Zhang Yixing (simplified Chinese: 张艺兴; traditional Chinese: 張藝興) (born October 7, 1991), known professionally as Lay Zhang, or simply Lay (Korean: 레이), is a Chinese singer-songwriter, music producer, dancer, and actor. He debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boy group Exo and its sub-unit Exo-M in 2012. He was first known after participating in the Chinese TV talent show Star Academy in 2005.
In April 25, a personal studio was established for Zhang’s solo activities in China. In September 2015, he released his autobiography titled Standing Firm at 24, which broke several online book records. In July 2016, Zhang was appointed by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) of Changsha as a publicity ambassador, the first celebrity to hold such title. On October 28, 2016, Zhang released his first EP Lose Control in South Korea and China. The EP was a commercial success peaking at number one on the Gaon Album Chart as well as number four on Billboard’s US World Albums chart, and made him the first Chinese artist to enter the iTunes Top 60. Kantar Millward Brown and China’s business magazine CBN Weekly recently launched the CelebrityZ Top 100 Most Valuable Celebrities where he came in at the 23rd spot.
In September 2017, he came in at the 20th spot on the 2017 Forbes China Celebrity 100 List with estimated earnings of 120 million yuan.
Zhang Yixing was born as Zhāng Jiāshuài (simplified Chinese: 张加帅; traditional Chinese: 張加帥) in Changsha, Hunan, China on October 7, 1991. His legal name was later changed to Zhāng Yìxīng. His first known acting role was at six years old, starring as Huan Huan in the 1998 Chinese television drama We The People. In 2000, at nine years old, Zhang participated in a Chinese TV show as a fan club member of the Taiwanese singer and actor Jimmy Lin, giving him his first contact with the entertainment industry. Zhang began his career as a local child star after winning third place in a competition organized by the Hunan-based TV show Star Academy in 2005. He also appeared in an episode of Yue Ce Yue Xin Kai and Liu Na’s variety show, Na Ke Bu Yi Yang between 2005 and 2006. In April 2006, he auditioned for a leading part in Zhang Jizhong’s The Duke of Mount Deer, but did not win the role despite being a finalist.
In 2008, Zhang auditioned for SM Entertainment at the company’s global casting auditions in Changsha. At the time of the auditions, he was 16 years old and studying at the High School Attached to Hunan Normal University, where he was featured as an outstanding student for his achievements. After successfully passing the auditions, Zhang moved to South Korea for his idol training. In 2011, prior to his debut with Exo, he briefly worked with Shinee during their Shinee World concert tour as Jonghyun’s dance replacement.
Zhang was first unveiled as a member in a teaser video titled “Phoenix” in January 2012. Following the release of the singles “What Is Love” and “History” in 2012, he and the other eleven members held their pre-debut showcase in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium on March 31, and a second showcase and press conference in Beijing at the Great Hall of the Beijing University of International Business and Economics. The group debuted on April 8, 2012 with their title song “Mama”, and Exo-M’s first performance in China was publicly televised at the 12th Yinyue Fengyun Bang Awards.
In December 2012, Zhang was featured in SM Entertainment’s project dance group SM the Performance featuring SM’s best dancers, alongside fellow Exo member Kai and labelmates Yunho, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Minho and Taemin. On December 29, the group performed their single “Spectrum”, which was released the following day, at the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon. As his group gained commercial success, Exo’s studio album XOXO (album) became the first album to sell more than a million copies in South Korea in 12 years. Their 2014 album Overdose (EP) entered US Billboard’s 200 chart.
Early in 2014, Zhang composed and performed the song “I’m Lay” for his solo performance during Exo’s first headlining concert tour The Lost Planet. Later in 2014, he performed another self-composed song titled “I’m Coming” on a special year-end television program on Hunan TV. Zhang also composed the song “Promise” from the repackaged edition of Exo’s second studio album, Love Me Right. He also wrote the lyrics for the Chinese version of the song, while the Korean version was co-written by Chen and Chanyeol.
In August 2014, Zhang joined his first variety show, Star Chef as a cast member. In April 2015, SM Entertainment announced that a personal studio had been established for Zhang’s activities in China. In May 2015, he became a regular cast member of the Chinese reality television show Go Fighting!. Zhang subsequently starred in the second, third, and fourth season of Go Fighting, which led to increased recognition for him in China.
On September 18, the limited edition of Zhang’s autobiography Standing Firm At 24 was published, while the standard edition became available on October 7. The book documents important events throughout his life and broke several online sales records by selling 68,537 copies in the first 24 minutes of pre-sales. With less than three month sale of 1.4 million in royalties, he took the fourth place on ‘The 10th Chinese Celebrity Writers List’, becoming the youngest celebrity author to enter the charts. He was also the champion of the 2015 installment of the ‘Annual Celebrity Book Sales’, and took the top spot of ‘Asia’s Best Books’, twice during its monthly ranking and six times for the weekly chart. The book also locked in standings for Rakuten’s listings, with 400,000 copies sold within six months.
In October, Zhang was announced to be starring as the male lead alongside label mate Krystal Jung in the South Korean-Chinese romance film Unexpected Love, the poster for which was revealed in the Cannes Film Festival.
In November 2015, Zhang made his big screen debut with a supporting role in the Chinese romantic comedy movie Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back, which was a box office hit, garnering 2 billion in sales within 10 days of its release. He later won the Best Supporting Actor Award at the 2016 China Britain Film Festival for his performance. He also wrote and recorded an original soundtrack for the movie titled “Alone (One Person)”, which reached number one on the Baidu Music Chart, and later won Best Movie Original Soundtrack awards at the 16th Top Chinese Music Awards and 4th V-Chart Awards. Zhang also starred in the Chinese comedy movie Oh My God, and collaborated with his co-stars Coco Jiang Wen and Li Xiaolu on an original soundtrack for the movie titled “Happy Youth”, which debuted at number eight on the Billboard V Chart.
In January 2016, Zhang and the other cast members of Go Fighting! appeared in the Chinese movie Royal Treasure. In April 2016, he received the Most Popular Newcomer award at the 16th Top Chinese Music Awards.
In May 2016, Zhang made his small screen debut in the Chinese television series To Be A Better Man, which earned high ratings throughout its run. Zhang received positive reviews for his acting as an aspiring chef. The same month, Zhang released a Chinese song titled “Monodrama (Chinese: 独角戏)” as part of SM Entertainment’s Station music project. Written by Lay and co-composed and arranged with Divine Channel, “Monodrama” broke records by staying at number one on YinYueTai’s VChart for five consecutive weeks.
In July 2016, Zhang starred in the Chinese action mystery drama The Mystic Nine, a prequel to The Lost Tomb. The series achieved success, placing first in television ratings and setting a record for the most online views garnered in a day, and has accumulated over 12 billion views in total. Zhang was praised for his portrayal of the Chinese opera singer Er Yuehong, and went to star in a spin-off of the television series titled The Mystic Nine Side Story: Flowers Bloom in February, which focused solely on Zhang’s character. Flowers Bloom in February was a success and has accumulated over 500 million views.
In October 2016, Zhang’s career as a solo singer began with the release of “What U Need?” as a surprise gift for his fans on his birthday. The song hit the number four spot on the China V Chart and Billboard’s World Digital Songs He performed the song for the first time on October 10 at the 2016 Asia Song Festival in Busan, South Korea.
On October 28, Zhang released his debut extended play Lose Control, containing six Mandarin tracks, and the music video for the title song. Lay was involved in much of the production of album as the producer, and was personally in charge of the composition, arrangement and writing the lyrics of every song – as well as translating the lyrics himself into three other languages other than Chinese including English, Korean and Japanese. The song “Lose Control” stayed as number one on Billboard’s China V Chart for six weeks in a row, and was one of the most viewed music video around the world. The album Lose Control broke the record in South Korea for the most sales by a solo artist, with pre-orders surpassing 200,000 copies and peaking at #1 on the Gaon Album Chart. It also reached number four on Billboard’s US World Albums chart. He performed “Lose Control” for the first time on the music program The Show on November 15.
On January 27, Zhang made his maiden appearance on CCTV Spring Gala Festival and sang a duet alongside Chinese actor Jing Boran. The same month, he starred in the Indian-Chinese action film Kung Fu Yoga directed by Stanley Tong alongside Jackie Chan, playing an archaeologist assistant. He reportedly suffered minor injuries as per the action scenes required from his character. A post-release music video, “Goosebump” sung by Fazilpuria featured him and Jackie Chan together.
In April, Zhang starred in the Chinese patriotic film The Founding of an Army, and was praised for his portrayal of Lu Deming. Later in April, Zhang starred in the Chinese remake of the hit Japanese romance television series Operation Love. He composed and sang the OST, “Pray” for the drama.
In July, Zhang was revealed to be the voice actor of the Chinese version of Disney’s cartoon film Cars 3.
On September 25, Zhang released the music video for “I Need U”, a pre-release track from his album Lay 02 Sheep. The music video ranked number one on Billboard’s China Weibo Live Chart. On October 7, his first studio album Lay 02 Sheep was released together with the music video for lead track Sheep. On its first day of digital sales, the album broke five records on QQ Music: Gold, Double Gold, Triple Gold, Platinum and Diamond Record (¥5 million in 9 hours 11 minutes). The album premiere “2017 Zhang Yixing Showcase” was held at the Beijing National Aquatics Center on October 12, where he performed “I Need U”, “Sheep” and other singles.
On December 22, Zhang released his second extended play Winter Special Gift on QQ Music and KuGou app. The music video of the lead song for the album, “Goodbye Christmas” was also released on the same day. Within one day of digital sales, the album broke four records of Gold, Double Gold, Triple Gold and Platinum on QQ Music. The album later broke Diamond record on QQ Music.
On December 28, Zhang was announced to be starring in historical drama Empress of the Ming, playing the role of Emperor Yingzong of Ming; which is scheduled to air in 2019.
On January 15, Zhang released the theme song “Everything Like You” for the public welfare movie, I’m Beside You. The same month, Zhang was appointed the presenter as well as the “nation’s producer” of iQiyi’s talent recruiting program Idol Producer. In April, he attended the 2018 CCTV New Year’s Gala where he performed a dance collaboration stage with Huang Bo and William Chan. In May, Zhang participated in the national anthem and its music video for Youth Day in China. In July, he filmed a guest appearance for the web series, The Tomb of Sea which aired on Tencent. In August, Zhang starred in Huang Bo’s directorial debut film The Island, where he received acclaim for his comedic performance.
Zhang made his first US appearance at the music festival Lollapalooza where he collaborated with Alan Walker. The duo later collaborated on a remixed version of Lay’s previous single “Sheep”, titled “Sheep Relift” on August 30. The same month, it was announced Zhang will participate in “Let’s Shut Up and Dance”, as part of Michael Jackson’s tribute single.
On September 21, Zhang announced his third studio album Namanana. The album contained 22 songs including a collaboration with Bazzi, 11 of which are in Chinese language with English counterparts for each. He pre-released a song titled “Give Me a Chance” from the album on October 5. Namanana was released worldwide on October 19. The album debuted at 21 on Billboard 200, making Lay the highest ranked Mandopop artist on the chart.
On December 24, Lay released a digital single titled “When It’s Christmas”. On the same month, he joined Chinese EDM talent show Rave Now as a mentor with Alan Walker.
On January 21, Zhang returned as the production director and presenter of the Chinese survival show Idol Producer 2.
Zhang attended the 61st Annual Grammy Awards as its Promotion Ambassador on February 10. He was the only Chinese celebrity invited to the red carpet event and live ceremony of the 2019 Grammys. On the same month, his third wax figure is set to be revealed in Madame Tussauds Hong Kong, following his wax figures in Madame Tussauds Shanghai and Beijing.
Zhang will star as the main lead in the Chinese fantasy adventure series The Golden Eyes.
In July 2016, Zhang was appointed by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) of Changsha as a publicity ambassador, the first celebrity to hold such title. Since then, he has served as the publicity ambassador for three consecutive years.
In October 2017, Zhang signed a contract with the vice president of Tencent Music Entertainment Group where he became a member of “Music+ Plan” (Music+ 计划) alongside TFBoys, Wang Leehom and more.
In September 2018, Zhang signed an agreement with Easy Entertainment whereby his personal studio will collaborate with Easy Entertainment to create a new team to manage Zhang’s promotional activities.
Zhang has served as a promotional ambassador for Huawei Nova from 2015 to 2018. He is a brand ambassador of over 20 brands, including Converse, MAC Cosmetics, Samsung Galaxy, Chaumet Paris, Valentino, Ray-Ban, Milka Chocolate, and Perrier. He tops the list for K-Pop idols with the most endorsement deals.
Zhang has composed and produced multiple songs including “Exo 2014” by Exo and the whole of his solo albums, Lose Control (EP), Lay 02 Sheep, Winter Special Gift and Namanana. He also wrote and composed his 2015 SM Station single “Monodrama”. Zhang composed “Alone”, the original sound track for his 2015 romantic-comedy film Ex-Files 2, as well as “Prayer”, for his 2017 Chinese web-drama Operation Love. He holds composition credits for the song “Not to be Continued” by Chinese female artist Karen Mok which was released in May 2018 for her 25th anniversary album and later for MC Jin’s debut single on the same year. In April 2018, Zhang won the “Best Producer” award at the Chinese Top Ten Music Awards. He revealed in an interview that he lost over 99 unreleased tracks that he composed over the years. Apart from Karen Mok, he holds composition credits to songs released by Yu Quan, MC Jin and Show Luo.
Zhang has been associated with his Chinese zodiac sign, the sheep, which he used for his 2017 solo album Lay 02 Sheep and its title track Sheep. This concept has been consistent throughout his solo career, and he has been called Little sheep in China by his fans and even TV shows.
In February 2015, Zhang participated in the “Return Home with Love for A Thousand Miles”, a large-scale public welfare activities and volunteer project. The project included on-site delivery of relief supplies to labour workers which helps them return home faster and to help labour workers in a timely manner to reinforce physical safety. On May 2, Zhang established his own foundation entitled, “Zhang Yixing Arts Scholarship” on behalf of providing scholarship for his alma mater middle school, Hunan Masters College Middle School where he will donate 100 thousand yuan annually. His intentions were encourage talented youth to pursue their dreams. On September 7, Zhang responded to a campus soccer public welfare project, “Summit of Hope” (“希望之颠”). He uploaded a video on his Weibo account in an attempt to publicise the project.
On February 1, 2016, Zhang donated an undisclosed amount to a joint Weibo public welfare funding project (#一起9加1#) which aids impoverished families for the upcoming Lunar New Year. In March 2016, during the second season of Go Fighting!, Zhang and the other cast members visited a community-run migrant worker dependent school located in Chuansha Xin Town of Shanghai as part of the “Go Fighting Welfare Development Project” (“极限公益成长计划”). The initiative donated more than 1.2 million yuan worth of materials for over 12 schools nationwide. On May 1, Zhang participated in the Youku “Go Fighting Minute Challenge” public welfare project on Weibo where he sent greetings to as many friends and families as possible in one minute and urged the public to express positive energy and to donate to charity. With previously having his own foundation established, he further donated another 1 million yuan and a piano to his alma mater. Later that year, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of his alma mater, Zhang once more donated another 1 million yuan of fund to his scholarship foundation. On July 2, Zhang was honorably appointed as the Publicity Ambassador of the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), expressed that he will dedicate himself to his appointment and appealed to the public to do charity through singing the national anthem. On September 9, Zhang attended the 2016 BAZAAR Stars’ Charity Night which resulted in him donating 10 ambulances with worth amounting to 700 thousand yuan. Due to his charitable contributions, Zhang was ranked number 15th by the China Philanthropist Magazine in the ‘2016 China’s Top Philanthropist Celebrity List’.
On September 9, 2017, Zhang attended the 2017 BAZAAR Stars’ Charity Night and donated 15 ambulances, valued at 1.05 million yuan. In January 2018, he starred in a public welfare movie ‘m Beside You in which he sang and composed the theme song. On March 30, 2018, he starred as a guest recitalist in CCTV’s Trust in China talk show. Zhang ranked number 18 by the China Philanthropist Magazine in the ‘2017 China’s Top Philanthropist Celebrity List’.