Chinese singer Leah Dou debuts with neo-soul sounds

The stage lights in the Sayers Club on Hollywood Boulevard shed a dim magenta hue on an empty stage with a living room setup. A group of approximately 50 young adults lounged in surrounding leather couches and at the bar, laughing and making small talk as Kanye West’s “Fade” played in a slower remix in the background. At 9 p.m., a tall man entered the stage, and the crowd quieted down. This man was Jason White, the head of marketing at Beats by Dr. Dre.

“I have the privilege of introducing to you an artist who is trying to break into the U.S. market,” White said. “She loves her craft; she pursues her craft, and that’s what we love about her. Please welcome Leah Dou.”

Dou, a Chinese singer-songwriter, is the daughter of prominent Chinese singers Dou Wei and Faye Wong. Unlike her parents’ music, however, Dou’s songs are primarily in English. Rather than conforming to the typical Chinese traditional style, it takes on a neo-soul, almost dream-pop genre with an ethereal twist.

Julia Erickson | Daily Trojan

Dou’s L.A. debut began with a promotional video made in collaboration with Beats. The video, titled “The Way I Am,” featured three protagonists and their journeys home for Chinese New Year. The six-minute video followed two plot lines: one in which two individuals found a way to see each other through video call, and another that  featured a young man dealing with logistical challenges to make his way back to his family.

In the background track of the video, Dou’s “It’s Not a Crime, It’s Just What We Do” played to accompany the storyline, and the scenes flashed from the couple to the young man back to Dou’s first performance in Los Angeles — revealing each person’s inner obstacles in their goals of reaching home.

“The film is a story about all the struggles and excitement and wins and losses about going home,” White said. “Chinese New Year is a time when everyone thinks of home, and this video is really for all the young people out in the world trying to live a new life while adhering to tradition.”

Following the promotional video, Dou performed a couple of the songs on her debut album, Stone Café, including “Chimes,” “Bitter Sweet,” “Blue Flamingo,” “River Run,” “May Rain” and “My Days.”

While some of her songs such as “River Run” and “My Days” displayed energetic electronic beats and harmony, Dou’s music features soulful melodies accompanied with poetic lyrics. Complemented with her haunting, deep voice, Dou’s songs stood out from the typical expected Chinese pop while also diverging from her mother’s signature adherence to Chinese musical conventions.

As Dou tries to make a name for herself, she struggles with her previous identity as the daughter of one of the most famous singers in China. This inspires her to pursue a new, alternative route on her journey to stardom. As a result, Dou’s first album, Stone Café, reveals some of the inner turmoils Chinese millennials face and explicitly confronts uncomfortable emotions. This style of honesty in her music is rarely heard in Chinese vanilla pop and other traditional genres; these elements distinguish Dou’s music from the mainstream styles, marking Dou as an artist to watch not only in China but also in the United States.