You might know Simona Shao (W ’19) as an avid music festival attendee, a barista at Wilcaf, Director of Events of the Wharton China Business Society, or a member of the Wharton Undergraduate Media and Entertainment club.
You might even know that she was a selected as a Rose Princess for the Tournament of the Roses Royal Court in 2014.
What isn’t common knowledge is her secret life as a Chinese pop star. The Wharton junior has songwriting talent and a melodic voice that has amassed a following in China since she performed at an international singing competition at the Beijing Water Cube back in 2012. Competitors were of Chinese heritage, but hailed from all over the world. Simona represented the Los Angeles/Southern California area.
At 14, Simona was the youngest participant at the competition yet — but she placed third overall amongst singers up to 26 years of age. She pinpoints the competition as the major impetus for her musical pursuits. The Beijing competition required that all performances be in Chinese, forcing Simona to finesse her language skills. “At that point my Chinese was intermediate at best. I had to learn to sing in Chinese, and it helped me connect to my Chinese roots as well as work on my voice,” she said. “I was still in the awkward phase then. I was the nerdy girl with glasses, braces, and bangs,” Simona laughs. “The competition was where I first found confidence in my abilities. I won a bronze trophy – it was really exciting.”
Throughout high school, Simona participated in a number of other singing competitions, including American Stars. “After that, I started writing music. It was something I did really organically. I sat down at the piano and started playing chords that I thought sounded good. From there I would come up with the melody and then just freestyle lyrics,” said Simona. Her first song, “All for You” set the tone for her future romantic tracks. “My sister jokes that each song can be titled for a boy that I’ve had something with.”
Simona’s lyrical style has evolved to cover a wider scope of emotional journeys. “If I am angry or upset about something, I try to channel it into a lyric.”
Simona loves trap music and hip hop, and she hopes to evolve her personal sound into the electronic realm. As a Music minor, she can vouch for the complexity of EDM and dubstep. Despite taking on the minor, Simona prioritizes academics in typical Wharton style. “I don’t have as much time these days, and on top of it, I don’t have instruments in my apartment. So I often start songs during school breaks and finish them at a different break, which creates an interesting arc and variety of emotions in my music.”
Some of Simona’s music has been created from afar. A couple of her friends in LA work as DJs. “I worked with these two guys whose DJ names are Keylo and Oksami. They would send me a beat, and I would just be sitting at home recording, listening to the music and writing the lyrics.”
Simona’s taking a bit of a break from music now as she breaks into the financial services sector, but hopes that one day her business interests will merge with love of music. “Ideally, I’ll work for a company that invests in media and entertainment,” says Simona, “but maybe one day I’ll work for a recording company. You never know.”
With the raspy voice of Colbie Caillat and the sharp mind of Sheryl Sandberg, Simona will make you “Fall Away” at the sound of her latest tracks.