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Rock star, artist, narcissist, entrepreneur, con man - Zuoxiao Zuzhou has been called many things over the years, though he has always retained his trademark top hat and wacky vocal style. However, a reputation as a merick has not stopped him from becoming China’s currently reigning king of rock ‘n’ roll. Zuoxiao Zuzhou has his tricks.

Before turning to music in the mid-1990s, Zuoxiao Zuzhou was a fixture of China’s contemporary arts scene and collaborated with others in the creation of the famous artwork “Add One More Meter to the Nameless Mountain,” which was displayed at the Venice International Bienniale Exhibition in 1999. In the following years, Zuoxiao Zuzhou shifted into music, earning a reputation for seemingly tuneless vocals and sage instrumentals.

His latest album, These Tiny Grapes, has been praised by music fans and musicians alike, with the artist claiming that it is China’s first-ever “Weibo-bred” collection of songs.

Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog service, has become one of the biggest information platforms on the country’s heilyrestricted Internet. For someone like Zuoxiao Zuzhou, who regards himself as an independent musician, Weibo provided the perfect place to hook up with musical partners, collect raw materials, and tinker with lyrics.

The album’s inspiration? Social problems.“This is a Weibo-bred album that talks about problems in education, food safety, drugs, the environment, forced demolition, and corruption,” Zuoxiao told NewsChina in his Beijing studio at the heart of the city’s trendy Caochangdi art district.

Interestingly, Zuoxiao claims that his new album is a collection of “nursery rhymes” due to its hey use of children’s choruses and solos. The whimsical album artwork reinforces this cutesy image, though musically it combines furious bass lines with saccharine vocals – more experimental rock than Little Miss Muffet. Reflecting the upheals that are occurring in modern-day Chinese society, These Tiny Grapes is an album of conflict and contrasts.

“To this world, you are a weirdo; to me, you are perfectly normal,” sings Zuoxiao in the autobiographical ballad “Sorrow Boss.”With politics hovering between left and right, and themes stretching from romantici to reali, These Tiny Grapes proves tricky to categorize.

First Crop

These Tiny Grapes is inspired by a lyrical poem entitled “Nai Nai Ge Tui” originally posted on Weibo by writer Li Chengpeng, criticizing government corruption. “Originally, he wanted me to sing this song. However, after reading the lyrics, my artistic instinct told me that it should be sung by children,” Zuoxiao told NewsChina. “I’ve been entertaining this idea for a decade.”