Release of four-part album shows Super Girl's newfound confidence, Chen Nan reports.
Chinese singer-songwriter Li Yuchun released her eighth studio album, Growing Wild, in 2016.
Instead of a CD including a dozen new songs, Li broke with tradition by separating the new album into four EPs.
She also teamed up with QQ Music, the music service under China's internet giant Tencent, to launch the new album online.
The first EP, Wild, sold 3 million copies in 16 days after it was released in May of last year.
The three other EPs were then released within six months, with total sales of more than 6 million copies, grossing over 32.8 million yuan (S$6.76 million).
When the numbers were announced at a press conference in Beijing recently, the 32-year-old Li smiled shyly in front of her roaring fans.
"The idea for the new album started two years ago.
At that time, I just followed the traditional pattern of selecting new songs and put them into an album," Li says.
What inspired her to break the album into four segments was that "usually we pick up one or two songs as the leading tracks, which then tend to overshadow the other songs," Li says.
"But I like all 12 new songs very much and couldn't decide which one should be the leading single. So why not introduce them to the fans three at a time?"
According to Andy Wai Lam Ng, the vice-president of Tencent Music Entertainment Group, Growing Wild achieved China's highest digital music sales since the company released the first Chinese digital album, Taiwan pop icon Jay Chou's album, Aiyo, Not Bad, in December 2014.
So far, QQ Music has released digital albums from many Chinese singers－including Dou Jingtong and Lu Han－South Korean boy group Big Bang, and Western artists such as Adele, Rihanna and Taylor Swift.
"Getting people to pay for digital music has become a trend in China's music industry.
Digital music sales reached 110 million yuan in 2016, for year-on-year growth of 150 per cent.
"I wasn't sure about my decision then, but now the result is very encouraging," Li says.
"I want to break more barriers and push boundaries."
Musically, the new album displayed Li's ambition of being different.
She invited producers she had never worked with before, which brought surprise and inspiration throughout the making of the album.
One of the producers, Chen Weilun, also wrote songs for Li's new album, including Sense of Presence and Fig.
Chen, who was a music producer for indie musicians and films, is keen on blending traditional Chinese music with modern sounds, such as rock, jazz and electronic music.
"She is not afraid of trying new things. The song, Fig, is not a conventional love ballad or dance music. The song is longer, nearly 6 minutes, and she sings like murmuring, which is different from her usual performances," says Chen.
In support of the new album, Li launched a national tour, entitled Growing Wild, which visited five cities around China, including Beijing, Shenzhen and Nanjing, attracting more than 50,000 fans.
It has been more than a decade since Li, a once unknown 21-year-old music student from Sichuan province, appeared on and won the televised singing competition Super Girl in 2005.
The TV show attracted a nationwide audience of 400 million and fans voted for the young singer with a neutral style and deep, soulful voice.
Her powerful individuality made her a phenomenon in the country.
Over the past decade, Li has released eight studio albums and more than 50 chart-topping singles.
Her annual, sold-out Why Me concert has been supported by her loyal fans, known as Yu Mi, literally translated as "corns", a play on words for Yu's fans.
"I was unprepared when my career took off. The songs I performed were chosen by my record company. I was just a performer," Li says of her past 10 years.
It was not until 2009 that she started writing songs and realised what kind of music she liked.
"From then on, I was no longer a performer. I am a singer delivering messages through my music."
That's not to say Li is limited to music; she has also expanded her brand into movies and fashion.
In recent years, she has starred in big-budget movies, such as Hong Kong director Tsui Hark's The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, which also features Jet Li and Zhou Xun.
She sat in the front row at Gucci runway shows.
Gucci's creative director Alessandro Michele and American fashion designer Alexander Wang designed costumes for her Growing Wild tour.
French designer Jean Paul Gaultier created the wardrobe for her Crazy World tour in 2012.
In 2017, the singer-songwriter hopes to step further out of her comfort zone as a singer.
Like she raps in her new song, Xi Men Shao Nian, which was written by Li and is the last song of the new album, Li says that what matters to her is the original passion for music.