It’s a story that has captivated the international world of Korean pop with a potent mix of youth, celebrity, and scandal. In four years, Jay Park went from being a regular American teenager to one of Asia’s most famous singers as part of K-pop group 2PM. Then, at the peak of his popularity, a media controversy precipitated his sudden exile from Korea. After briefly disappearing into obscurity back in the U.S., Jay is preparing for a second foray into the spotlight, both here and in Asia—this time as a solo artist, and on his own terms. How did he do it?
First, a primer: In 2004, Jay was a typical high school kid in Seattle when he auditioned for Korean entertainment mogul Park Jin-young (JYP), who was in the U.S. to scout for new talent. Impressed by the 17-year-old’s potential, JYP sent Jay to Korea to begin a “trainee” program. (Korea’s major entertainment companies operate rigorous youth academies that churn out K-pop’s never-ending supply of new artists.) Having never lived in Korea, and without his family, Jay struggled to adjust to the culture shock and the demands of his new environment. But, in the fall of 2008, after nearly four years in JYP’s talent factory, the hard work paid off: Jay (now called Park Jae-beom) emerged as the leader of a new group called 2PM. By the summer of 2009, with the success of their hit “Again & Again,” 2PM was Korea’s most popular male group, and Jae-beom became a pop idol across Asia.
Then, it all came crashing down. On September 4, 2009, the Korean blogosphere caught wind of several private messages written by Jay to a friend in 2005, leaked by a “netizen” who hacked Jay’s MySpace account. The damning words, typed by a then 17-year-old Jay just months after arriving in Korea: “korea is gay….i hate koreans.” The public furor was immediate and relentless, and Jay quickly issued an apology. But the media scrutiny and blogger hate only intensified. Less than a week after the story broke, Jay abruptly left 2PM to return to Seattle.
In the months following Jay's exit from Korea, rumors constantly circulated about his possible return to the group. But in February of 2010, JYP announced the permanent termination of Jay’s contract, cryptically alluding to an additional, unnamed controversy that supposedly trumped the MySpace incident. Thus, with his 2PM career officially over, Jay began the process of rebuilding his career as a solo artist. Jay spent much of 2010 touring with his b-boy crew, Art of Movement, while also putting plans in motion for a comeback in Korea. Now, with the controversy behind him and on the cusp of releasing his new Korean mini-album, Jay granted us his first in-depth interview about 2PM, Korea, and his plan to tackle the U.S. market.
Complex: First, the latest news: Last week you posted a new public apology to JYP and 2PM. Why now?
Jay Park: Well, it's kind of hard to explain why now, but it's for a lot of different reasons that will become clear as time goes on. I just want to move forward with my career in a positive way.
Complex: Does this leave the door open for future collaborations with 2PM?
Jay Park: Just give me the word and I'm down. I don’t know how they feel, but as for me, we all struggled together, came up together, and that’s something I'll never forget. So, as for me, those dudes are still my boys. I'm down whenever.
Complex: How closely have you followed the K-pop scene as of late?
Jay Park: I don’t follow the K-pop scene very closely to be honest, ’cause I'm busy doing my own stuff. I look at the charts every now and then to see who's on top, but that’s about it. As for songs, I like 2NE1's stuff, and I think Secret’s “Shy Boy” song is hella cute. [Laughs.]
Complex: Your latest K-pop appearance is a cameo in the video for the new group 5Dolls. How did that come about?
Jay Park: I did that right before I came back to Seattle the last time. My company set it up—my company is close with their company. We shot it for three days straight without any sleep. Right when I got finished, I went to go pack, and then I went on a plane and came back.
Complex: We last met almost a year ago, when you were performing with your crew at Rutgers. Back then, it seemed like you were still readjusting to your post-2PM life. Since then, how have things been going?
Jay Park: As of right now, things are going good. Basically, I have more freedom to do what I want as an artist. I can work with the people I want to work with, I write my own songs, and I can bring my crew along to shows and have them be my dancers. So, it’s good.
Complex: Even though your home base is in Seattle, I know you’ve been traveling quite a bit to Asia. How has day-to-day life been for you?
Jay Park: It’s kind of hard because I go back and forth a lot, so the jet lag is kind of hard. But, I went to two battles—we just won Mighty 4 in Portland. We actually just flew out my choreographer Andrew Baterina, and we’re about to get ready to shoot this music video at the end of the month.
Complex: Is that for “Demon”?
Jay Park: No, it’s for my Korean album that’s coming out in April.
Complex: Tell me about how that project came together.
Jay Park: Basically, my fans wanted me to put out a full album in Korean. Like, even at my concerts, I only have a few Korean songs of my own, and then I sing a bunch of cover songs, like Chris Brown and Usher. There isn’t a full Korean album from me, so I was like, Alright, I gotta do this. One of my homies from my crew produces, so I got a couple beats from him. I got a couple beats from these underground rappers in Korea. And then I just wrote to them, I did vocal arrangements, or rap, or whatever. I recorded the songs that I thought were classic songs already, and we’re gonna put out a mini-album in April.
Complex: Was the bulk of that recorded here or overseas?
Jay Park: Most of it was in Korea. It basically got done in like a month. I was out there getting ready for concerts when I recorded all of it.
Complex: I know that you’ve made it a goal to bring Art of Movement more visibility and to continue breakdancing. Have you found it difficult to balance your solo career with promoting your crew?
Jay Park: Nah. Me and my crew toured the whole world last year. We went to the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea—we went to a lot of places last year. And then this year, we’re going to Japan. And, after my album comes out, it’s about to get even more crazy.