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Entertainment

After a decade, EXO’s Lay Zhang returns to Manila for intimate fan gathering

Anna Barlam - The Philippine Star
After a decade, EXO�s Lay Zhang returns to Manila for intimate fan gathering
Photos show Lay Zhang during different segments of the invite-only event attended by just over 200 Filipino fans, also called XBACKs and EXO-Ls.
Aram Lascano / Manila Concert Scene

Chinese superstar Lay Zhang, whose real name is Zhang Yixing, has finally fulfilled his promise to come back to the Philippines after 10 years with an exclusive Manila fan meeting and music listening party on Monday.

Produced by Warner Music Philippines, the invite-only event was an intimate gathering with just over 200 Filipino fans, also called XBACKs and EXO-Ls, who luckily scored access after signing up on a website.

“Hello, Philippines! XBACK, EXO-L. Since I first came here, it has been 10 years. I missed you, guys,” Lay remarked with excitement.

Then, a gleeful fan waved her banner with a welcoming message, saying, “You’re worth the wait.”

The rapper last visited the Philippines in January 2013 when he performed at the Dream Kpop Fantasy Concert as a member of EXO-M, then Chinese subunit of the renowned K-pop boy group EXO, in which he made his debut as an idol under South Korea’s SM Entertainment in 2012.

Thrilled by the overwhelming cheers from his fans, he introduced himself again, but this time, in Filipino. “Kamusta, Philippines? Ako si Lay,” he warmly greeted the audience.

As romantic as he could be, Lay set foot on stage, headed straight to the piano, and captivated the audience with a mellow version of Boom, a hip-hop single from his 2020 album LIT, to kickstart the event.

“The Boom’s original version is more like the jump and dance, but this opportunity we get close to each other, so I want you guys to feel the song, feel the emotion, feel my love,” he gladly explained after his performance.

Expressing that he was finally back in Manila after a decade, the solo artist also serenaded his supporters as he sang Right Back, a 2023 track from the first album of his Chinese co-ed group D.N.A (Dragons Never Afraid) Music Alliance.

To further create a personal bond with Lay, fans had the chance to know more about his 2024 goals, which include his desire to come to the Philippines “more often.” But a witty Pinoy fan hurriedly shouted, “Get married!” as the crowd raised their hands when Lay asked, “With who?”

Sharing also his career plans as a singer-songwriter, Yixing revealed that he would want to explore the Afrobeat genre. “I want to try some Afrobeat. Because my fans’ (energy) is already so high,” he quipped.

Lay has been known for putting the spotlight on his main genre M-pop (Mandarin pop), which heroes the Chinese culture and artistry in his music.

He would also love to collaborate with Filipino artists and even asked the fans for suggestions. Some named OPM hitmakers Sarah Geronimo, Moira dela Torre, and Raining in Manila hitmaker Lola Amour.

Seeing his international fans with great enthusiasm until now despite leaving the Korean agency to pursue his solo career, the 32-year-old pop star gave credit to their constant support in keeping his passion alive and burning.

“They give me the power I need to keep (the) passion, to keep the motivation in everything. And also, I love my job,” he sincerely uttered.

Likewise, his Pinoy fans couldn’t help but admire his determination to make a mark in the industry as a multifaceted singer, producer, actor, entertainer, and now the CEO of his own entertainment agency.

“After 10 years, to be able to see him in the flesh, sobrang saya as a fan. He’s very passionate about what he does. Very inspiring ‘yun for me,” said Z Punzalan, 31, a dedicated fan of Lay for 10 years now.

“Lay, keep on doing what you love. Keep inspiring people like us, that we can always keep on dreaming and that our dreams are worth fighting for,” she added.

Another Filipino XBACK who just came home from Chongqing, China after attending Lay’s ongoing concert tour called Grandline, expressed her gratitude to Yixing for being her pride as a fangirl.

“I’m very proud of him because he’s getting all these recognitions and people are appreciating his work, his art,” said 40-year-old fan Jesser, who discovered Lay in 2021.

“Thank you for creating beautiful music, for giving us comfort with all your songs. I hope you continue producing music and (performing) for us. We’re never, ever, getting off the ‘grandline’ ship,” she promised.

From his first visit to Manila as a rookie artist to his return as an acclaimed global star, Lay has come so far. For Yixing, expanding his horizon and dipping his toe into new endeavors in the industry would not be possible without his supporters by his side.

“Keep healthy and stay with me jumping until the end,” Lay wholeheartedly told his fans before exiting the stage.

After kicking off the 45-minute private event in Manila, Lay will also bring his free fan meeting to Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this month.

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