original title||Role||Notes|
|2015||SMTOWN The Stage||Himself||Documentary of SM Town|
|Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back||前任2：备胎反击战||Lee Xianghe||Special appearance|
|Oh My God||从天儿降||Le Yi|
|The Mystic Nine Side Story: Flowers Bloom in February||老九门番外之二月花开||Er Yuehong||Web film|
|2017||Kung Fu Yoga||功夫瑜伽||Zhu Xiaoguang|
|The Founding of an Army||建军大业||Lu Deming||Special appearance|
|Cars 3||N/A||Jackson Storm (voice)||Chinese voice dub|
|2018||I'm Beside You||我在你身边||Public welfare film; Cameo|
|The Island||一出好戏||Xiao Xing|
|TBA||Unexpected Love||闭嘴！爱吧||Han Bin||South Korean-Chinese film; Postponed release due to THAAD|
|Year||English title||Original title||Role||Network||Notes|
|1998||We The People||咱老百姓||Huan Huan||Beijing TV||Pre-debut|
|2015||Exo Next Door||우리 옆집에 엑소가 산다||Himself||Naver TV Cast||Special appearance|
|2016||To Be A Better Man||好先生||Xiao Cai (Cai Mingjun)||Jiangsu TV, Zhejiang TV|
|The Mystic Nine||老九门||Er Yuehong||Dragon TV, iQiyi|
|2017||Operation Love||求婚大作战||Yan Xiaolai||Dragon TV, Tencent|
|2018||The Tomb of Sea||沙海||Jie Yuchen||Tencent||Special appearance|
|The Island||一出好戏||Ma Xiaoxing||iQiyi||Web drama version of film The Island|
|2019||The Golden Eyes||黄金瞳||Zhuang Rui||Hunan TV, iQiyi|
|Empress of the Ming||大明皇妃·孙若微传||Zhu Qizhen||TBA|
|Year||English title||Original title||Role||Network||Notes|
|2014||Star Chef||星厨驾到||Contestant||Jiangsu TV|
|2015–present||Go Fighting!||极限挑战||Main cast||Dragon TV||season 1–5|
|2018||Idol Producer||偶像练习生||Main mentor, presenter||iQiyi|
|2019||Idol Producer 2||青春有你||Main mentor, presenter||iQiyi|||
- Grand Line: The First Concert (2019)
Awards and nominationsEdit
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- "EXO LAY凭自传获颁「年度跨界作者」奖". Korea Daily Star. October 21, 2016.
- "张艺兴登明星作家榜第四名 半年售40万册". Netease. March 24, 2016.
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- "EXO张艺兴加盟郭敬明监制新片 《从天儿降》搭档陈学冬李小璐 章子怡任制片". Mtime (in Chinese). March 9, 2015.
- "《从天儿降》发主题曲《青春快乐》 张艺兴献唱". Tencent (in Chinese). November 3, 2015.
- "China V Chart | Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
- "《极限挑战》电影首映 六男星逼疯主持人 导演欲打造综艺电影新模式". Mtime News (in Chinese). Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- "EXO Member Lay to Make Acting Debut in Chinese Drama". International Business Times. August 19, 2015.
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- "엑소 레이, SM STATION 16번째 주인공..첫 솔로곡". Osen (in Korean). Retrieved May 26, 2016.
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- "全网首部破百亿自制剧诞生 爱奇艺《老九门》频刷纪录". Netease (in Chinese). September 27, 2016.
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- "《二月花开》破5000万 九门番外创自制新模式". Netease (in Chinese). January 1, 2016.
- "[Video] EXO′s Lay Surprises Fans with ′what U need?′ on Birthday". Mwave. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
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