CoCo Lee is often described as a pop diva but—talking to Squat’s Shereen Low—reveals the hard-working and down-to-earth girl behind the glamorous facade.
“It’s worldwide, baby!”
CoCo Lee is a mega-star. There’s no doubt about it.
She has managed to overcome the boundaries where so many other Chinese artists have tried and failed miserably—that is, to gain recognition in the west.
Despite making Cantonese and Mandarin pop albums since 1993, the Hong-Kong born singer only came to worldwide recognition when she sang “A Love Before Time”, the theme song to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, live at the 2001 Oscars ceremony. On the night, the exquisitely beautiful red dress she wore gained as much attention as her powerful voice.
“It was definitely the most unforgettable experience in my singing career. Being the first Chinese to ever sing at the Oscars made me so nervous that I thought I was gonna have a heart attack right before my performance!” she admits, smiling shyly.
“Somehow I managed to get myself together and performed with confidence. Afterwards, I couldn’t believe it when Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones and a few other movie stars came over and told me they loved my performance. How incredible was that?”
The singer adds: “It was also such an honour to have Donatella Versace personally create my red dress for my performance, and having the chance to wear Chanel haute couture while being interviewed by Joan Rivers. That was seriously amazing!”
After her Oscars performance, CoCo’s popularity was set in stone—her song, “Before I Fall In Love”, was included in the soundtrack of the film Runaway Bride (featuring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere) and she was chosen by Walt Disney to be the voice of the heroine Fa Mulan—although, it was only in the Mandarin Chinese version of Mulan and not the universal English one.
“It was fun but challenging,” says CoCo of the role.
“I had to learn a bunch of Chinese words that I didn’t know before. I worked so hard to the point I would still be saying my lines when I was asleep. It was funny listening to myself speak in an ancient Chinese language ‘cos my intonation was all weird.”
She also recorded the Mandarin version of the animation’s theme tune, “Reflection”—Christina Aguilera did the English version—but there’s also a version where the two duetted.
“I was totally blown away [by Aguilera]. I didn’t know who it was at the time, and they told me she was just a demo singer. Man, are they crazy?” she shrieks.
She was also invited to perform by the great theatre man himself, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber—but turned it down.
“It was a concert of all his big hits. Unfortunately, it clashed with my concert date so I couldn’t do it. Bummer,” she sighs.