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Interview: Katherine Ho


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Fresh off the back of the ludicrous success of Crazy Rich Asians, we speak to Katherine Ho – the voice behind that last scene. 

Image credit: Cosmopolitan

In January 2018, Katherine Ho’s life changed completely. One day your typical college student majoring in Biology at the University of Southern California, and the next? Well, singing the lead song for the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack, of course.

Growing up surrounded by a love and passion for music, Katherine attended a camp called A Cappella Academy three summers running, where she met and remained in touch with one of the founding directors Ben Bram. A GRAMMY Award-winning vocal arranger and producer, Ben had already worked with the a cappella group Pentatonix and organised some of the arrangements for the Pitch Perfect movies. He was certainly the man to know.

“A few weeks after a carolling season had ended, Ben texted me and asked if I could sing in Mandarin. He said he wanted to submit my profile for a TV/film project. Neither of us knew what it was for, but regardless, I was very excited for the opportunity,”

In between rushing chemistry homework and lab projects, Katherine worked on her demo for Jasper Randall at Encompass Music Partners: “I remember I was so exhausted from schoolwork that I fell asleep in my freshman dorm’s practice room where I was calling my dad. I woke up in a panic at around 7am, spent a few more hours practicing, and then recorded my demo right before chemistry class.”

And despite a nerve-wracking couple of days, she landed the job. “I had just finished my chemistry lab class when I got the text…Chemistry ate up a lot of my first semester of college, for sure!”

Now the main thing eating up Katherine’s time is showers of love from fans on Twitter, new opportunities and nosy journalists like us. The success of Crazy Rich Asians has been, quite frankly, crazy. Smashing box office records, encouraging further debate on representation in the industry and seeping into our everyday cultural discourse, the film has had a huge effect on viewers everywhere – in particular, Asian-Americans. 

“I truly mean it when I say that this film truly shifted my perspective on what it means to be Asian-American. 

“For better or worse, I was always very aware of my Asian-American identity. On one hand, I embraced my identity, celebrated my culture, and felt very lucky to be a part of such a supportive, tight-knit Chinese community in my hometown. But, as much as being Asian was a source of pride, it was also a major source of insecurity for me growing up.

“I constantly felt that I was lesser-than because of the colour of my skin and told myself that I only belonged on the sidelines of society… Perhaps, this was caused by the lack of quality representation of Asian-Americans in media. I truly think that if a film like Crazy Rich Asians had come out when I was in middle school/early high school and struggling the most to find my sense of self, things might have been different and maybe I would have been less shy, less apologetic, and more confident in my own beauty.”

Not only has Crazy Rich Asians been pivotal in taking important steps on the (very, very, very) long journey to more equal representation in the film industry, but it’s also become a source of identifiable entertainment and inspiration for so many young Asians living all over the world. And Katherine’s contribution, a Mandarin-sung cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, has touched young lives in a way she never expected. 

“’Yellow’ is actually a perfect song to sum up Asian-American identity itself. It is a timeless, Western pop song with a Mandarin twist. Similarly, the Asian-American identity is a unique blend of two very different cultural worlds. 

“One of the most memorable comments I got was from a 26-year old Chinese-American (a complete stranger) who told me that hearing my Mandarin cover of ‘Yellow’ was the first time in his life that he thought that the language of his people was beautiful.

“It made me realise how lucky and proud I am to be Asian.”

And to top Spotify’s Viral Chart – a chart that, even in 2018, is so saturated by western artists – with a Mandarin-sung song has helped further to put the experiences of Asians and Mandarin speakers across the world into the forefront. 

“in a world where differences often divide us, music is one of the few universal experiences that we can all appreciate. [Music] has the power to transcend cultural and national barriers, encourage open-mindedness and empathy, and help people all around the world find common ground in art.” 

Katherine’s next steps? Well, it’s back to normality. Sort of.

“I am majoring in biological sciences and minoring in songwriting…One major goal of mine is to write and release more original music. I am currently taking songwriting classes, which will provide me with the tools and structure that I will need to achieve my goals.”

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