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- Artists grow and change – it’s a necessary part of the creative process and part of an ever evolving process of becoming. As a natural consequence, fans also come and go as their tastes also change and fit differently with every phase of the artists’ career. But even to fans who resolutely journey along with an artist, especially a young one, there are times when significant transformations can be unsettling.
- I guess we all know by now that we are dealing with a “new” Taeyang. As someone who has been a fan for nearly 5 years (which is eons in kpop-land) this is both unsurprising and yet, disquieting. On one hand, I don’t expect him to remain the same forever – the only constant is change, after all. But I guess I’m still not used to it and am trying to understand my own reactions. Fanmom that I am, it’s a bit like seeing your child suddenly hit the teenage years while having all the baby memories still lying around. Where did that other kid go? And what do I do when my kid wants to borrow the car?
- It’s not as different perhaps for those who remember the Taeyang who just debuted – while still shy, you could see glimpses of his sense of humor back then in all its rough and tumble, knock-knock joke glory. By 2007 though, he was already noticeably quieter and come 2008 had adopted a much more thoughtful and serious mien. His 2009 depression, 2010’s Solar promotion and Big Bang’s troubles in 2011 proved a turning point to transform his thinking to be more positive and spontaneous. It’s as if he needed to unburden himself from all those years of worries with a radical change. No more black swan – he wants to be free! Something like a system reboot, for the more technically inclined among us.
- And so here we are with a Taeyang with some significant differences from the one we’re comfortable with. The boy next door style is exchanged for one a lot trendier and flashier (though still comfortable.) He’s joking around more on camera and in interviews instead of sticking to his spokesperson role like he’s done in the past. (Who would have thought he could be so snarky?) And he’s noticeably changed his performance style to one more heavy on improvisation and enthusiasm instead of the controlled, meticulous style from previous promo runs. Even his expressions for photo sessions have changed a lot. It’s a LOT of changes all at once. Deliberate changes to his image, that if you haven’t been following him really closely for a few years, can be quite shocking. Why such a drastic transformation?
- It occurred to me that these changes we have been seeing in Taeyang over the last year or so could be some sort of rebellion : his singing his own personal remix during BB songs instead of his expected “parts”, his change in fashion (and most recently his hair), his swearing and snarking. It’s never totally out of bounds to be actually called a scandal but it does seem like he’s revamping himself one point at a time. Is it a reaction against his image? Against his being in an idol group? Against the straightlaced kpop industry with its nitpicking netizens? Each change by itself could be explained away any number of ways but put together (and with his new personal philosophy of “freedom”) it does seem that he is trying to make a point of doing something completely against what is expected (or even wanted) from him. I’m sure he knows that it’s causing some ruckus among fans so it really begs the question: what is going on? What is he trying to achieve? Much has been made about how BB has survived the 5 year idol group curse, but perhaps there are more subtle effects on the individuals?
- Oddly enough, Taeyang also seems to be reacting to advice from different people. Some YG friends said they wanted him to show his mischievous side. He did (and how.) It’s been pointed out that his previous performances were “burdensome” and difficult to enjoy along with him – so he loosens up. People said his fashion style was too unchanging and he was too stubborn about it – so he changed it. He said himself that he felt too many worries in the past, so it seems he tried to let go of things and stopped brooding and developed a que-sera-sera attitude about, well, everything. I can imagine that his new friends have also been influences to this change. And so we have come to this. Does the shoe fit?
- I don’t know. It seems a bit like he wants to make most of the changes from outside going in. Like if he wants to be happy, he has to act happy. (Like making daily affirmations in the mirror.) So he’s doing a lot of things that approximate what he wants to be and is testing them if they will make him feel better. Or a bit like he is trying on someone else’s personality to see how it makes him feel.
- What strikes me about the new Taeyang is that he seems to have discovered the courage to be imperfect. Does that make for a better performance? Not necessarily. But what it also does is make him open to risk and change and both are needed for him to progress creatively as an artist. To try new things without the safety net. The most difficult thing about being an idol musician is that dichotomy between being a role model and being an artist: one implies strict adherence to rules and norms, while creativity demands that you challenge them. And breaking expectation is something I can get behind as a fan even as I sometimes wince at the results. But that’s the price of experimentation – you win some and you lose some.
- I know too that the business of being a kpop star make certain demands on how he deals with his image and that there is a certain amount of image manipulation going on. How much of anything is real is always going to be a mystery. Perhaps he could also just be telling the fans that he doesn’t want us to assume we know what to expect? That he can change and is changing so we should be prepared as he goes through a phase of self-discovery?
- I do know as a fan, I have mixed reactions. Obviously, I’m just happy that he seems happier now, and is in a good place in his head. And to be sure, in many ways he is still very much the same – thoughtful, sweet, with a childlike glee in being on stage and in life and general. I still have a lot of personal enjoyment in seeing him do what he does. But the changes also seem uncomfortable in other ways and sometimes I worry he may be pushing things too far in the other direction. I know it’s going to take some time for him to get the balance he’s striving for in both life and on the stage and he’s gone the route of aiming for the other extreme and working his way to the middle. (Which is a valid approach if he wants people to see him differently instead of a gradual change.) But I don’t want him to get stuck in the other rut either of just letting it all go every which way depending on how he feels at the time. He used to set high standards for himself so obviously he’s changed the criteria to something else – whatever that may be. In the meantime, he’s still learning to edit himself and will hopefully be closer to where he should be come solo time after he’s had a bit of a break.
- And so here I am wishing he can do both: be both thoughtful and lighthearted, disciplined and yet natural and open to invention, be dignified and yet have fun. Above all, I don’t want him to lose focus on the music and letting all these extra intentions distract from what he does best – letting his heart sincerely speak through his music and performance and building an emotional bridge with the audience. We’ll only know what, if any, effect Taeyang 3.0 is going to have creatively on his music come solo time when he’s had time to figure out what he wants and set the standard he wants to achieve. But I hope he is successful in taking a giant step to being closer to the artist he wants to be and what I know he can be – which is more comfortably, naturally, perfectly himself – whoever that may be - in all its different colors and being able to share that with us.
Scan and Gifs from YBMania on Tumblr.