Yuping Zhu ’21
July 16, 2021

A star in the making

Singer-songwriter Yuping Zhu ’21 aspires to country music fame
by Allyson Irish

Garth Brooks. LeAnn Rimes. John Prine. All country music stars who have performed at Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Cafe. And now you can add aspiring singer-songwriter Yuping Zhu ’21 to that list.

Zhu, who has been writing her own music since age 12, launched her new EP “High School” in May. The compilation of five original songs was written this past winter and recorded at Zhu’s home while she was attending PA remotely.

In addition to playing at the Bluebird Cafe, Zhu has been recognized as “One to Watch” by Nashville Songwriters Association International and featured on Boston’s Hit Country 102.5. You can find her music on Spotify.

What inspires your music?

Anything and everything. A recurring feeling of insecurity, a phrase overheard from a nearby table at dinner, a strange or beautiful occurrence in the weather… The most subtle, inconspicuous moments in daily life often become the most unexpected inspirations for me. Oftentimes, I’m writing for the sake of writing, so I keep a running list of little moments that I notice or lines that I come up with and want to save for later in the Notes app on my phone. When I’ve hit a writing block or am sharing ideas with another writer, my Notes app is my best bet for finding undeveloped concepts with musical potential.

Other times, I’m writing with the purpose of creating a very deliberate collection of songs that are individually unique yet cohesive. When that happens, I might be drawing inspiration from a very specific, focused group of moments or emotions. For example, with my recent EP, “High School,” all the songs were representative of my four years in high school. I found inspiration through interactions that reflected the high school experience—with my friends, teachers, at school events, etc.

Photos by Harry Zhu P’21

How would you describe your musical style?

I often describe my musical style as the expression of everything I never had the nerve to say before. It contains the authenticity and storytelling aspects of country music alongside the melodic, hook-oriented characteristics associated with pop. Others have described my music as nostalgic and personal, and innocent yet mature. My art has always been a reflection of myself and the multilayered facets of my identity—soft yet bold, some pop and some country, a bit Massachusetts and a bit Tennessee.

Is there anything you sing about in “High School” that Andover alums would find familiar?

The main idea behind making the “High School” EP was to create essentially a time capsule that captured all of the feelings and moments of high school in musical form. I wanted to write and record a collection of songs that gave a new definition, a new description, to an era of our teenage years that we all know so well.

In the title track, I really tried to write lyrics that felt both universal and intimate at the same time, like “cheering for the football team from the back bleachers” and “getting ready is always better than the party.” Throughout the EP, my producer James Bunton and I created many lyrical and musical moments that aimed to draw people together despite personal insecurities, like “I’m single but I’m not that lonely” and “I’m social paranoia in a tank top and a skirt; but my friends make me feel like an extrovert.”

The song “Overthink” is about the obsessive and uncontrollable nature of overthinking, an understandable and common tendency amongst high schoolers: “I hate waiting for people in public, because I have to stand alone, pretend to look at something on my phone, then I wonder if I look lonely.” “Bystander” takes a cynical perspective on the classic boy meets girl on the school path romance: “when it comes to love I should lower my standards, if I’m gonna be a bystander.”

My biggest hope is that at any point in time someone might be able to listen to this record and think, “Oh, I remember being in that exact moment, having that exact feeling that she’s talking about in that song; I remember feeling that way when I was a sophomore in high school.” I hope that my music will revive memories of the past in a nostalgic way and freeze them into a musical record so that they maintain their youth forever.

What do you hope to be doing in 5 years?

First, I hope to have graduated from college, and from that to have gained experiences in the creative and business worlds of music. I hope to be continuing to pursue music fearlessly, growing as an artist and a writer. The interesting thing about music is that it is extremely difficult to plan for. You never know what will happen, but the only way of acquiring the chance to know, is to work hard. I hope that in the next five years I will be getting cuts as a writer, playing shows (possibly on tour?!) as an artist, and/or working closely with A&R and the business/legal sides of the industry.

What advice do you have for aspiring young musicians?

Music is very much about making yourself vulnerable while simultaneously taking in everything you can from the world. Writing songs requires you to dig deep into parts of yourself that you have never really explored before—or might not even want to explore—to challenge the narrative and to offer a new perspective. I think that at times music can be frustrating because of its unpredictability, but there’s also a subtle beauty in that unpredictability.

My advice to aspiring young musicians would be to keep your eyes wide open. Be confident in the abilities you have and humble in knowing that there is still so much to learn. Practice the things you know, struggle at the things you don’t know, but will soon. And finally, do things with your heart on your sleeve. Music is emotive for a reason, and I believe that passion shows far more about you as a musician than any level of skill or experience.

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