To celebrate the launch of our new Korean sister site which went live this weekend, today we're investigating the cultural influence and innovation of the country's most exciting creatives. Explore the world of K-pop with new interviews with B.A.P, Taeyang and 4minute, meet Snowpiercer actress Ko Ah-sung and get a furtive glimpse at North Korea's life online. Check back here for more throughout the day.
Taeyang is 26 years old, and already a K-pop veteran. Born in 1988 and training since the age of 12 with YG – one of the Korean music industry’s big three record companies – he burst onto the scene in 2006 as part of the mega boyband BIGBANG. With bandmates G-Dragon, T.O.P., Seungri and Daesung, he became one of the biggest stars Korea had ever seen. Paradoxically, for one of the biggest global K-pop brands – they have that easy “name three K-pop artists” association that connect most Westerners with the radical, hi-tech and hysterically exciting world – BIGBANG have done the most to re-imagine what a K-pop artist is, transforming the role into a musical innovator, producer and songwriter.
Absorbing style influences from punk to rap and twinning current underground R&B to his native, hyper-sonic pop music, he's emblematic of a golden generation combining the global avant garde, the rituals of South Korean society and the technology of the most networked society on earth. He's maybe the most spiritual of the band: his location on Twitter is "light" and he shows a monk-like devotion to his stagecraft, beating back nosebleeds to perform. Now, on the day Taeyang releases his second solo album, Rise, we translated his Dazed Korea interview into English to shine a light on this 21st century popstar.
Dazed Korea: Have you ever walked along Itaewon street this late at night?
Taeyang: I used to come to Itaewon quite often, because G-dragon used to live in Itaewon so we always hung out in this area.
It is already 4am, but Itaewon is still very energetic.
Taeyang: I had so much fun today. The shoot gave me a super vibe.
I haven’t seen you for five years, since we did an interview with you in 2008. You are a man now!
Taeyang: I guess I am!
What has changed for you?
Taeyang: Personally, I feel I’m more mature than before.
You mentioned that "Good music comes from mature awareness". What do you mean?
Taeyang: I have been thinking over and over what I really wanted to be while I produced this album. I have also been thinking ‘Real music, real musician’. I was quite surprised because it seemed too simple. I love to sing and dance on stage, and I love to throw all my energy into music.
You tweeted last November 1st, "I feel thankful everyday to everyone because I do what I love. Music!"
Taeyang: Yes, [laughs]. It has taken a long time to produce a record. I’ve listened to all the songs. It all sounds so good to me.
Are you sure?
Taeyang: Yes, I wasn’t confident at all, because the album was postponed and I felt quite confused about whether it was right. I’ve had a hard time making music, but then one day I listened to the completed songs and I realised I love it!! I felt quite proud of myself [laughs]. So, I Tweeted how I felt.
Is there an R&B track?
Taeyang: Of course. I tried to make an effort to produce this album thinking of my fans. If I ignore the audience’s thoughts, then it would be very boring. But I tried to be smart enough to accept a new genre.
Please don’t say you’re going to make rock music.
Taeyang: No, there’s is just a bit of rock. Of course I won’t even start cock rock.
Taeyang: I was on holiday with Choice 37 from YG in LA for a couple of days. We were randomly listening to R&B songs and found out it was all produced by The Underdogs. Apparently, Choice 37 knows them, so we e-mailed him about participating in our project. He answered right away to say 'YES'. That’s the turning point to start with famous producers. I worked with Happy Perez, Cocaine 80s, and Breach for four-five days, from morning to midnight. I had so much fun working with them, I think one of the seven tracks we made will be on the album.
You produced six songs on the tracklist. Did you know what you wanted exactly?
Taeyang: I was disinterested in producing, but when somebody wrote a song I liked it, I took it. I like what I do no matter what. When I was about to sleep, I came up with a great melody, so I had to make it.
Which song is represented of you?
Taeyang: "Rise". "Rise" gave me an idea for the rest of the music’s concepts. I really thought of the sun when I listened it. So I imagined nature, and the jungle, because the soundtrack is wild. It was a real vision of the sun from the universe and of nature!
“What do I sing about? What is my truth? It took time to think up the right answer.” - Taeyang
You tried to cover your nosebleed up while you performed "Don’t Judge Me" by Chris Brown. People love this side of you: you carry on singing, even if your nose is bleeding.
Taeyang: I feel a bit ashamed of my nosebleeding story! I like to not care about this condition so that I can focus on music onstage.
Is “PBR&B” a big genre on your album?
Taeyang: I was hugely inspired by Miguel, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd. I know what I really wanted to do. I searched the good music that I loved and found out that was all by Miguel! What a strange coincidence! I’m a massive fan of "Sure Thing" by Miguel. I was happily cheering him when he got an award for his second album. I think The Weeknd were inspired by "Earth Song" by Michael Jackson. I still listen to The Weeknd’s mix tape when I have time. That’s all my references for the album. As you know, you can’t really find this kind of music in Korea.
Many people and music critics fell in love with "Channel Orange" by Frank Ocean.
Taeyang: I couldn’t really include this kind of music because I had to balance the whole album. Anyway, I live in Korea and I’m under contract with YG so I can’t do everything that I want.
Who is the most real artist for you?
Taeyang: Michael Jackson and Cho Yong-Pil. It is not about their music, it is about how they treat music. I would like to have their souls. Recently, one artist gave me a massive shock: a tattooist called Anil Gupta. I’ve met so many artists but I personally think he is the one real artist. Someday I want to be him!
Taeyang: The tattoo artist was so confident of his work to be able to say 'You won’t even notice this is a tattoo'. I respect the technical aspect, but I respect his attitude even more. When we spoke, I felt I had to be so careful with my words because he was so wise.
What is the most difficult question he asked you?
Taeyang: We’ve talked so much, and spoke about U2 and 2Pac. His opinion of them was that U2 sings about peace, and 2Pac sings about his situation: it is their truths. So, I questioned myself: What do I sing about? What is my truth? It took time to think up the right answer.
What did you say?
Taeyang: I told him “Youth energy”. BigBang absorbs fresh, young and new things. He loved what I answered.
Are you a good judge of people?
Taeyang: I think I am a pretty good at understanding each character of each person I meet.
What kind of people can be your friends?
Taeyang: It’s not difficult. You just have to be honest with me.
Do you like the sun from a solar system?
Taeyang: [Laughs]. I like the universe and nature. I am inspired a lot by the beauties of nature. I named myself as the sun because the sun is the brightest star from the incalculable stars in the universe.
Have you drowned in the intensity of the beauty of nature?
Taeyang: I want to travel. I’m thinking of travelling next year.
Where do you want to travel?
Taeyang: Brazil. My friends said Brazil has the most beautiful sunset in the world.
Styling Gee Eun
Hair Tae Hyan Kim at Leekaj Hairbis
Makeup Hea Kyung Lim
Tattoo Key at 302 Studio
Graphic Chang Yong Park
Assistant Ye Sol Kang