K-Pop has its major players with the likes of Girls’ Generation and Super Junior but amongst the sparkling smiles and synchronized dance moves is an idol with an eye to breaking all the rules and G-Dragon, the leader of one of its biggest exports, BigBang, has been doing just that since 2006.
The artist who went into the rigorous entertainment company training regime before he reached a double-figure birthday, and calls himself a rapper first and foremost despite his K-pop idol status, is one of a small handful of artists pushing back on the limiting boundaries of the South Korean pop industry.
BigBang’s fans, known as VIP’s, will attest to GD’s (Kwon Jiyong) genius as quickly as some netizens will denounce it, however, it’s impossible to deny his supremacy within K-Pop and burgeoning popularity beyond it. His biggest scandals - busted for smoking pot, accused (and cleared) of plagiarism and wearing idol-unfriendly t-shirt slogans - are more distant reminders of his penchant for shit-stirring but GD continues to niggle at the powers that be.
The end of 2012 saw him at Mnet Asian Music Awards, onstage in a room packed with the industry’s movers and shakers and call them out on cloning his sound and look for their artists. For the entertainment companies, who pride themselves on their successful product and indeed create the industry that fills GD’s coffers, it was a very public slap in the face. Did he get away with it?
Well, yes, because ultimately G-Dragon’s dogged determination to break the restraints placed on many of his contemporaries has created some of the most exciting recent moments in pop music, lead to Korea Forbes putting him on their power list and being the recipient of some of Asia’s most prestigious music awards. This vital input into the musical landscape has trickled across into a growing influence in the fashion world. An editorial regular for style bibles like Vogue and Harper’s, he’s unafraid of the outlandish, mixing Rick Owens, Chanel, Balmain and Givenchy with Year Zero, Ambush and Thom Browne (read oyr top-ten G-Dragon looks in the gallery above). Nicola Formichetti is quite the fanboy, resulting in G-Dragon sound-tracking the Mugler A/W13 menswear show.
Winning the EMA, selling out arenas and having to add dates... things have been growing massively in momentum, but as a mainstream act, BIGBANG are still relatively unknown to the West compared to a band like Coldplay. How do you see both yourself, G-Dragon and BIGBANG positioned in music on global scale?
G-Dragon 답변: I think, we are very fortunate to have acknowledgement outside of Korea, and I give credit to the Internet and YouTube for spreading awareness of who BIGBANG is. We are still from a very small country and for us to step foot in countries that we have never been to and have never promoted in and still do sold-out shows is a blessing.
There's already a lot of new interest in you, but the Alive Tour is coming to a close, and there are solo activities planned for 2013, how do you plan on utilizing the increased attention on BIGBANG when the members are off doing their own thing? Do you actually feel a need to do this or are you confident in continuing at your own pace?
G-Dragon 답변: We always focus on the quality of music because as long as the content is good, then the interest will be there. We are receiving attention only because we put a lot of hard work to coming out with quality material and people liked it – BIGBANG has made fans wait for material many times in the past. That’s what my focus is going to be, to continue to put out great material whether it is on my solo album or a group album. I will continue to move at my own place until the music is ready and the content is good.
There has been much talk of Korean artists doing albums in English to further their chances of breaking it. BIGBANG did a Japanese album in English but that was some time ago. Now that you're beginning to break good ground in places like America is there a need for an English language release or does that make loving the BIGBANG experience somewhat obsolete?
G-Dragon 답변: I think, it will be cool to rap in English as we have done here and there but again, it just needs to feel right and be the right move, artistically. We have done it before so we may do it again, but I would only do English or any other language release when it feels right not because the time is right.
Given that you consider BIGBANG's output more mainstream and your solo work as an opportunity to do whatever you want, how does that work creatively for you? How do you achieve the balance and is there a side that calls to you more strongly?
G-Dragon 답변: I am a songwriter and producer and though you have to be personal in everything you do, you always having to look at things from another’s perspective. For example, there are many songwriters who are men but write for a girl artist. It’s still very fun and creative but I think I like to work on my solo material more because I am free to let loose and have the freedom to be as creative as I want to be.
Around the release of Alive, BIGBANG did a few interviews where you wondered about the timing given what happened previous to the album and if you'd be welcomed back. You were not only welcomed, but went on to achieve even greater heights. How do you feel about that now since, from an outsider’s point of view, this makes you look almost invincible/untouchable as artists and celebrities...
G-Dragon 답변: I don’t want to say that we are invincible, because although we achieved a lot this year, I want to continue to grow as an artist. It was very fortunate that a lot of the public was able to forgive us for coming back as quick as we did and I think if it wasn’t for the love they had for the music we put out and eventually the love they had for us, things could have turned out different. We are glad to be back and are happy to continue on our path.
As K-pop begins to etch itself deeper into the overseas and Western music market; more industry/critical/public eyes begin to look at the Korean music industry. It's been criticized in the past for things like so-called "slave contracts" so what, in your opinion, needs to change for the better?
G-Dragon 답변: I don’t know too much about the “slave contracts,” because I am with one of the biggest labels out here called YG and we are fortunate to not have to deal with such a situation. I do hope that conditions improve for all aspiring artists as I do hear about things in the news and that people know and do what’s best for their well-being.
Many outsiders can't get their heads around the training process despite so many Western pop acts having a strong degree of manufacturing to them. As someone who came through it from such a young age, what's your opinion on it? Are they nurturing talent or exploiting it?
G-Dragon 답변: It can be difficult at times because it’s a long and demanding process but that training helped me become the artist I am today and I am thankful for that.
If you hadn't gone through the training, do you think you could have become the artist you are now? Where do you think life would have taken you if YG hadn't been in the picture?
G-Dragon 답변: I think, the training process just helped bring out the creative side I had in me. They helped me practice and perfect my craft. That’s what that training process did for me. I don’t know what I would have been doing if I was not in YG but I think I would be doing something artistic.
You're often cited as a major influence on newcomers... can you see your style or ideas in younger Korean artists or rookie groups? Block B's Zico seems to want to follow in your footsteps...
G-Dragon 답변: I don’t know how much of that is exactly from my influence but if it is it’s good to see if it can help rookie’s become more creative and start getting involved in the production side of things. As long as the artists and content gets better and it’s by my influence then it’s a positive thing.
BIGBANG's fans are devoted. Taeyang recounted a story of finding fans on your flight and seemed weary of it. How do they affect your off-stage life - can you get around Seoul and conduct your lives privately? Are you relieved when the fans and disappear or do you get a craving for it?
G-Dragon 답변: Just like anyone else, I want privacy at times but I understand that I am a celebrity. I always appreciate my fans so I think it’s great to have that too. I am also the type of person who can embrace being out in public as a normal person. You may not know it but you can find me at places acting as if I am just anyone else but with my face covered. There are times I want to live as normally as possible but there are situations in Korea where that’s just not possible.
On the ‘Danny from LA’ interview, you seemed to envy the fact he was settled and a father.... as someone who seems to utterly focus on his career is there time for that? Could you balance work/personal to that extent or would you be willing to make the sacrifice of lessening time spent on your career to being in a relationship?
G-Dragon 답변: I am still young but I did envy seeing Danny Hyung with a family. I want to have that too someday but for now, I am happy to focus on my career and when the day comes, I will have to learn how to balance everything.
American hip-hop artists now guest more and more on pop records, but don't necessarily make pop songs. You've managed to combine being a pop act with your hip hop roots and maintained serious credibility as a rapper. So, what sets you apart from the rest of the pack?
G-Dragon 답변: I am a rapper and that’s what I always been. Maybe what could set me apart is that I came out in an idol band but I have always been a rapper.
What's something you dream of but haven't yet achieved?
G-Dragon 답변: I usually have bigger dreams. Although I don’t have a specific goal in mind at this moment, I would be interested in supporting and digging out hidden talents through being cultured or exploring different routes since when I was young, I admired talented and amazing musicians and wanted to learn and understand their approach to becoming that way. I would like to build on pop culture with music and fashion, something that can be created and embraced in a different vein.
You're known as a perfectionist... is this a reason why you haven't done mix tapes and thrown them out onto the internet? Could you just let go of material like that?
G-Dragon 답변: I think the mixtape game is a bit different in America and Europe than it is out here. I think it’s a cool thing but personally, I want to release quality music each and every time. Not to say that mixtapes are not quality music but if a track didn’t make it on to an album, I am fine with putting that in the vault for no one to see.
Mick Jagger once said he never wanted to be singing 'Satisfaction' when he was 40. Now he's nearly 70 and still strutting around the stage... Do you ever consider a timeline for BIGBANG, a point at which you think, ' I don't feel comfortable shaking my ass to 'Fantastic Baby''?
G-Dragon 답변: I do think about that but I am still very young. I am still in my mid-twenties so I have a long way to go before I am 40… (I am definitely not thinking about 70, yet. ^^;)