While most 21-year-olds are worried about their exams or university projects, Canto-pop singer Gloria Tang Zhi-kei has other things on her mind. Tang, better known as G.E.M., will be kicking off her second world tour, X.X.X. Live, on Friday at Hong Kong Coliseum. But just because she's done it before doesn't make it any easier the second time around.
"What's more difficult this time is that it's not your first concert anymore so people have different expectations of you," she explains. "So besides feeling happy and lucky to have this opportunity again, I also feel quite stressed."
Her first tour, Get Everybody Moving, took place in 2011 and 2012, three years after she made her debut in the Canto-pop scene. Back then, she was the bright-eyed girl with the big voice. Nowadays she's sporting a darker, more intense look complete with a Skrillex-inspired haircut, which involves shaving the hair from half your head while leaving the other side long. Gone is the bubble-gum sweet teenager, replaced by the more risque singer who has called her concert X.X.X. But before you think this is just another teen performer gone bad, think again: the change is a result of some difficult experiences she's had over the past couple of years.
"In the past two years, I've experienced a lot of challenges and hardships, which have made me grow up and become more independent. The songs that I wrote in those two years are very different from ones I wrote before. The ones before had more sweetness in them; the current ones are edgier and more private," she says.
Even as her career was taking off, the singer was dealing with problems in her personal relationships. The hardest blow was the death of her grandmother, to whom she was especially close.
"Her passing made me look at death in a different way," she notes. "When I was younger, I always thought that death is very far from me and I would get scared when a loved one passes away. Now I think of it as she only went to another place, a place where I can't touch her but I can still feel her."
Tang channelled all her sadness into her most recent album, Xposed, on which the new tour is based. She chose that name as she reveals a lot about herself in the new songs.
"I was a little worried how my fans, who tend to be younger, would respond to the darker and more emotional topics. But so far, the feedback has been great. I saw some comments by fans saying they've been inspired by my music and telling me some of the things they've gone through," she says.
Meanwhile, the name of the concert doesn't refer to anything X-rated: the three X's stand for "more to eXpose, more to eXpect and more eXciting", the singer says. She hopes the visual imagery of her concert will help her audience enjoy the atmosphere of the new album: her stage performances will range from a marching band to a show by aerial silk dancers.
Despite her edgier image, the young songstress insists that at heart she's still the same caring person. With the charity Ocean Recovery Alliance, she has launched a free mobile app, X.X.X. Live, which can be used as a colour-changing glow stick.
"During my first tour almost 25,000 glow sticks were wasted in my five shows at the Coliseum, which resulted in roughly one tonne of plastic waste. This app can help [concertgoers] become more environmentally-friendly."
Win! Win! Win!
We have 15 pairs of tickets to G.E.M.'s show on April 15 to give away. For a chance to win, tell us the name of G.E.M.'s first single. Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with your name, age and contact number.