vanness wu f4 meteor garden taiwanese drama chinese show take a ride
Van Ness Wu. Photo: Courtesy of Universal Music Taiwan  
Entertainment

2 Decades After F4’s Meteoric Rise, Van Ness Wu Drops First English Album

VICE talks to Van Ness Wu about the enduring appeal of boy bands and his new album “Take a Ride.”

Van Ness Wu is a star. 

You would have had to be in Asia in the 2000s to truly understand his fame, but a quick deep-dive on social media gives a pretty close approximation. To this day, TikTok is filled with fan-edited videos of Meteor Garden, the massively popular Taiwanese drama where he got his start; his performances as part of the now-disbanded F4, one of the biggest boy bands in the world; and excerpts from the films, TV shows, and solo albums that followed. Most of them are peppered with comments like “idol forever” and “my first love,” coming from fans around the world. With a career spanning over 20 years, there’s not much Wu hasn’t done, but this month marks a milestone: his first full-length English album. 

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“The timing just felt more right now than before,” he said in a video call from Changsha, China about his latest album Take a Ride, which dropped on July 22. “To finally be able to do a full English album and to distribute it in the States is quite full circle for me.”

Most of Wu’s vast discography consists of songs in Mandarin, with some Japanese and English tracks.

Born to Taiwanese parents and raised in California, Wu grew up listening to a variety of music, from Boyz II Men to N.W.A and Nirvana. He describes Take a Ride as a “collective musical journey of the music genres that I loved and grew up with and the people that I’ve worked with.”

“Chill,” the fourth in his 10-track album, is a relaxed party song with a rapped verse, while the title track “Take a Ride” is heavily influenced by rock. You’ll go from mood to mood, as if traveling alongside Wu to the cities he visited while working on the album. In London, he recorded in the iconic Metropolis Studios, where artists like Queen, U2, Lady Gaga, and Lauryn Hill recorded their own music. For a change of scenery, Wu rented out an AirBnb in Malibu, then the Hollywood Hills. He also went to Thailand and the mountains of Kyoto, Japan. 

“It’s very organically made and written, and it was just an amazing time,” he told VICE. “I just really wanted to bring that enjoyment and that passion sonically.” 

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This kind of freedom was hard to come by early in his career.

Wu, now 43, moved to Asia to pursue music when he was 22 years old because he didn’t think it would be possible at home. 

“Twenty years ago, doing anything, being Asian in the States, there were no opportunities for us. There was nothing there. Unless you wanted to be a math genius or a kung fu guy or anything like that… that’s all that we were,” he said. “I felt like, in order for me to do something, I had to go to where everybody, kind of, was equal.”

“I felt like, in order for me to do something, I had to go to where everybody, kind of, was equal.”

During his first year in Taipei, Wu slept on people’s couches, office tables, and empty apartments. He was ready to give up after months of trying. 

“My mother, she actually wouldn’t let me move back to LA when I was in Taipei,” Wu recalled. “I was like, ‘Mom, I’m done. I want to come back. I don’t know anybody here’… and she’s like, ‘No, you can’t come back. You stay for one year… and if nothing else, at least your Mandarin will get better.’”

He did stay and, three months later, got scouted. “I went and auditioned, got the part, and I haven’t stopped since.”

Wu joined the cast of Meteor Garden, a 2001 drama that remains one of the most influential pieces of pop culture today. He played joker playboy Meizuo in the teen drama, one fourth of F4 (Flower 4), the most popular clique on campus. The show has been remade in a number of countries, including an equally popular Korean drama, a mainland Chinese version, and a Thai adaptation released last year.

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The show launched Wu’s career as an actor and, later, as part of F4, a boy band with his co-stars that was created following the show’s success. 

It was a rollercoaster ride from then on, Wu said. Footage from those days show near-Beatlemania in cities around the region. He couldn’t believe it. 

“[It] was the first time that we entered Hong Kong and this was the first time we did any overseas promotion, I think. And the airport literally was a chaos,” Wu recalled. “I never knew that we were as huge as we were until we landed in Hong Kong. There were just thousands of fans outside with media and police.”

With these ups came the downs of navigating fame and a busy career, something Wu was not prepared for. 

“I don’t think I really knew how to handle it,” he said. “Not actually having a mentor was a bit toxic at times with my own health or my mental state.” 

Being in a boy band also meant having little control over his music. “You really had to fight for your own creative rights to do what you wanted to do,” Wu said.

“It was tough being in the boy band because my passion and my goal was to do music that I loved doing, and [to] dance and perform on stage. I was fighting a lot of it internally… And that was my battle. That was my struggle at that time.” 

“It was tough being in the boy band because my passion and my goal was to do music that I loved doing.”

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Yet he looks back at it all with gratitude. “[Boy bands] were pretty fun. They had good energy and they brought a lot of happiness and joy to many, young and old all around the world.”    

vanness wu f4 meteor garden taiwanese drama chinese show take a ride

Van Ness Wu said releasing his first full-length English album is like coming full circle. Photo: Courtesy of Universal Music Taiwan

And now, years after starting a successful solo career and taking time to find himself again, releasing Take a Ride means finally bringing his own vision to fruition. 

“With the people that I met along the way today and the music producers that I’ve met along the way, it’s helped me find my voice musically and to actually have more confidence in my musical choices and my directions for what I wanted to show,” Wu said. 

The result is an album that swerves back and forth through feelings of celebration, love, and surrender. It’s not one to overthink and quickly washes over you, in a way sharing a kind of liberation to listeners. 

“Ultimately,” Wu said, “it’s just a good time and a fun ride.”