Taylor Swift tells the stories of 13 sleepless nights in her new album “Midnights” released last week. Meanwhile, her Chinese counterpart’s own concept album is all about waking up — to God’s love.
Singer-songwriter Gloria Tang Sze-wing of Hong Kong goes professionally by G.E.M. — Get Everybody Moving — and has been dubbed “China’s Taylor Swift.” She’s the first Chinese-language artist to have a video on YouTube surpass 200 million views, was the only Asian musician on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2016, and is one of the most-streamed female artists in China.
Her latest album, “Revelation,” was released at the end of last month. She describes on social media the 14-track work from Warner Music China as consisting of seven letters to and from heaven.
The compilation, however, is more than an audial experience, but a visual series with the look of a Hollywood blockbuster that takes place in the real and a futuristic virtual-reality world. Together, the music videos for the album’s songs offer an overarching plot of redemption, healing, and hope through a love story with allusions to the Bible. Think of it as a more enlightening “Black Mirror.”
In Christian entertainment, it’s a revelation. The compilation employs creative, accessible, and engaging storytelling to share the Gospel, especially to nonbelievers. American filmmakers could learn from it, and the world could use more of it.
Traditional Christian media has been criticized for its cheesiness, poor cinematography, and lack of originality. There have been greater imaginative efforts in recent years. Most notably, “The Chosen,” a crowd-funded, multi-season series about the life of Jesus and his apostles. There are films inspired by true stories. Projects in development seek to get creative with the telling of biblical stories like the animated film “David.” Other inventive efforts include “The Shift,” a science-fiction allegory.
But perhaps most shocking is that such a big-budget statement with ingenuity has come out of atheism-dominated China.
The lead single, “Gloria,” came from a revelation experienced by the Shanghai-born singer. She was taking a shower when she thought up the melody that instantly gave her peace during a time when she was struggling with isolation and depression and was turning to prayer. The song provides a salvation-pointing message of a pursuing love that is patient, sufficient, and without fear. Its accompanying video features a gray, desolate wasteland with Gloria, the heartbroken protagonist who shares the singer’s name, in tears falling to her knees in prayer. Before her eyes, a sea of water parts and opens the way to a brighter future.
“Gloria, no need to fear,” G.E.M. sings in Chinese. “Gloria, there’s no fear in love / My love will stream endlessly / My love will heal all scars.”
The video has racked up more than 4.3 million views on YouTube. Her wide vocal range has earned her the nickname of “the girl singer with iron lungs,” while her popularity and emphasis on storytelling, especially about love, are why she is likened to Swift.
But the 31-year-old singer’s release of the album demonstrates a bravery more akin to the Christian-charged releases of stars like Justin Bieber — more so even, seeing as the mere tolerance, if not openly violent hostility of Christianity in China pales in comparison to Hollywood’s blatant disregard and disrespect.
The release of “Revelation” is hailed by Christians as courageous because of the political and commercial risks of expressing her Christian faith. Chinese censorship officials previously placed G.E.M. on a list of “strictly controlled” persons, because she prayed for Hong Kong “in bitter tears” during the Occupy Central movement in 2014.
It may be that because of that precarious environment, this creative, somewhat covert approach was taken. “Revelation” doesn’t mention Jesus. Its songs aren’t ones you’ll hear sung on Sunday mornings at church.
This isn’t G.E.M.’s first nod to Christianity. Past songs like 2015’s “Heartbeat” and 2019’s “Walk on Water” have inspirational and born-again messaging. But “Revelation” marks her biggest commitment to date to share her faith through her music.
G.E.M. in an interview with Billboard China explains how through prayer, she realized her insufficient strength and how she wanted her life to be more than about making catchy music.
“I used to consider myself a singer whose sole responsibility was to entertain people and spread positive energy,” she said. She continued:
But what about after I bid farewell to the stage? What then? It seemed that my life would cease to have any value the moment I was no longer a singer. Nowadays, I’ve made some adjustments to what I consider important. I used to think that I was born for music. Now I think I was born for love, much like what is described in my lyrics. Should I one day stop being a singer and leave the stage, love will then be the guiding force in my life. I cooked a meal for my mother today, which was an act of love. This is where I find purpose in my life. Our lives have meaning when we do things with love.
Some may criticize this summation as vague and too indirect. “Revelation,” however, beautifully portrays the ceaselessly pursuing love that God exhibits. In a different way, it’s the illustration of the biblical story of Hosea, which inspired Francine Rivers’ 1991 Western novel “Redeeming Love” which recently became a film.
On Instagram, G.E.M. is seen wearing a “Yeshua” cap and has said that her faith has helped her to endure the hardships of her career. She explains her decision to step into scriptwriting for the first time to do a series release of each of the songs she calls “precious revelations” so that it could be consumed as a whole at a time when streaming, TikTok videos, and brief consumption dominate the industry.
“Whether it’s letting me know myself better, or letting me know love more,” she wrote, “I’m not willing that these 14 songs that I cherish will be skipped hastily. I want people to listen to them attentively.”
Maybe one day such a brave revelation will rub onto the actual Taylor Swift.