The rebooted K-pop heart-throb Jay Park will be back in KL to rock the MTV World Stage Live in Malaysia next week.
By SHARMILA NAIR and HARI KESUMA
YOU just cannot begrudge Jay Park’s guts for daring to call himself a “new breed” in the idol factory – as the more finicky music lovers see it – that is Korean pop.
His new solo full-length album New Breed shows that this K-pop lothario really does have the goods to match his swagger.
Their mix of ‘dubstep-py’ bops, ‘gangsta’ rhymes and soulful R&B jams may not be too different from the pop hits swamping the mainstream channels, but his tunes definitely stand out from the bubble gum ditties churned out by the K-pop music machine.
The American-born Jay was quick to downplay his “deviancy” at an interview organised by Universal Music Malaysia the last time he was in town.
On the stigma of the K-pop tag, he says: “I don’t worry about that. I just try to make good music and hope that fans will like it.”
The cloned sound? “There are different genres of music in Korea, like everywhere else in the world.” The slave training system? “You can’t be lazy to make it to the top” or “Every (management) company has their own system and it is what works for them”.
And the wild, crazy fans? “I’m wild too.”
What the 25-year-old is not shy to talk about is his creative control, something that not many K-pop acts enjoy.
“I am the freest artist in Korea. I make all the decisions myself. I don’t have people telling me to sing this, wear this, do this… I can say I’m going to make this music, I’m going to work with this person and I’m going to wear something like this.”
For New Breed, Jay penned most of the songs himself and he even conceptualised the album cover design.
He also got to collaborate with musicians of his choice like Korean Rap royal couple Tiger JK and Tasha Reid, as well as his AOM hip hop crew mates Dok2, The Quiett and Cha Cha Malone.
To cap it all off, Jay got the touch of famous US producer Rob Knox (who worked with Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Chris Brown) for a track called I Love You on the album, which features Korea’s top rappers Dynamic Duo.
The full autonomy over his work is the best thing about going solo, raves the former leader of K-pop boyband 2PM, who calls his debut LP his “precious child.”
It has certainly paid off too, as New Breed has received various accolades and found its way atop several iTunes R&B charts since its release.
Ultimately, what makes Jay a different K-pop breed is probably his star-making myth.
This myth is a prerequisite for stardom – think 50 Cent and his “shot nine times”, or Kanye West and his “almost died in a car accident” yarns. Heck, even Justin Bieber has one – “discovered on Youtube”.
Jay found himself working in a tyre shop back in the United States two years ago when an old online rant against South Korea (posted by a homesick then 17-year-old Jay) went viral just before his debut with 2PM.
The eliminated K-pop idol did some video covers to keep himself entertained, and his cover of B.o.B’s Nothin’ On You racked up two million views in two days after it was uploaded on YouTube. The cover even got B.o.B’s stamp of approval (it got the original back in iTunes’ most downloaded tracks chart after all).
Before long, Jay found himself back on a plane to South Korea, where he soon signed with SidusHQ management to launch his sonic comeback.
He is uncomfortable talking about this black spot in his life, but let’s face it, this is the rockstar/street myth that puts him in his own league compared to his mostly squeaky clean peers with their manufactured backstories.
Jay sometimes can’t believe how his luck changed: “I did it (the cover) because I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I didn’t expect it to get such a good response.”
Crucially, the time-out reminded Jay what he loved about music.
“I first fell in love with music after listening to Michael Jackson when I was two, and I’ve been singing, rapping and dancing ever since. I performed because I loved it. I did it for fun, not to be a part of the industry.”
It is this rekindled romance with music that has been the driving force behind the rebooted Jay. Now he just wants to make more music, his way.
“I just started writing songs, so I still have a lot of fresh ideas in my mind and many stories that I want to tell.”
In a separate telephone interview courtesy of MTV Asia, Jay said that he still has lots of ideas about how his music should sound like.
“I’m still fresh in the industry. I’m a rookie,” he said.
Jay has even been asked to compose songs by fellow K-pop artists Brian Joo and U-kiss, and he hopes to someday collaborate with Big Bang, 2NE1 and maybe even Usher and Lil’ Wayne.
But although Jay is open to experimenting with diverse sounds, don’t expect to see him doing country or rock, he says: “My heart is in R&B and hip hop.”
These last few months have been hectic for him, from headlining the Asian Pacific American Heritage Concert Tour in four cities in the US to releasing his free download mixtape Fresh Air on YouTube and working on the English versions of some of his New Breed tracks.
Then there were the promotional showcases for New Breed around the region, including Malaysia in May.
He is excited to be back performing in Kuala Lumpur, especially to share the limelight with Justin Bieber and fellow K-poppers Kara at the MTV World Stage Live in Malaysia next week.
Promising a fun night, he also said that he will be singing the English version of his hit single Girlfriend live for the first time, and he even has a special dance routine ready for fans.
“I was in a little slump before my promotional tour (in May). By the time I got to KL (the last stop) I was re-motivated and re-inspired. I can’t wait to see my Malaysian fans again.”
The Ministry of Tourism supports MTV World Stage Live in Malaysia.