If you’re one of the hundreds of millions of people who listen to the radio, chances are you’ve heard a track from ZHU. His popular breakout hit ‘Faded‘ was played on radio stations worldwide, earning him his stake at fame. ZHU initially released tracks anonymously due to fears of being turned down by listeners because of his Chinese heritage. His fans didn’t know who he was or what he looked like, and it was fully intentional. Steven Zhu immersed himself in anonymity in hopes of dodging any racial prejudice that may challenge him. His manager Jake Udell stated the reason and logic behind this unorthodox decision:
“Some of us don’t even know the limitations of our prejudice. Rather than put those limitations to the test, we’ve created a way for our fans to focus on the music rather than whose behind it.”
The Chinese-American artist was not willing to show his face to the masses up until early 2014. The prejudice-free atmosphere of late 2015/2016 which artists like Rich Chigga thrived on wasn’t prospected by ZHU back then. He and his manager decided it was best to hide under a veil of anonymity even as a non-vocalist DJ.
ZHU initially gained the attention of ‘Mind of the Genius’ records founder David Dann in February 2014. He did that with his song ‘Moves like Ms. Jackson’ , which would be the catalyst behind his takeoff to fame. The song was released anonymously, but soon afterwards ZHU would release his first EP ‘The Nightday‘. After the release of this EP, those who were unsure of ZHU’s unquestionable talent were left impressed without a doubt.
Electronic music critics ate his craft up, by now it was clear that ZHU was invaluable talent. His anonymity would later be dropped in March 2014 after his breakout hit “Faded” received worldwide critical acclaim. By then there was no escaping the fame, and he decided that it was time to reveal himself.
As of 2017, Steven Zhu has made a name for himself as one of the most listened-to electronic DJs worldwide. ZHU is currently a full-blown Chinese-American star, performing in numerous festivals such as Coachella and Austin City Limits.
The Grammy-nominated DJ made waves during 2017’s Austin City Limits festival with a playlist of 26 tracks. The hour-long performance was naturally one of the more impressive acts of the festival, as he was a headliner. His name shared the space with other mega-popular acts such as Jay-Z, Solange, The XX, Martin Garrix and the Gorillaz. Zhu’s accomplishments and fame have crushed the prejudicial stigma that pits Asian artists as undesirables which he once feared.
In an ironic fashion, an artist who once hid his identity in fear of racial prejudice is now commonly displayed on festival lineups, although in a bittersweet sense. ZHU is almost always the sole Asian artist in music festival lineups. For example, he was the only Asian artist to be featured on the 2017 Austin City Limits festival. However, ZHU’s positioning as one of the headlining acts for ACL will undoubtedly break the racial barrier that’s holding many talented Asian artists from being featured in festival lineups. So long as artists such as himself have their chance to shine, other names hailing from Asia will definitely follow.