When audiences rushed into theaters Wednesday for the release of “Crazy Rich Asians” — a comedy that has gained significant attention for its representation of Asian culture — the song they heard accompanying the final scenes was sung by a USC student.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants from Thousand Oaks, Calif., Katherine Ho is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and minoring in songwriting.
Her song “Liu Xing” (“Shooting Star”), a Mandarin cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” appeared in the final act of the film, marking the end of a dramatic scene between characters Rachel Chu and Eleanor Young.
Ho said it was significant to her in the larger context of Asian American representation in Hollywood, particularly in the first major movie with an all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” was released 25 years ago.
“To me, the Mandarin lyrics tell a story of taking a leap of faith to pursue a dream or person/thing you love,” Ho wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “On a broader level, for me, this song embodies what it means to be Asian American. Getting to put a Mandarin twist on one of my all-time favorite Western songs was a sort of musical marriage between the two cultural worlds that have shaped my identity.”
Ho delved into the world of music at a young age. She started playing classical piano at age five and began taking voice lessons at nine. Since then, Ho has been singing and dancing in every annual production of the Chinese New Year show in her hometown.
Her first professional singing job was as a children’s choir singer in the film “Valentine’s Day,” before she went on to start a YouTube channel in eighth grade dedicated to covers, live performances and original songs.
In high school, Ho performed in choir and music clubs, competed on Season 10 of NBC’s reality television competition, “The Voice,” and attended an a cappella summer camp for three years.
In January 2017, Ho received a phone call from Ben Bram, one of the camp’s founders, asking if she could sing in Mandarin and if he could submit her work for a film/TV project. Ho had to submit a partial demo of Coldplay’s “Yellow” in Mandarin within 24 hours. A few days later, after she started losing hope in the opportunity, Ho received a email saying she got the job and immediately called her parents to share the good news.
“I couldn’t believe that I would have the honor of being attached, even in a minor way, to the same project as my idol Constance Wu,” Ho wrote. “My mom and dad were super proud and happy — they have always unconditionally supported my singing, and I think the fact that I got to sing in Mandarin made it all the more special.”
While lots of practice went into preparing herself for the recording session, it wasn’t until about an hour before that a Warner Brothers executive called Ho and told her the song was for “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Ho said that despite the song’s significance in the film, it almost didn’t make it in the final version. After Coldplay initially rejected the proposal to use the track, the film’s director, John Chu, who graduated from USC in 2003, wrote the band a letter on what the song meant to him.
“He explained how their song transformed “yellow” from a derogatory, ugly, negative term to a beautiful, magical one that re-defined his self-image,” Ho said in an email to the Daily Trojan.
Following the release of the film, many viewers have reached out to Ho to share their emotional experiences when listening to the song.
“One of the most memorable messages I have received is from a 26-year-old Chinese American who told me that the song was ‘the first time in my life I thought that this language, the language of my family and my culture, was beautiful.’” Ho wrote.
Alongside Ho, several other Trojans were involved in the making of the film. Cheryl Koh, who graduated in 2018 with a degree in business administration, sings the opening and remixed the credit song “Money (That’s What I Want)” with Awkwafina, while Kina Grannis, who graduated in 2007 with a degree in social sciences sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love” during the wedding scene.
Ho said she felt grateful to be a part of a “historic” film.
“Seeing people that looked like me represented on screen was honestly quite an eye-opening, emotional experience whose value is hard to put into words,” Ho said.