For many years, Leah Dou’s biggest claim to fame was being the daughter of musicians Faye Wong and Dou Wei. Only recently has the 19-year-old stepped out of her parents’ shadows, by starting her own career in the Mando-pop world.
Her debut album Stone Café, released on April 22, features 11 songs that Dou wrote in English – an artistic choice seemingly aimed at shirking mainstream acceptance in her native China. And yet, Stone Café has succeeded in attracting widespread attention, in part thanks to Dou’s musical pedigree.
Critics and listeners alike have praised Dou’s creativity and vocal range, but still, she undisputedly owes some of her popularity to her pop diva mother and her rock star father, both legendary in their respective fields.
Dou has struck out on her own musical path though, leaning heavily toward niche genres. “Her music merges together the characteristics of alternative pop in the 1990s and the elements of modern indie pop,“ a music critic wrote under the pen name Aidiren in his review for the Beijing Times.
She has also been uncompromising when it comes to her artistic vision, at least publicly. Her songs are not designed to be earworms, tailor-made for heavy rotation on the radio and online.
Even Dou’s mother focused on traditional, plaintive love songs such as Vulnerable Woman (《容易受伤的女人》) to build her fan base early in her career, before she transformed into an eccentric songstress. Dou skipped this process altogether.
“I only care about conveying what I feel like in my music,“ she told Southern Metropolis Daily. “If something I want to write happens to be widely accepted, that’s good. But if not, I just don’t care.“
Even her public image is at odds with the mainstream. Large swaths of the Chinese public hold conservative opinions about gender, but Dou nevertheless dresses in a bold, androgynous fashion. She cropped her hair and dyed it pink, and both her arms have tattoos.
Dou’s album is named after a college canteen named Stone Café, which was located upstairs from one of her classes when she was enrolled in a California arts school in 2013. She spent her time there exploring various types of music. Most of the songs on her album were composed during that time. Writing in English was more “comfortable“, she told the newspaper.
However, listening to English might not be as comfortable for Chinese listeners. It remains to be seen whether Mando-pop fans will embrace Dou’s unique brand of music, with the same level of enthusiasm that propelled her parents to stardom.