Billboard China Cover Story – Billboard

Once upon a time, Rene Liu was accustomed to being an “aviator” who was constantly on the move. She used to embark on numerous flights annually, accumulating countless miles, traversing the globe to record music, film movies, attend film festivals, promote albums, and embark on concert expeditions. However, after experiencing several years of grounded days and profound moments of “off-duty,” Rene Liu finally realized that many things are not inevitable.

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The theme of Rene Liu’s “Final Call” concert tour was actually determined as early as 2019. However, due to various circumstances, it wasn’t until 2023 that the concert finally had the opportunity to meet the audience in mainland China. As the “Captain of Ying Airlines,” Rene Liu cherishes the reunion with fans she hasn’t seen in a long time or met for the first time: “Each concert bestows upon me the sensation of reuniting with old acquaintances, and anticipation is abundant in the interim.”

Flight days, akin to life itself, are replete with uncertainties. Perhaps it is these “uncertainties” that render the journey intriguing. Rene Liu has learned to embrace change: “Every time, I peruse the weather forecast several days in advance. Be it rain or shine, there are peaks and valleys. Once, there was torrential rain, and even the staff couldn’t take off, so I lodged overnight at the airport hotel. I pondered what I should do. However, on the second day, amidst the midnight hour, the staff arrived to pick me up at 5:50 am, and I embarked on an early morning flight, advancing a day ahead through a transfer.”

Hence, even when encountering extreme weather conditions such as hailstones at Nanjing Station, she opts to remain composed: “Nowadays, I exhibit greater composure in the face of uncertainties. It appears that I am not as apprehensive as before. My mood has transformed, and I seem to be more leisurely, enabling me to confront matters with equanimity.” This confidence stems from Rene Liu’s boundless trust in her longstanding team. Regardless of any unforeseen circumstances that arise on the journey, everyone collaborates to devise solutions and ensure seamless performances.

Throughout the way to present “Final Call” in various locales, Rene Liu has even experienced dashing frantically at airports with her team to catch connecting flights. “Every cog in our team is tightly fastened. The entire team operates at a velocity akin to flight when it comes to changing dozens of plane tickets overnight, makeup artists preparing in advance, and musicians readying themselves ahead of time. They will find every possible avenue for me, be it driving, sailing, or taking a high-speed train, ensuring my safe arrival at the concert venue.”

Rene Liu describes that to be part of the “Final Call” team, one must possess robust adaptability and a strong heart. On the morning of the Kaohsiung concert, Rene Liu made a spontaneous decision to include the song “Epitome” (the theme song of the TV drama “Women in Taipei”). After deliberating with colleagues from Bin-music, everything promptly sprang into action: arrangement, performance, lighting, stage design… The entire “Final Call” team operated at a velocity akin to flight.

To ensure that each “Final Call” takes off as scheduled, Rene Liu has persisted in exercising and enhancing her physical fitness. She even studies methods for skin whitening with netizens. All these unwavering efforts are undertaken to deliver an enhanced concert experience. Naturally, embarking on a world tour is an arduous undertaking: “Four-sided stages necessitate greater physical stamina since walking on stage entails more steps than three-sided stages. I must jog offstage after changing costumes.”

“An individual’s energy and focus are intertwined with their physical fitness. After all, my age has changed; one can no longer rely solely on resilience. Now, occasionally after singing ‘Love You So Much,’ I feel a slight dizziness. Perhaps it is because I haven’t eaten enough and have become suitably hungry in order to ensure a better fit for the costumes. I aspire for an improvement in my condition. This constitutes a professional performer’s duty; I must honor my work and give my utmost.”

In addition to adjusting her schedule to ensure she retires before 9:00 pm, Rene Liu also prepares her luggage in advance to swiftly transition into work mode. Apart from the “Final Call” concert tour, Rene Liu has numerous other work engagements as a singer, actress, and director. Various new projects are primed for action. Rene Liu also yearns for more opportunities for audiences to witness her diverse works.

Rene Liu

Rene Liu

Mingsheng Chen/Billboard China

Fly to Somewhere Further Away and Meet Old Friends

“Final Call,” this year’s mainland tour, has taken flight to cities where Rene Liu rarely has the opportunity to perform. In fact, many years ago, Rene Liu personally arrived at these places. “During that time, as long as I could reach a place, no matter how far, I was willing to grace everyone with a performance. I often spent over ten hours in a car, from daytime until midnight, journeying from one province to another, witnessing even the abbreviations of the province on the license plate change to different characters…”

In the bygone era when there was no mobile network or power bank, the high-speed rail network was yet incomplete, and flight schedules were not as frequent as they are now, Rene Liu embarked on car journeys across provinces just to meet local fans: “To be honest, I often ponder… as long as I can still work and sing, I will treasure the opportunity to meet everyone in this manner. Regardless of where I go, I am filled with immense joy.”

“Some concert organizers would inform me that the equipment in smaller cities is not as impeccable, but I believe it doesn’t matter. It is not easy for fans to travel to larger cities, so I prefer to visit their cities and sing for them. I believe this also lays the groundwork for the connections I speak about on the ‘Final Call’ stage. Many small cities from the past have now blossomed into major metropolises. It seems that wherever I go, I am reuniting with old friends, and the sensation is unparalleled.”

In addition to long-awaited fans, Rene Liu’s old friends also include acquaintances who occasionally make surprise appearances at different stops and become guests of “Final Call”: “My guests and I are not the type of people who need frequent contact or appointments with each other. However, when the need arises, we will all be present. The same goes for my relationship with my fans. From guests to staff to audience members, as long as you attend our show, we will shower you with boundless love.”

When performing for old friends, it is only fitting to sing some long-forgotten songs. The B-side track “Her Gentleness” from 2002 has now become a highly sought-after staple in “Final Call.” “Life is about reaching a stage where we look back and realize that there was a song dedicated to our future friends. I express my gratitude to Jonathan Lee for preserving a song like ‘Her Gentleness’ for future Rene Liu.”

“‘Her gentleness’ is a fire that cannot be casually acquired by any young girl…” Rene Liu shared that when she was young and recording in the studio, she had only a vague understanding. It is only now, singing “Her Gentleness” once again at this moment, that Rene Liu truly comprehends: it was a letter from Jonathan Lee to her. “In this era of fast food consumption, I still hold firm in my belief that there are certain things that withstand the test of time. I am also immensely grateful to the audience at the venue for granting me five minutes to listen to this song.”

Similar success has been achieved with “Heard?” from 2004: “After the release of ‘Heard?,’ it was included in the official setlist of a concert. However, when performed live, the audience response was lukewarm. Consequently, in subsequent concerts, this song was largely excluded from the setlist. Perhaps live performances cannot capture the same atmosphere and effect as recordings, and I am uncertain where this song fits within a concert. My concerts are more fluid in nature, not confined to a single song but rather stories intertwined.”

Perhaps every song has its own destiny. Nearly twenty years later, “Heard?” finally encountered its springtime. After the audience in Shenzhen sang it together, Rene Liu ultimately transformed it into a surprise inclusion at the Hangzhou stop: “I always believed ‘Heard?’ wasn’t popular, but since Wuzhen, why have more and more audience members been shouting ‘Heard?’ at my shows? Some songs are truly shouted out by everyone; even less popular songs like ‘Immortal’ have received their share of shouts.”

Behind every less popular song lies a group of individuals who deeply cherish it. The phrase “I deeply love you” in Guangzhou became the limited edition “Light up Orange Trees” at the Chongqing stop. Rene Liu genuinely felt an overwhelming sense of being loved by everyone while singing: “Some less popular songs are not sung as frequently, so when performing them, I am unsure of where my focal point lies. I never expected everyone to sing so loudly, and it moved me deeply.”

Time Flies, but Live Performance is Improvisational

On the poster of the “Final Call” concert, there is a phrase that reads, “Time flies, are you still waiting?” After experiencing stagnant days, we realize the value of opportunities that enable us to fly. It is because of this that Rene Liu has decided to seize the moment and not wait any longer. She hopes to do everything she hasn’t had the chance to do and perform in cities she hasn’t yet visited, using “flight” as a way to race against time.

Rene Liu mentioned that she has gradually adapted to the rhythm of touring: “I actually quite like the current pace. From Monday to Friday, I take care of my family, which seems more tiring than holidays. The concert, for me, is like a comfortable respite. The moment I’m picked up by a car to go to the airport, I automatically switch to the ‘female star’ status taken care of by many staff members. I also bask in the love from fans, and then I return to my daily life.”

“Final Call,” ultimately, is about not being content with no change. “When we were young, we were often taught to be content. But as human beings, we still need a bit of restlessness. Can’t we be less reality? A concert is a small act that allows you to indulge in your emotions, bringing everyone together, reaching different atmospheres and spaces through music: we go back to the past together, imagine the future together, and sing together in the present…”

In the “Final Call” tour, the most daring thing Rene Liu did was to challenge the four-sided stage for the first time in her concert career. A four-sided stage requires considering the audience sitting in different directions and involves handling many performance details with different considerations than before. “In the past, the record company asked me to do a four-sided stage, but I never agreed because I felt insecure with an audience looking at my back.”

“But later on, I slowly realized that I have toured many times, and the three-sided stage has already showcased all possible angles to the fullest. I’m not a singer-dancer, I don’t have dance music, fancy costumes, or too many sensory stimulations.” Finally, it was CEO Zhou Youyang from B’IN Live Co., Ltd. who convinced Rene Liu to try the four-sided stage. “He said that a four-sided stage would bring more audience members closer to me, from only the first ten rows being able to see clearly to more rows being able to see.”

With multiple instances of tacit cooperation, this “Final Call” tour, under the collective wisdom of B’IN Live, has also given rise to many concert elements that have amazed the audience. “My legs are not good, so B’IN Live designed a 360-degree rotating accessible stage for me. Because this stage is rich enough, I can boldly talk about some cold things on stage without fear, even without backup dancers. I’m very grateful to B’IN Live for allowing me to make the concert exactly how I want it.”

Singers may unfortunately catch a cold before a performance, and computers may suddenly crash for no reason. Live performances, like taking a flight, can encounter various unexpected situations. Learning to face and accept them is also part of Rene Liu’s daily routine. During the “Final Call” performance process, Rene Liu is also practicing how to coexist with these anxieties in peace: “The most interesting thing about live performances is that every minute is different, very present. Some things may only happen in this particular show.”

“During each concert, I aim to connect with my audience on a deeper level and resonate with them. The process of touring can easily become monotonous; therefore, I strive to provide a unique experience for fans who attend shows many times. How can we transform the same raw materials into distinct ‘dishes’ for each performance? The live experience is never the same and every city inspires a new mood that I aim to convey through my music. Each city evokes a different set of emotions and stimulates diverse imaginations.”

Regarding the overseas performances of “Final Call,” Rene Liu expressed her intention to present more renowned songs for the overseas Chinese audience: “Some spectators may have been away from their hometowns for an extended period. On the stage, I noticed that they sang even more passionately than me, including my driver. When I step onto the stage, I want to convey to them that I know everyone is well. I am gonna take the place of your families and like to greet you.”

Each destination unveils a distinct panorama. Next on the itinerary, in 2023, “Final Call” will fly to Xi’an, and in the future, it will venture to more locations. Once “Final Call” commences, it will not stop easily. During the interview, Rene Liu disclosed: This tour will undoubtedly extend into the following year, unveiling new cities. Moreover, the “Final Call” setlist will feature additional surprises with never-before-performed songs.

Fly to The Bravest Self, Fly to Seek a Better Self

The live VCR for the concert tour was meticulously directed by Kevin Ko, the talented director who helmed the film “Incantation.” Shing-Ming Ho, the screenwriter who has collaborated closely with Rene Liu for an extended period, also contributed to the creative concept of the story. This short film, which portrays the theme of “the bravest appearance in love,” became an emotional highlight for the audience. During an interview, Rene Liu acknowledged that she is always moved when she hears these courageous lines in the short film while waiting backstage for a costume change, even if she has heard them before.

“Recently, I read some articles stating that constantly looking back implies aging. However, I realized it was not true. After I stopped being a child, I often reminisce. Therefore, I believe that by looking back at the past, we can only move forward to the future. Without those experiences, how could I have become who I am today? Our audience comprises individuals at various stages of life, and I hope they can see themselves at different points in the VCR.”

In my perspective, singers like Rene Liu not only perform popular love songs but also endeavor to sing more songs about life, which exemplifies true bravery. In Rene Liu’s recent new songs, “Each Well” is a song about entering the next stage of life and learning to let go, while “Golden Age” endeavors to explore the topic of life and death. These songs, included in the “Final Call” concert playlist, imbue the entire concert with a profound depth of life.

Rene Liu’s national hits like “Later” and “Step Aside” are songs that always lead to a collective sing-along in the audience. These songs have resonated with many people’s emotional experiences. Even after singing these songs for an extended period, Rene Liu finds it remarkable that she never tires of them. This time, after accumulating countless moments in the past, it seems that everyone wants to sing along with her even more.

Regarding “Later,” a song that cannot be overlooked, as well as those songs that belong to Milk Tea and everyone together, and the love movie “Us and Them” that moved the entire nation to tears, Rene Liu couldn’t help but feel deeply touched. “Our ‘later,’ my ‘later,’ and my ‘later’ with the present are all collective memories formed by each individual. Many scenes from the past often come to my mind, and these are given to me by the audience and fans.”

The song “We Are Not Together” from 2010 is also a great song that touched many listeners during the “Final Call” concert. The slow-burning hit from back then has become a highlight of the current “Breakup Quintet.” Rene Liu jokingly calls it the “power of heartbreak.” “A friend brought her daughter to listen to my concert. Although her daughter’s idol is not me, she still listens to my songs when she’s heartbroken. Perhaps you need some experience to understand my songs, but I don’t want everyone to always be heartbroken.”

During the Quanzhou stop of the “Final Call” tour on May 20th, Rene Liu sang the theme song “Let’s Fall in Love” from the TV series “Pink Ladies.” It was the first time in over 20 years that she performed a live version of this song and it was one of the classic moments of the concert tour. In fact, Rene Liu’s role as a “marriage maniac” in “Pink Ladies,” including the single hit “A Lifetime of Loneliness,” has brought immense comfort to many people through these works.

“What are we constantly searching for?” Rene Liu endeavors to find the answer to this question together with the audience through the “Final Call” tour. Since her debut, Rene Liu has always been in sync with her fans, and in her concert, she expresses the concept of “growing up for the third time,” which means truly fearless and brave growth. On our “Final Call” in life, let’s embark on a journey with Rene Liu to find a better version of ourselves.

–This story was written by Jifan Wang for Billboard China

Rene Liu

Rene Liu

Mingsheng Chen/Billboard China

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