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?
Complex: Does this leave the door open for future collaborations with 2PM?
Complex: How closely have you followed the K-pop scene as of late?
Complex: Your latest K-pop appearance is a cameo in the video for the new group 5Dolls. How did that come about?
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?
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?
Complex: Is that for “Demon”?
Complex: Tell me about how that project came together.
Complex: Was the bulk of that recorded here or overseas?
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?
Complex: You’re known for singing and dancing, but your recent YouTube videos have mostly been of you rapping—the 6’7” freestyle and the one you did over Lupe’s “I’m Beaming.” Was rap something you’ve always wanted to do?
Complex: What was your first exposure to it, do you remember?
Complex: That’s a good one.
Complex: It was sort of a natural move for you, then.
Complex: As far as the collaborations you’ve been doing here with Asian-American rappers—with Dumbfoundead, J.Reyez, and Decipher, to name three—how do these collabos come about? Do they reach out to you? Or are these relationships you had in the past?
Complex: The song that you did with Dumbfoundead and Clara C, “Clouds,” blew up on YouTube. Since this collaboration and others came about organically, as you said, do you see any profit from them? Like “Clouds” wasn’t available on iTunes, was it?
Complex: How about “Count On Me,” your Korean version of B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You”? That’s your biggest solo song thus far. How did that all come about?
Complex: Was that the first actual cover that you did?
Complex: Did you get to talk to B.o.B about it?
Complex: He definitely got some legs in Asia on that from you.
Complex: I’m sure that opportunity could arise in the future. Unlike the other organic collabos we’ve discussed, “Count On Me” was released for sale and charted. Have you been able to cash checks from it?
Complex: You opened with that song when you performed at the Beach Festival in Naksan in Korea last August. I wasn’t there, but people were telling me that you had the biggest reaction at the event, which included Kanye West. What do you remember about the show, and did you get a chance to meet ’Ye?
Complex: If any American artist would do it, it’d definitely be Lupe.
Complex: Last April, there was an allhiphop.com story about your forthcoming American album, reportedly with help from Teddy Riley, Snoop, and T-Pain. The story came out and it kind of went away. Was there truth to that, or were those just rumors?
Complex: To that point, you’ve obviously experienced superstardom in Korea and Asia, and you’re looking at next year to jump out in the U.S. From your vantage point, do you think there’s a difference between what makes a star in Asia and what makes a star here? Or is it similar?
Complex: You've done several interviews in Korea over the last year, but you haven’t really done any English-language interviews yet. Do you foresee doing more U.S. press next year?
Complex: Right. Because, although you have a sizable fan base in the States, I’m sure you want to reach everybody.
Complex:When you first came back, you were a total free agent. Since then, you’ve signed with managers in the U.S., and last summer you signed with Sidus in Korea. What qualities were you looking for from your new management team?
Complex: You filmed your first movie, Hype Nation, over the summer. Did you see the finished product yet, and in your mind, was the experience a success?
Complex: On the Internet, you’ve turned into somewhat of a social-networking beast. How do you feel about connecting with your fans on Twitter (@JAYBUMAOM) and the like?
Complex: Oh, so the 2PM guys all had Twitter accounts back then?
Complex: I noticed that the recent chatter among your fans is about the tattoos you’ve been getting recently. I think they’re scared you’re gonna start looking like Weezy or Wiz Khalifa.
Complex: Big entertainment groups from Korea are still recruiting in the U.S. to search for, basically, new versions of you. As someone who’s gone through the entire “trainee” experience, what advice might you give to a teenager who is in the position you were when you were 17 and getting sent to Korea?
Complex: Given all that’s happened, do you have regrets? Or do you think all of this happened for a reason?
Complex: With some recent talk-show comments by JYP and then your latest public apology, there is still media curiosity about exactly what led to the break from 2PM. In the future, do you foresee a time when you will want to really explain your side of the story, like write a tell-all book or something? Or, do you feel that this chapter should be closed forever?
Complex: What’s next for you? How would you want Complex readers who aren’t familiar with you to get to know you
Complex: Finally—with your Korean album coming out soon, are you at all still concerned about what the public perception of you is in Korea right now?