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Van Ness Wu Talks About Meteor Garden, His New Album, and His Faith: 'I Have Love For Everybody'

The artist comes full circle.
IMAGE UNIVERSAL MUSIC TAIWAN/VIRGIN MUSIC

Most Filipinos would remember Van Ness Wu for his portrayal of Mei Zuo, one of the lead characters in the phenomenally successful 2001 TV series Meteor Garden, and as a former member of the wildly popular boyband F4. It’s been over two decades since his meteoric rise to fame, and yet, at 43, Wu seems to have not aged at all. This is something he credits to his mother’s skincare business. If anything, his knack for reinventing himself through the years has made him all the more relevant; a multi-hyphenate—a singer, actor, producer, designer, and entrepreneur, among other things—worth remembering. 

Photo by Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music.

Growing up in Orange Country, Wu was exposed to different kinds of music as a kid. He eventually became a huge fan of hip-hop and RnB—even his fashion sense manifested this preference in the form of JNCO and Girbaud Jeans later on. He started dancing when he was only 12 years old, and when the performance bug bit him, he realized he wanted to do more. He took dance lessons, joined dance competitions, and became part of dance groups—including one with his sisters. At 18, he was featured as one of the dancers in Run DMC and Jason Nevins’ music video of “It’s Like That.”

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Wu was 22 years old when he decided to move to Taiwan and try his luck in the entertainment industry there. He was eventually scouted to audition for Meteor Garden and the rest, as they say, is history.  

In an interview with Esquire Philippines, Wu recalled his Meteor Garden and F4 days.

“When I think about that, I think about an amazing experience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience with three other people. We got to share this amazing journey in life and it was a very experimental, very educational, self-searching, soul-searching, you know. It's all of that. I was only 22 and still I was trying to figure out who I was.”

He also admitted that he and the rest of the cast had different personalities. It didn’t seem like it was a problem, however.

“I think as we all were, you know, I have nothing but love for all of them. We tried to come together to do a reunion before as well,” he said. 

Photo by Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music.
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After Meteor Garden and F4, Wu pursued a career as a recording artist and actor. His solo recording debut, Body Will Sing was released 2002. Overall, he has released six Mandarin albums and two Japanese albums as a solo artist, and one Mandarin/Korean collaborative album with Kangta, a member of the K-pop idol group, H.O.T.

Wu has also worked with the likes of international stars Ryan Tedder, Beyonce, Avicii, and Bruno Mars, who penned a song for him. He was also the opening act for Kanye’s concert in Shanghai in 2008.

In 2009, the entertainer headlined top-rating Taiwanese drama Autumn’s Concerto. The following year, he worked with that series’ director and co-produced Year of the Rain, also a television series. He was also one of the judges is Season 1 of Asia’s Got Talent  in 2015.

Wu’s film debut in 2003 was via Star Runner, a Hong Kong action/romance film. He appeared more recently on the silver screen alongside Donnie Yen in Ip Man 4. He also designs for his streetwear line, xVesssel. 

Yet another milestone

These are but a few of the milestones in Wu’s long career. As if these and several other achievements weren’t enough, he is breaking boundaries once again with yet another feat: the American-born Chinese artist just released Take a Ride, his first full-length English album.

The album contains 10 tracks and fulfills its promise to take listeners on a cruise across different music genres. The title track, “Take a Ride,” as well as the single “Chill,” are departures from the RnB and hip-hop music Wu is often associated with, while  “Mad Love,” “Miss Us,” and “It’s On” are reminiscent of the artist’s early roots in rap and dance. 

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Photo by Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music.

Wu explains why he didn’t stick to one genre for his new album. “To kind of put yourself in a box of ‘this is just one genre of music that I do,’ I felt was very…it just didn't feel just didn't sit well with me. So it's very often for me to kind of just go to different spaces.

“And that's why it kind of goes all these different genres, because of the music that I listened to growing up. It goes from RnB, hip-hop, to punk rock to glam rock, to, you know, classic jazz to blues.”

Wu has listened to a wide selection of artists, and his influences include Tupac Shakur, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Frank Sinatra, and the Staple Singers. When he feels that he needs to take a break from everything else in the current music scene though, he goes for the music of someone else.

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“Fred Astaire is always great, you know,” he says. “Just different music that brings you back to a certain time. You were just in that moment.” 

Unconventional recording process

Wu wrote all the songs in his new album, collaborating with people like producer David Lucius King and songwriter Brian Lee, who have likewise worked with Blackpink, Post Malone, and Lady Gaga. 

The artist was not confined to the four walls of a single studio while working on the album. He wrote and recorded songs in different locations across the globe, starting with King’s home studio in London before proceeding to rent out AirBnbs in Malibu, Thailand, and Kyoto, then back to London again—with chord progressions, drumbeats, and lyrics flowing freely between himself and his collaborators. 

Photo by Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music.

This unusual process may have amplified Van Ness’ creativity and passion to perform. “The past couple of years I’ve just been working hard on the music and doing shows, being able to perform and still being able to perform on stage and trying to spend as much time with my family and friends as I can on my off times. And trying to process being as creative as possible, whether it's writing music, designing for my brand, or just for the next step. But yeah, I’m always constantly creating, creating, creating as much as I can while I try to enjoy life with family as well.”

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Slowing down—yet remaining creative—during a global pandemic

Like most people, the pandemic made a huge impact on Wu. As a matter of fact, he had just gotten off a 21-day quarantine at the time of the interview.

The pandemic also affected him in positive ways and helped him focus on the things that matter the most.

“It made me slow down my tempo and really center on my family; I’m sure as a lot of people as well, but it really kind of just made me realize what's more important than trying to go with 1,000 miles an hour, you know? I felt like the whole world was going as fast as they possibly could,” he said.

“I felt like the pandemic actually helped me slow down and really get a grasp of my heartstrings and where I really want to focus my attention and my life. What I want, ultimately is just be happy every single day with what I'm doing and be grateful for today.” 

Photo by Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music.
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Wu also shared personal views on how technology and social media have seemingly taken over most people’s everyday lives.

“Technology is actually supposed to make us feel like we have more time to do other stuff. And then yet with this technology, we feel like we have no time because we're able to do so many more things.”

The only opinion that truly matters

When asked whether he has ever been affected by the multitude of comments and feedback that are easily dispensed online nowadays, whether in regard to himself or his work, Wu admitted that he may have been affected at a certain point in his life. The rest of his response, however, was straightforward, a bit surprising, and quite inspiring.

“It was really just knowing that the only person's opinion of me that matters is God. Right? It's how He sees me. It's how He views me. Because everybody else doesn't really matter. Yes, I'd love for everybody to enjoy the music, but their negativity, that energy, that frequency, will not change who I am as a person.

“And that's what I need to kind of focus mostly on as being as authentic to who I am as a person, how I grew up—my values, my core beliefs, and how do I bring that to people who do want to listen, you know, who do support me as being who I am.

“And it's weird because we fight so hard to try to get everybody to like us, right? That's kind of part of the job, right? But when we get everybody to like us, even then there's that one person that doesn’t. You focus on that one person, but that's all right here (points to his head). It's all this mental space that you have.

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“So ultimately, the battle is here, that you have to fight that thing. The best thing you could ever possibly do is just know that your self-worth—and your self-value—is already there and know who you are as a person and know that you're good. You're worthy, and you're worth all the blessings that you get in this life.” 

“A man who kneels before God can stand before anyone”

While this is not something you’d commonly see on a celebrity’s page, this is the statement that appears on Wu’s Twitter profile. He was more than willing to discuss its significance.

“It is everything in my life, like my faith, my belief in who God is, and who he is ultimately is: unconditional love,” he says. “And for me to know him is to know unconditional love for myself and my life, because we all need unconditional love. Yet we try to display that but we all fall short. Wverybody's love on this Earth is conditional. Even our parents’. When they say they love us unconditionally, there are conditions. So that helps me really focus and center, myself on this earth. In my job, in my family, because I know that my perspective isn't from this person or person I'm coming from up there and here.

“And a lot of times people who are not able to get to that part I feel there are things that they're not willing to work out within themselves because to really kind of go there you have to look really deep inside of yourself and see all the good and all the ugly, together. Know that about yourself and love yourself unconditionally. Because that's how God sees you and that's how I'm able to live this life and feel like I do whatever I want, however I want and I don't really have to answer to anybody in the sense of how they feel or view me. I know that what I'm doing is positive in the sense of how I try to live my life and treat the people around me.

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“Let's just I say I'm a lover of God, I'm a follower of Christ. And ultimately, I’m a lover of unconditional love and a follower of sacrifice. I have love for everybody, as God has love for me and everybody.” 

A good man with a kind heart

Wu has always spoken profoundly about his faith, but he has established long before that talk is not cheap in his case. He has proven himself worthy of people’s admiration. 

In June 2021, the artist launched his first-ever NFT project and through it, was able to raise NT$511,000 (about P950,000)—an amount he matched and donated to Family of Joy Social Welfare Foundation, which is an organization that supports children with special needs in Taiwan, and for which he is an ambassador. Donating the proceeds from the NFT sales was Wu’s intention all along.

He has only the kindest words for the children supported by the foundation. “I see them once in a while when I go back, but every time I see them, it's such an eye-opening experience and a huge blessing, to see the purity of the heart and their souls and their eyes and everything. 

“So, I just really wanted to make sure that if I'm doing such things as trying to raise money for certain things, that it's for a good cause,” he added.

Photo by Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music.
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Coming full circle

Singer, songwriter, recording artist, actor, producer, designer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. These are the hats Van Ness Wu wears, and all of them look good on him.

These days however, he is focused on promoting his latest album, Take a Ride. 

The album was originally supposed to be in Mandarin, but as Wu recorded his demos in English, his first language, the label execs thought it better to produce the album in English instead—an answered prayer for the artist.

“The whole reason why I pursued a dream in entertainment in Asia was to do an album, to do music. I wanted to ultimately do an English album as well because that's my first language. So it felt like it was just kind of like coming full circle,” Wu said.

Take a Ride is distributed through Universal Music Taiwan/Virgin Music. Listen to the album on Spotify. Follow Van Ness Wu on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.

Discover the best of culture, business, and style from Esquire Philippines. Visit Quento for more stories and subscribe to our YouTube channel for new videos. 

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