BEIJING Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei made his first foray into the musical world on Wednesday with the release of the top single from his debut album, a song called "Dumbass" that takes inspiration from his detention in 2011.
The video for the heavy metal song, which was directed by Ai with cinematography by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Doyle, depicts Ai's 81 days in secretive detention in 2011, which sparked an international outcry.
"There was one thing I thought was interesting. When I was detained, there was a paramilitary officer standing there very seriously watching me, and he asked me quietly if I could sing a song," Ai told Reuters at his home in northeastern Beijing.
"At the time I felt extremely frustrated, because I felt terrible, and I realized that in a situation like that, these guards felt just like me, they wanted to hear songs," he said.
The video features Ai having his head and signature beard shaved by his son, and appearing in lipstick and a dress.
The lyrics rail against the authorities, as befit a man who has repeatedly criticized the Chinese government for flouting the rule of law and the rights of citizens, and are also dotted with obscenities.
The album, called "Divina Commedia" after the poem by Italian poet Dante, is a reference to the nickname given Ai by his supporters.
The rest of the six-track heavy metal album is due to be released next month, and contains songs about internet censorship and blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, whose escape from house arrest last April and subsequent refuge in a U.S. embassy embarrassed China and led to a diplomatic tussle.
Ai said he was not worried about persecution for the album but he is gloomy about the prospects of it being sold in China, and is only distributing it online.
"My songs will certainly be blocked. Not just my songs, but my photograph and my name are all blocked. But there's no problem," he said.
He is also realistic about the aesthetic qualities of his music, but is determined to improve.
"It doesn't sound very good, because I don't have any real skill... And I found that in making music, I have a lot of difficulties," he said. "But I am trying very hard, and I will keep doing it, and I have hope to become someone who sings comparatively well."
Ai has already been in the studio recording his second album, which will be a collection of love songs, he said.
He has no immediate plans to perform live, but hopes one day to perform on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, arguably China's most sensitive location due to its central role in the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.
"On Tiananmen square one day, maybe. I'm sure it will happen," he said.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard, editing by Elaine Lies and Michael Perry)