Since “Crazy Rich Asians” hit theaters last week, the buzz surrounding the film isn’t just about its $25.2 million opening weekend.
Many reactions have focused on its soundtrack, a unique blend of multilingual songs, including classic Chinese hits and Asian covers of mainstream U.S. pop numbers. As the credits role at the end of the film, a woman can be heard singing Coldplay’s hit song “Yellow” in Mandarin.
The voice behind the song is 19-year-old Katherine Ho, a former contestant on the popular NBC show “The Voice” and a sophomore at the University of Southern California.
“I didn’t think it was going to get this much response,” Ho, a biology major with a minor in songwriting, told The Washington Post. “So many people reached out saying it made them cry. I didn’t know I could have this kind of impact on people.”
Earlier this year, when Ho was still a freshman, the director of an a capella summer camp she once attended sent her a text. He had a couple of questions. Could she sing in Mandarin? And would she want to submit a demo for an unnamed film and TV project?
Within 24 hours, Ho found herself in one of the university’s practice rooms working on her rendition of “Yellow,” based on a Mandarin cover popularized by a contestant on China’s “The Voice.”
The version of “Yellow” in the movie is called “Liu Xing,” which means “shooting star.”
The entire experience, Ho said, was a family affair. While experimenting with the song, Ho called her parents, two Chinese immigrants who moved to the United States for graduate school. They acted as dialect coaches, helping their daughter to perfect her pronunciation and dissecting the lyrics’ nuanced meanings.
“I’m so thankful to have had my parents on the phone with me,” she said, adding that her father stayed on the line well into the night to help. Ho was so exhausted she fell asleep in the practice room, waking up at around 7 the next morning — just in time to record the demo before class.
A few days passed with no word, and Ho shrugged it off. “I auditioned for so many things in my life, and I just assumed it was like any other audition, so I was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to move on from this,’ ” she said.
Late one night, she was working on homework when she got a call. She had landed the job, but she still had no clue what she was joining.
About an hour before arriving at a Los Angeles studio to record the song, she learned it would be for “Crazy Rich Asians,” a romantic comedy based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan.
“I was in the car with my dad and they called me and told me it was for ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ and my heart exploded,” she said.
“Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu wrote to Coldplay in December 2017, hoping to persuade the band to allow the song to be used in the film.
While Chu knew the song was the perfect addition to the movie’s finale, both Warner Bros., the studio backing the film, and Coldplay weren’t always on board, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Warner Bros. was concerned that the song’s title, “Yellow,” long used as a derogatory term for Asians, wouldn’t be appropriate. Coldplay, which has previously been accused of cultural appropriation for songs such as “Princess of China,” initially declined to have the song be associated with the film.
However, it was because of the song’s title and the word’s connotation among Asian and Asian American communities that Chu wanted to feature it in the film.
“We’re going to own that term,” he told THR. “If we’re going to be called yellow, we’re going to make it beautiful.”
“We tried so many other songs,” Chu added, “but everything was about the love story and not about the bigger context of who we are.”
Chu penned a lengthy letter addressed to the band’s members, including frontman Chris Martin.
“I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow,” he wrote in the letter shared with THR. “From being called the word in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song.”
The song, Chu wrote, “described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, the love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.”
“It will give a whole generation of Asian-Americans, and others, the same sense of pride I got when I heard your song,” he wrote. “I want all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as your words and melody made me feel when I needed it the most.”
Less than a day after sending the letter, Coldplay approved the request, according to THR. The next month, Ho got a text from her summer camp director.