I shall now always pause before putting ‘Coldplay’ and ‘naff’ together in a sentence

With the UK release of Crazy Rich Asians just around the corner, now is a good time to talk about the song that has set it ablaze: Katherine Ho’s stunning cover of ‘Liúxīng’ 流星 (‘Meteors/Shooting Stars’), a Mandarin version of British band Coldplay’s 1998 breakout hit ‘Yellow’.

Written and sung by singer-songwriter Zheng Jun郑钧/鄭鈞 in 2000, 流星was reworked by  fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter Li Wenqi 李文琦to ensure that she sailed through ‘The Voice of China’, and after director Jon Chu informed Coldplay of the significance of ‘Yellow’ to him, it was Li’s arrangement which made it onto ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ with ‘The Voice US’ contestant Katherine Ho at the helm.



I wanted to help Asian American fans of Katherine’s amazing vocals who asked for a translation on Youtube, and eventually posted this:

I wanted to know
wǒ xiǎng zhī dào
我想知道

How long a meteor could fly for
liú xīng néng fēi duō jiǔ
流星能飞多久 – 流星能飛多久

And whether its beauty was worth looking for
tā de měi lì shì fǒu zhí de qù xún qiú
它的美丽是否值得去寻求 – 它的美麗是否值得去尋求

The flowers of the night sky scattered and fell behind you
yè kōng de huā sàn luò zài nǐ shēn hòu
夜空的花散落在你身后 – 夜空的花散落在你身後

(It made me) happy for a very long while
xìng fú le wǒ hěn jiǔ
幸福了我很久- 幸福了我很久

The wait was worth it
zhí dé qù děng hòu
值得去等候

And thus my heart rushed madly
yú shì wǒ xīn kuáng bēn
于是我心狂奔 – 於是我心狂奔

From dusk till dawn
cóng huáng hūn dào qīng chén
从黄昏到清晨 – 從黃昏到清晨

(Until I) couldn’t bear it any longer
bù néng zài chéng shòu
不能再承受

(My) feelings and hopes (then) landed in your hands
qíng yuàn zhuì luò zài nǐ shǒu zhōng
情愿坠落在你手中 – 情願墜落在你手中

(And) gained wings to become a rainbow in the night
yǔ huà chéng hēi yè de cǎi hóng
羽化成黑夜的彩虹

They shed what constrained them and became a breeze in the moonlight
tuì biàn chéng yuè guāng de qīng fēng
蜕变成月光的清风 – 蛻變成月光的清風

Became a breeze in the moonlight
chéng yuè guāng de qīng fēng
成月光的清风 – 成月光的清風

Repeat five times:

In happiness (I) leapt into your torrents
xìng fú tiào jìn nǐ de hé liú
幸福跳进你的河流 – 幸福跳進你的河流

And swam all the way to the end
yī zhí yóu dào jìn tóu
一直游到尽头 – 一直游到盡頭

Leapt into your torrents
tiào jìn nǐ de hé
跳进你的河- 跳進你的河

Ending:

I wanted to know
wǒ xiǎng zhī dào
我想知道

How long a meteor could fly for
liú xīng néng fēi duō jiǔ
流星能飞多久 – 流星能飛多久

And whether it truly is beautiful
tā de měi lì shì fǒu
它的美丽是否 – 它的美麗是否



Every word in the full text of Zheng Jun’s lyrics, which I had to read to help with my translation, bears the mark of careful craftsmanship. His expert, gorgeous, swirling blend of Ancient and Modern Chinese ensures that although he does cleverly refer back to Coldplay’s original lyrics, especially ‘your skin and bones/turn into something beautiful’, his images of meteors will always bring up feelings of triumph, love, immortality, happiness, and gain.

He further merges Coldplay’s second verse (which Li Wenqi and Katherine Ho omitted; see below for the full verse) with the Eastern idea of letting go of troubling, crippling emotions and embracing the freedom this brings, alluding all the while that true love in the form of immersion in a loved one’s self enables this.

“To British children, star-shaped stickers are forever yellow”

It was shocking to see from Chu that in the United States, the word ‘yellow’ has negative connotations such as cowardice and is used to bully East Asians for their appearance. In Britain, yellow is cheerful and bright even though yellow-and-black signs are used as warnings and deterrents (thank you, bees and wasps). ‘Although yellow lines are used on black roads to deter car parking, yellow on its own remains the colour of stars, buttercups, lemonade, the fillings of Victoria sponges and a British summer

To British children, star-shaped stickers are forever yellow, sparkly rewards for good behaviour, while the Moon is yellow because it is made of cheese. With Mandarin, the use of ‘huangzhongren’ – yellow/Mongoloid – is everywhere, and Yellow is the colour of life-giving loess and the name of the river which is the cradle of Chinese civilisation and culture.

Learning that Coldplay and their songs are cathartic and that they mean so much (even cultural appropriation) to so many outside Britain was also an eye-opener. Brits as a whole will say publicly that Coldplay and their songs are naff and that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Most already have and may use ‘Yellow’ as a funeral song, perhaps because of Coldplay’s lyric ‘your skin and bones/turn into something beautiful’ and their mention of stars and starlight. Both are associated sometimes in Britain, especially in England and Cornwall, with coping with bereavement, where comfort is taken from the thought that stars and their light are fixed, constant, immortal, and visible in the darkest night.

My family and I simply sang ‘Yellow’ whenever we drove off into the countryside, and like many in Britain we saw, and still see, Coldplay’s songs as great singalong songs with lyrics which do not really make any [Brits sometimes insert a swear word here] sense, hence their naffness.

It’s the decisions that have been made for this moment to happen, however, which have struck me as perfection incarnate. There’s Chu’s decision to use ‘Yellow’ in Crazy Rich Asians and Coldplay’s decision to allow it. There’s Zheng Jun choosing流星 ‘meteors’ and stressing that his stars move and are not fixed, evoking Coldplay’s original lyrics and imagery while using the Chinese language to create an inspiring, confident, colourless, colour-transcending, coherent, uplifting song.

There’s also Li Wenqi’s decision to change the emotional climax of 流星to show where the singer loses their inhibitions and finally, truly, deeply loves, and her courageous, magnanimous decision to allow someone else to shine on stage.

Finally, there’s Chu’s decisions to stick with Zheng Jun’s lyrics, Li Wenqi’s arrangement, and Asian American Katherine Ho, whose voice alone manages to communicate the complex layers of emotions Zheng Jun, Li Wenqi and Chris Martin weaved into ‘Yellow’ and 流星and transform a soaring song for love into an anthem for Asian America.

The stars have aligned for this moment, and more of us now know not only of Chris Martin as a singer-songwriter, but justly and fairly, about Li Wenqi, Katherine Ho, and Zheng Jun, and we are all the richer for it. For me personally, thanks to Crazy Rich Asians and Zheng Jun, all I will say is that I shall now always pause before putting ‘Coldplay’ and ‘naff’ together in a sentence, and with that, please enjoy the rest of Zheng Jun’s 流星.

Zheng Jun’s omitted lyrics:

I hurled myself forwards and leapt
wǒ zòng shēn tiào
我纵身跳 – 我縱身跳

Leapt into your torrents
tiào jìn nǐ de hé liú
跳进你的河流 – 跳進你的河流

And swam all the way to the end
yī zhí yóu dào jìn tóu
一直游到尽头 – 一直游到盡頭

There (I) was freed
nà li duō zì yóu
那里多自由 – 那裡多自由

I made a wish
wǒ xǔ gè yuàn
我许个愿 – 我許個願

I made a wish for protection
wǒ xǔ gè yuàn bǎo yòu
我许个愿保佑 – 我許個願保佑

That my soul would be stilled in this most glorious of moments
ràng wǒ de xīn níng gù zài zuì měi de shí hòu
让我的心凝固在最美的时候 – 讓我的心凝固在最美的時候

(When my) feelings and hopes landed in your hands
qíng yuàn zhuì luò zài nǐ shǒu zhōng
情愿坠落在你手中 – 情願墜落在你手中

(And) gained wings to become a rainbow in the night
yǔ huà chéng hēi yè de cǎi hóng
羽化成黑夜的彩虹

My feelings and hopes will not see the bright day again
qíng yuàn bú zài jiàn míng mèi de tiān
情愿不再见明媚的天 – 情願不再見明媚的天

I made a wish that this most precious of moments would be preserved
wǒ xǔ gè yuàn bǎo yòu zài zuì měi de shí hòu
我许个愿保佑在最美的时候 – 我許個願保佑在最美的時候

I made a wish
wǒ xǔ gè yuàn
我许个愿 – 我許個願

Zheng Jun’s original ending:

I had wanted to know
wǒ xiǎng zhī dào
我想知道

How long a meteor could fly for
liú xīng néng fēi duō jiǔ
流星能飞多久 – 流星能飛多久

(This has made) me happy for a very long time
xìng fú le wǒ hěn jiǔ
幸福了我很久

For my detailed translator’s notes, please click here.

Please support Katherine Ho, Li Wenqi, Coldplay and Zheng Jun by listening to/buying their music!

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