Photo: Courtesy of Mr Porter
Witty and vivacious, Eric Nam has seen the K-pop industry change over the years since his debut in 2013. The 31-year-old vocalist has a keen perspective of the inner happenings in the South Korean entertainment industry as he has one foot in both the East and West. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Eric spent most of his childhood in the United States and was on track to being the stereotypical “Asian-American” overachiever, with his degree in International Studies in hand. It wasn’t until he took the leap and participated in the Korean reality music programme, Star Audition:Birth of a Great Star 2 that he began to actively pursue his music career.
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, branching out into other ventures, in particular hosting as Eric is fluent in both Korean and English. His impressive language skills has helped him become the nation’s go-to host to bridge the gap between Hollywood and South Korea.
Fast forward to 2020 and Eric has just released his first English album titled, Before We Begin. He has also embarked on a world tour to promote his new album and stopped by sunny Singapore to perform a sold-out show. ELLE Singapore caught up with the multi-talent star and things got deep as we chatted about music, Asian representation and Eric’s personal struggles that he overcame.
1. First of all, congratulations on your new record, ‘Before We Begin’! It’s so good! This is your first foray into releasing a full-length English album. What was going through your mind when you were recording this project?
I think going into it and even now, I knew that it was a risk, but it was one that I wanted to take and I’m glad that I took. It’s not particularly easy to try to put together a full English project as a k-pop artist and have people get behind it, believe in it, and enjoy it. So more than anything, I’m thankful, I’m blessed, and I’m excited.
2. What was the eureka moment that made you take the plunge into making this English record?
I think for years I had spoken about trying to do music in English and I had played around with it by releasing collaborations and singles, but it was important for me to have a cohesive piece of work that represented where I am musically at the moment, in English. I also felt that for as much as I had spoken about trying to release music in English and trying to push things out more globally, I needed to put my money where my mouth was and needed to follow through with it. I guess what gave me the courage and encouragement to do so was the fact that I’m lucky enough to be able to tour the world and perform in Korean and English.
3. Did you approach writing this record any differently than your previous Korean records? Were there certain topics that you can explore and communicate more easily in the English language?
I don’t think the process itself was any different, however it was refreshing in the sense that I did not have to go back and rewrite any of the lyrics into Korean, as I usually do for most of my releases. Therefore, I felt that conveying messages and getting to the core of what I was trying to say musically was much easier.
4. In your concert, you mentioned that “Love Die Young” was one of your more personal songs you wrote in this project. What’s the story behind that song in particular?
Love Die Young was written at a time and place when I was really just exhausted. I was tired of working, burnt out, and didn’t think I had it in me to keep writing, performing and working at the pace and caliber at which I was. So I remember just not wanting to do anything and not wanting to write about anything, and Love Die Young was how I worked through that period of time. “Love” can be a literal love or romantic love, but beyond that it can be a mindset, a goal, a career, a passion, life, whatever you want it to be, but just wanting to hold on for as long as possible, is the message.
5. As a Korean-American in the entertainment industry, you have one foot in each market. As an insider, what do you think it is about K-pop that turned it into this global phenomena and what do you love most about the genre?
I think it’s production quality, value, and the fact that I don’t think there are too many acts out there who visually perform as well as K-pop does. I think when people think of “K-pop,” it’s generally defined as a group or team dancing incredibly well in-sync. I don’t think there are many other genres or artists in other genres who are doing full, intricate choreographies with such attention to visual details and fashion, in the way that K-pop does, which is perhaps why there is such an appreciation for the genre and its performers.
I think what I love about K-pop is that it is quirky, it is fun, it is serious, but at the same time can be very light-hearted and easy.
6. With artists like BTS winning AMAs, Awkwafina winning a Golden Globe and movies like ‘Parasite’ winning best film in a foreign language, Asian representation and recognition of Asian talents in the US has grown exponentially in the last few years. What do these recent milestones mean to you and what is your hope for the future of Asians in the global entertainment industry?
I think the past few years have been incredible for the visibility and recognition of Asian and Asian American artists and talents. Having said that, I don’t think that having just a few is enough. We need and deserve much more, but it’s on US to continue to push the boundaries, keep knocking on the doors, breaking barriers, and creating great content.
We can’t take any of our recent successes for granted and more than anything I hope that it emboldens and encourages people to push even harder and even further in pursuing their dreams, goals and creative aspirations.
7. What were your struggles when you first entered South Korea’s music industry as a Korean-American? Did you experience any moments of culture shock when you first moved?
Nothing was easy, ever. I could barely speak and understand Korean, and to understand cultural and social nuances was incredibly difficult. I think I only really became somewhat comfortable a few years ago.
Going on TV and putting myself in very public situations is still oftentimes nerve wracking to me. I felt that I was always criticized for one thing or another, but that’s just the way it is, perhaps not just in Korea, but anywhere in the world as a public figure. Regardless, I’m grateful for the opportunities that I received and the love I continue to receive.
8. What’s your personal advice to people who are currently feeling like they don’t belong anywhere?
You’re not alone and you’re not alone in feeling that way either. I think everyone has phases of feeling alone, isolated, like we don’t belong, and it’s an awful feeling. However, I always found solace and comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in feeling that way. A
lso, I found comfort in thinking that perhaps it’s just a part of the way life goes, in that we have both our ups and downs and that we work through the lows. No matter how awful, lonely and painful it may be, we’ll get through it so that we can enjoy the highs and the good, amazing and beautiful parts of life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to express your feelings to friends, family, peers, etc.
It’s completely normal to have feelings of doubt and insecurity, and expressing that to the people around you will help get you through it. People care about you and love you.
9. You’re killin’ it not just in the music front but also in the hosting world with your podcasts, K-pop Daebak Show and I Think You’re Dope where you constantly have a diverse range of artists come on. If you could get any artist to come on your show, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Will Smith! I had the pleasure of interviewing him a few months ago for a movie that he was promoting, Gemini Man, and he was and is awesome. Amazing energy, incredibly humble, very positive, and someone that I think is truly living life to the fullest. He’s had such a long, expansive and diverse career that I think he would have insights to share with me and to anyone listening.
10. What is your mantra for 2020?
Be Happy & Be Healthy.
12. What’s next for Eric Nam?
I’m in the middle of a world tour and through March I will have done 36 shows. The summer, fall and winter will be full of new music, new videos, new tv shows, more podcasting, and I think the tour will continue into Australia and Europe as well.
I’m always working on new projects either for music or tv so please continue to look forward to more content, and as always, please connect with me on social media. I’m watching, everything. Thanks ELLE!
For more information of the dates and cities of Eric Nam’s Before We Begin World Tour 2020, click here.