In February, USC freshman Katherine Ho received a text from a former voice teacher asking if she wanted to submit a demo for an unnamed TV and film project. Six months later, her vocals can be heard in “Crazy Rich Asians,” which has now amassed over $86 million at the box office.
How did it come to be?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the members of Coldplay had already declined permission to use the song in the film, which centers around an Asian-American woman trying to fit in with her wealthy boyfriend’s family in Singapore. But director Jon Chu wrote them letter, explaining the history of Asian representation in pop culture, and how “yellow” was traditionally used in a negative connotation. To reclaim the word, the song could be sung in Mandarin — which is where Ho came in.
The 19-year-old, hailing from Woodland Hills, is a lifelong singer who is minoring in songwriting at USC and has performed on the NBC singing competition show “The Voice.” When her former voice teacher contacted her, she said he was looking for a young girl who could sing Mandarin, and Ho had grown up speaking it at home.
When preparing the demo, Ho stayed up late to work with her dad on the phone, going line by line until she got the meanings and inflections of the Mandarin lyrics for “Yellow.”
“I actually fell asleep at the piano and woke up the next morning and recorded it before class,” Ho told the paper.
She got the job, but she still didn’t know what her part would be used for. It was only an hour before her session at a Burbank studio that the studio team called to tell her the song was for “Crazy Rich Asians.”
“I freaked out in the car with my dad, who was there to help me with the dialect stuff,” Ho recalled. “After I found out it was going to be played at the very end of the film, it freaked me out even more.”
The film’s production team wanted to use the song toward the end of the film, and originally debated hiring an established singer to perform “Yellow,” but Chu loved Ho’s voice, says Gabe Hilfer, the film’s music supervisor.
A few days later Ho was in the studio, and a few months later, she saw the movie at an early screening and heard herself “put a Mandarin twist on one of my all-time favorite songs.”
In the past, Ho and her friends didn’t feel proud to call themselves “yellow,” because it held such negative associations, she said. “It’s really cool that this word — yellow — and the song have a deeper meaning past just the plot of the film.”