Huang Zitao (born May 2, 1993), better known as Tao, is a Chinese rapper, singer-songwriter, actor, and martial artist. He is a former member of the South Korean-Chinese boy group EXO and its sub-group EXO-M, having filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment and left the group in 2015. That year, he made his solo debut with the three-track, digitally released mini-album T.A.O, under the new stage name Z.Tao. This debut album proceeded to break digital sales records by selling a total of 670,000 copies within its first week of release.
Huang Zitao was born in Qingdao, Shandong, China. As a child, he undertook Wushu training, and became a student athlete. In late 2010, he reluctantly accompanied a friend to an MBC Star Audition which was hosting a global talent search and was immediately scouted by a representative from S.M. Entertainment.
According to a music teacher in Shandong Qingdao No.47 Middle School—the school Zitao attended—he was a really shy student who began opening up and becoming popular with his schoolmates after partaking in the school's mini music concert every semester. That same teacher encouraged him to go down the musical path. Headmaster Wei Tie Ying also made a comment on Zitao, saying that he would come to him to state his own thoughts and opinions when being encountered by a problem in school. Zitao's hobbies varied in: singing, dancing, basketball, photography, wushu, etc. Ye Zi, once a dance instructor of his, mentioned, "But actually what he loves doing the most would be Wushu and playing the guitar." He stated, "He was always quiet during break time, he doesn’t really talk much, and always plays his guitar by the window alone."
2011–2015: EXO and lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment
On December 27, 2011, Zitao was formally introduced as the third member of Exo, with the stage name Tao, through a teaser posted on S.M. Entertainment's official YouTube channel. He made his first appearance at the SBS Gayo Daejeon event on December 29. In the following years, EXO was met with global success as a group.
In late 2013, Zitao took part in filming for MBC's celebrity diving program Splash!. However, after a run of four episodes, the show was cancelled when a number of celebrities (including Zitao) were reportedly injured. The series aired from August 23, 2013 to September 13, 2013.
In 2014, Zitao appeared in the music videos for Zhang Liyin's singles "Agape" (released August 5) and "Not Alone" (released September 22). During the two videos, Zitao played the main protagonist of a continuous storyline alongside Victoria Song. He also featured on two songs from Zhou Mi's album Rewind, the title song "Rewind" and "Love Tonight", for both of which he penned the rap lyrics; and appeared as a cast member of the Solomon Islands edition of the SBS reality television program Laws of the Jungle. He left the show early due to a foot injury on a coral reef during filming. The episodes aired from October 17, 2014 to October 31, 2014.
In June 2015, Zitao set up an official Chinese agency, 黄子韬Z.TAO Studio. On August 24, he filed a lawsuit against S.M. Entertainment to terminate his contract. The principal cause of Zitao's exit stemmed from health concerns, mainly the aggravation of an ankle injury sustained at the Idol Star Athletics Championships. During his years as an Exo member, Zitao sustained multiple injuries.
On December 14, 2016, it has been confirmed that Zitao won a lawsuit that S.M. Entertainment filed against him in China. There is no verdict for the main lawsuit as of this moment.
2015: Establishment of solo career, "T.A.O" and "Z.TAO"
On July 23, 2015, Zitao made his solo debut with a digital EP titled T.A.O, which was a great success in the Chinese music industry and took 670,000 digital sales in its first week of release.
The album was followed up with a second EP, Z.TAO, which was released for free on August 19 with the title track "Crown" after being postponed due to the Tianjin explosions. The music video for "Crown" was presented in the style of a 7-minute short film, directed by Nick Lentz. Zitao performed the stunts and martial arts sequences for the action scenes. Australian model/actress Jessica Gomes and actor Jeff Kobler co-starred in the video. Zitao held his first solo concert performance was held at the Beijing Exhibition Center Theater on August 23, as a charity concert for those affected by the Tianjin explosions. A total of eight tracks were performed at the concert, including those from T.A.O.
On October 15, Zitao released the single "Reluctantly", an emotional ballad about a past love composed by himself and Grammy award winner Andros Rodriguez. At the 2015 Migu Music Awards, Zitao won his first award for "Best Stage Performance" and performed "Reluctantly".
As part of an endorsement deal with the game I'm the Sovereign, Zitao composed and released the single "I'm the Sovereign". The song was number one on China's Billboard chart for the week of December 5, 2015.
Artistry and musical style
Following his departure from EXO and return to China, Zitao stated that he made a decision to pursue his career in the ailing Chinese music industry, rather than an acting career, in the spirit of perseverance. He is involved in songwriting and composition, drawing inspiration from his experiences; he claims that creating music is for him a cathartic experience. He worked on the single "I'm the Sovereign", which contains lyrics addressing ambition and resilience.
"To start with, I'm a rapper. It's quite impossible for a rapper to let others write the words to his rap for him. The familiarity that comes with writing your own beat and flow is what you really need as a basis."
— Huang Zitao, Kuwo's You Sheng You Se Interview, October 2015
"Writing music isn’t just a process of wanting to write it and being able to. I tend to rely on my past and personal experiences to inspire me. I’ll remember and reflect on the instances that have happened and include them in my songs, as well as to add substance to the flow and the melody. I write my own stories in my music through the emotions I feel."
— Huang Zitao, Singapore Men's Folio, February 2016, Passion Issue
Although he is primarily a rapper, he has also performed Mandopop ballad songs. His music combines elements of hip hop, EDM, and Chinese musical instruments. He cites Jay Chou as his musical inspiration, having listened to his music growing up. He has expressed a desire to continue as an artist with the goal of seeing C-Pop receive global recognition.
Acting and variety
Zitao made his first film appearance as William in You Are My Sunshine alongside Huang Xiaoming and Yang Mi. The film was released on May 1, 2015.
On September 7 2015, Zitao attended the press conference of his first reality-variety show Charming Daddy which was aired on SZTV from November 28, 2015 to February 20, 2016. The show documented him and three other celebrities as they experienced parenthood by raising children of various ages for a month.
On March 2 2016, it was confirmed that Zitao would appear in the first season of the Chinese version of Law of the Jungle that was recorded in Madagascar and Vanuatu with a guest appearance from Kim Byung-man, who he collaborated with in the Korean version in Solomon's Island. The show was aired on Anhui TV in May.
He has been cast for roles in numerous upcoming productions - Edge of Innocence, based upon a novel titled Summer, portrait of a 19 year old by Japanese mystery writer Soji Shimada; and movie adaptation of the Famen temple code novels, directed by Tsui Hark. He has also been cast in dramas, A Chinese Odyssey: Love You A Million Years, an adaptation of Chinese Odyssey, playing the modern version of the Monkey King as well as The Negotiator, a spin-off of the 2016 hit drama Dear Translator.
In September 2016, he joined the second season of Hunan TV's military variety program Takes a Real Man. After the program aired, Zitao started to gain more fans. In December 2016, Zitao starred in the action comedy Railroad Tigers directed by Ding Sheng, alongside Jackie Chan. The movie was a hit at the box office, and Tao was praised for his performance.
In 2017, Zitao starred in the martial arts film The Game Changer, directed by Gao Xixi and inspired by the Chinese television series The Bund.