Interview: Jay Park scores big after a 'turbulent couple of years'
Jay Park once again dumbfounded the K-Pop industry this past April when his new album hit the Top 10 in Korea and seven non-Asian countries.
Beating out Big Bang’s Taeyang album “Solar” for best international debut of a K-Pop artist, Park’s “Take a Deeper Look” went to number one in Canada and Denmark and peaked at number two in the U.S. and Australia on the iTunes R&B/Soul album charts. The record also sold well in Italy, France and Norway.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” says the 24-year-old Park on the unexpected worldwide response to his solo debut. “It’s been surreal to find out that I have all these fans in countries I have never been to before.”
With a more urban/hip-hop feel, Park’s new music is different from that of his boy band days.
“It’s the music that I wanted to do,” he says, adding that his sound is still K-Pop.
Park is once again active on the K-Pop performance scene in Seoul after a two-year stateside hiatus.
Park’s story to date is dramatic, even for the Korean entertainment world, which has recently been rocked by scandals involving secret marriages, having teeth pulled to avoid army service and international man-hunts inspired by gambling charges.
The former boy band member’s very public 2009 expulsions first from Korea and then from his management agency, JYPE, were the result of immature Myspace comments blown up to epic proportions by netizens and local media.
Armed with his video camera, Youtube account and penchant for singing covers of American R&B artists, Park slowly reinserted himself into the music scene while headquartered at his parents’ house in Seattle, Washington.
His Youtube channel, which initially featured him singing in the bathroom, soon garnered record hits for Most Viewed Musician Channel, Most Viewed Music Channel, Most Viewed Music Video and Most Subscribed Channel in Youtube history, marking his eminent comeback to the music scene.
In English, Park’s accent is as "street" as any rapping b-boy from the West Coast. The minute he starts speaking Korean, however, he transforms into a charming, awkward colt.
Park's appeal lies in the fact that he has no filter in either language. Unlike other K-Pop idols, who reliably deliver manufactured and rehearsed responses, Park is famous for blurting out anything that comes to mind.
“He doesn’t have that ‘entertainer disease’ of talking himself up,” says Jenny Lee, a 22-year-old Park fan. “And I like the fact that he’s not two-faced. He’s unaffected.”
Park says that he doesn’t watch his words because if the media wants to twist things, they can do so any time, regardless of context. He would certainly be the person to know.
Now that he's back in Korea, Park enjoys hanging out at his favorite Seoul haunts, including barbecue joint Donsadon and Taco Bell. His favorite coffeeshop is Caffe Bene.
He doesn’t cook (“I microwave things”) and orders Papa John's pizza when he stays in. He doesn’t watch movies, shop (“I wear what my fans send me”) or sing karaoke (“I sing for a living”).
Park says that he follows both American and Korean music closely and plans to work in the U.S. next year. He's currently meeting with different producers to find “the right fit.”
One possible upcoming stateside collaboration is with will.i.am, who he met last week in Seoul.
When asked who he’d like to collaborate with in the future, he rattles of a long list that includes Usher, Trey Songz, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z.
“Whoever’s down to work with me,” he says.