On the reality show I Am a Singer 3, the 40-year-old singer-songwriter has been praised for his singing ability and, unexpectedly, for his sense of humor. On stage, Li sings quiet songs slowly and “rescues the program”, commented Cheng Zhenwei on People’s Daily Online.
Harbin-born Li has a clear and smooth voice, which he inherited from his Peking Opera singer father. And his shy nature and poetic lyrics have also given him the nickname “Poetic Musician”.
“In my younger days, music was like therapy,” he told China Daily.
Music was also the bridge that got him into Tsinghua University. A self-taught guitarist, Li won a number of singing competitions. He was admitted thanks to Tsinghua’s plan to recruit students with musical talent.
In the 1990s, so-called “campus ballads” were popular in China. Shuimu Nianhua, a group that Li formed with another Tsinghua student called Lu Gengxu, was one of the best groups of the type.
But the pair went their separate ways in 2002. Li was tired of doing commercial performances. Also, he didn’t agree with their decision to change their style from folk to rock.
Afterward, Li released several albums on his own. They were all in his own musical style: “soft and warm, down-to-earth and intimate”, commented China Radio International.
Unlike some other musicians who release their songs quickly, Li took his time to write heartfelt music.
“Writing songs is like collecting water in a cup. When the cup is full, the water comes out naturally,” he told China Daily.
For nearly ten years, he did very few interviews or concerts. His low-key life may well have continued if Faye Wong hadn’t sung his song, Legend, at 2010’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala.
Li said the song brought him out of his “cave ” and back into spotlight: concerts and reality shows have been endless, including this year’s I Am a Singer.
On TV, Li has not fitted the stereotype most people have of pop stars, mostly because of his academic background.
And while studying electronic engineering at Tsinghua might not have helped Li’s career musically, it certainly gave his songs and mindset a different touch.
His answer on the show of “I am already very smart. Why do I need a smartphone?” to the question “Why don’t you use smartphones?” was perhaps unusual for a pop star. He went on to show it when he said, “Two is good! 2 is No 1 among prime numbers,” commenting on the fact that he was chosen as the second singer to get on stage! Are you impressed yet?