Alice Longyu Gao is angry. Seated across from me in a Manhattan bar wearing the kind of outfit that would inspire envious side glances from any club kid worth their salt, Gao articulates her wrath in short, sharp, sentences, growing increasingly shrill as she laments the trials of the industry.
I imagine your next question is, “Which industry, exactly?” And it’s a valid one. The China-native hates that she’s frequently associated with terms such as ‘multi-hyphenate,’ ‘multi-faceted,’ ‘multi-talented’—anything that is prefixed with multi, probably—but considering her talents span music, art, styling, television presenting, editorial production, and more, there aren’t many other ways to accurately summarize her.
The daughter of a latex glove factory owner, Gao unquestionably embodies the American dream. Arriving in the city, post-communications degree, with dreams of becoming one of ‘them,’ Gao fought tooth and nail to become a respected DJ, artist and now, singer-songwriter. But that wasn’t always the plan. Bobbing her tightly-wound curls, she reveals how her affinity for fashion led her to pursue a career in magazines, assisting influencers to pry open doors. Considering how much she’s accomplished, it’s perhaps only natural that in her 24th year Gao now feels old.
“I don’t know what people think of me, but I know I didn’t come from anything,” she explains. “No one knows who my parents are. I’m not a Hadid. Meanwhile, all these people you know have won Grammys and are younger than you.”
In response, Gao has adopted an increasingly aggressive approach—a modus operandi that’s only further fueled her determination to prove herself. She knows she’s likely considered a “bitch” by collaborators, which the aspiring musician hopes to justify by releasing objectively great music. And it seems to be working. Her latest single, hip-hop-pop fusion track “Magnificroissant,” garnered significant praise from industry insiders.
But this isn’t the first time Gao has owed her success to the chip on her shoulder. The young graduate secured industry entry was via model-cum-DJ Chelsea Leyland, who hired Gao after becoming enraptured with her personal style—which includes her now-trademark panda-like pastel eyeshadow smudged in contrasting colors on each eyelid, in turn serving as a remedy for her insecurities.
“I always wanted to get surgery because my eyes are asymmetrical, and I could never make my them look symmetrical with makeup—which is the beauty standard,” she says. “So I thought that I should embrace it instead, make my makeup reflects how my face is naturally.”
Relating her aesthetic to an East Village village-dwelling Marie Antoinette, Gao is also instantly recognizable for twirling in tulle with each step with her sheer, ballet-inspired cocktail dresses. She credits Tokyo’s superior high-street and lower Manhattan vintage for her look, which is impressively cemented considering she only began experimenting with clothes since landing in the United States. A strict family dress code dictated Gao would never wear denim—she secretly bought her first pair of jeans in Shanghai as a high schooler—and school rules forbade tights. “Someone saw me on a weekend in colorful tights and told the principal,” she recalls. “He called me a prostitute in front of my class.”
“In China I had no freedom, then when I came to America to study I suddenly had so much freedom. I was a young, female international student—what else was I going to do? I was going to discover myself.”
Now, Gao struggles to explain her day-to-day life in New York to her parents back home, particularly her father, who still hopes she will take over the family business. Her success shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, nor her transition from DJing into music production—Gao was enrolled in piano lessons from the age four and, after experiencing the thrill of performance, auditioned for the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She was always meant for this. The creative recently shared with her mother that her career thus far has felt like an experiment in her quest to become an “authority in entertainment.” Because if Alice Longyu Gao, an—albeit, talented—nobody from rural China can finesse a career in one of the most lucrative fields, surely she can build a platform that catapults others?
“If I can raise the next generation, I can become an authority,” she says “I want you to know they’re good because they’ve come through me. That way I can really bring Asian culture here.”
For now, it’s a pipe dream, but we should certainly know by now that nothing is really out of Gao’s grasp. I can already see the rage starting to dissipate.