Relaxing after the photo shoot. Having removed the luxurious fur coat, Taeyang saunters over to us. The editor and the photographer are in the midst of talking about a delivery crisis that occurred due to traffic backed up by a state function on November 11th. The bonsai pine tree that was to be used for the shoot almost didn’t make it in time. After listening quietly, Taeyang murmurs, “Why do they make such a fuss…” Having never been one for acting up or posturing – in a Korean mainstream music scene where, nowadays, it’s hard to even distinguish Idol from Ah-ee-deul [children] – Taeyang is stubbornly walking a different path. Rather than insisting on a certain concept, he has the belief that he’s doing what he wants. Rather than mindlessly complaining about the state of the music scene, he shows the determination to triumph over its weaknesses. Rather than flaunting insistently, he has the maturity as a singer to sometimes just keep quiet.
Still, on this occasion provided to praise and congratulate him, Taeyang lets out a sigh. “Hmm… I guess looking back, it’s kind of bittersweet. It was great. After all, I finally got to release the album that I’d worked on for so long, the number of people that listened to and appreciated the album grew, the international response was a big support, and I got to have the concerts that I’d been wanting so much. But I think when the curtain goes down, we all feel that way. You’re happy, but a little sad, and you’re left with a lot of afterimages. You can’t help thinking, ‘Maybe I should have done things this way.’ A sense of emptiness, maybe? Like there’s a corner that’s still unfulfilled. ‘Cause I’m in a somewhat ambiguous position.” He trails off at the last sentence. “What I wanted most when I released my album was to do a lot of gigs, whether on a small stage, a big stage or in the streets. I always dreamt of being in the same space and exchanging with the people who listen to my music, and I still dream of it now. But I’m not in a position where I can perform in just small theatres. And yet, I didn’t want to just promote in a media-centered way either [i.e. via media, rather than person-to-person]. And I can’t just mix it up and do both – that’s why my situation is ambiguous.” Then, is sadness/regret something that’s unavoidable?
This year, Taeyang took the stage with the songs, “I Need a Girl” and “I’ll Be There.” The contrast between the two songs is like that of a crisp white shirt and a heavy leather jacket. One was pliant, almost bouncy; the other was dark and sticky. And there was a focus on showing a complete stage. In a sense, Taeyang completely eliminated the childish act of repeating embarrassing movements and attaching a name to it as “Something Something Dance.” His was a method unfamiliar in the mainstream music scene. In a system where everything becomes an issue, he was an instant name, but one who seemed to be trying to erase something. When interest stems from being “Taeyang of Big Bang,” is going solo really going solo? His effort to create his own lofty stage may very well be Taeyang’s foremost task to overcome. But when even so-called music programs invite him, only to end up talking for laughs about what goes on inside the Big Bang apartment, could he have felt a little lonely? “If I hadn’t been a member of Big Bang, I probably couldn’t have started my career amidst all this applause. So I’m grateful and thankful. At the same time, on the solo stage, there’s a lot more I have to overcome on my own. Ultimately, I think the only way to communicate my sincerity on stage is to sing with sincerity. It’s what I feel when I watch performances of many of the artists I respect.”
His full-blown activities over the summer culminated with two concerts. The second concert, in particular, created an unexpected encore stage, wherein session musicians who were ready to exit the venue with guitar cases in hand were called back to the stage. Taeyang stood silently, his eyes glistening with emotion, while the audience was overcome with the energy of watching someone’s final stage. “It’s fortunate that I do feel it’s my destiny to make music and stand on the stage like this. I get the sense that this stage and the music I’m making is right. Even if it’s not my own, I hope you will listen to all the good music in the world and find happiness. That’s why I make music and perform on stage, so I really hope you guys will be happy.” This heightened atmosphere was only settled when he laughed after forgetting the lyrics to “Take It Slow.” “Strangely, I’m especially prone to forget that song.”
Having finished the concerts, Taeyang took off for Jaeju Island. “It was my first time in Jaeju-do. I didn’t think I’d see such scenery in my own country. Mt. Halla stands out in my memory. And I planned to see Mara-do but accidentally ended up in Woo-do. The clear waters of Woo-do was unforgettable, too. Everything about Jaeju-do was good. And yet, I couldn’t rest fully because I was aware that I had to ‘reset.’ It was a short 2 nights, 3 days trip, but it made me think that I need to keep traveling in order to not lose what’s inside me. I travel a lot lately since getting my driver’s license and buying a car. I enjoy the weather whenever I get the chance. I can’t go far, but I have driven as far as Incheon Airport. I haven’t felt anything particularly special about buying a car, but listening to music while driving is a new feeling. It’s so different from listening while you’re walking.”
Maybe it’s a little soon for such reflections? He is calm throughout, as calm as the fields at night. It may be that what he needs is bigger, bigger, even bigger ovation. So let’s applaud him once more before continuing. “I heard a lot of praise, too. I was really happy when I heard [your] comment that I sang like ‘crazy.’ But I think this now and then – what if I step on stage today, and the lights come on, but there’s no one there. There’s really no one. Or there are, but they aren’t focused on my music. Would I be able to sing with my heart? As a singer, I ought to be able to sing passionately even in such circumstances, but I get doubts. Would I really be able to…?”
While we were watching his overwhelming performances, what did he, himself, experience standing on that stage? Our appreciation of Taeyang’s music is built on a certain belief, and the praise for his stage performances is such that one can’t even find any of the all-too-common “anti-”s. (Park Jin Young has said that Taeyang has gotten to the level of playing with the rhythm.) Yet, he speaks of fear. Well, there are easy solutions. He could just continue to show us. He could just overcome it and prove it. He could be sly and occasionally give the public what it wants. Say, leak a “legendary video” of him singing a song that can display his amazing singing skills – a very common occurrence today. “Um, I don’t know. If I wanted to, I would have done it.”
He stutters a little, “It’s… It’s like… I think it’s like this. If I really like that artist, if I truly like that song, then I can sing it. But to sing a difficult song simply to show off how accomplished I am… I’ve always felt that a song is meant to share its sincerity and to move people. Singing just to show off your level and craft is meaningless.” He is unsparing. It wasn’t anything to dither about, but it was such a rare kind of comment that it vibrated with me.
His singing is not about how many octaves he can climb, or how amazingly he can sing the climactic section of “Nothing Better.” It’s not the kind you can contend against someone else’s. In fact, he may not be able to win such a contest. Instead, we give ear to Taeyang’s singing because of his voice color and his supple vocal expression. It’s because he doesn’t sing with an acquired technique of “this must be sung this way.” Rather, his sincere effort to always put himself into his singing is beautiful. When I joke that he would get an express ticket to legendary status if he sang “Creep” [Crip? Clip?] or “She’s Gone,” his eyes smile first – instant baby face, and after such mature conversation.
“When I was younger, my nickname was “Ddongbae” [potbelly] or “Ddong” [dung]. But mostly “Ddongbae.” At the time, I hated “Dong” more than “Youngbae.” Because they made fun of it no matter what. Even to this day, I’ve yet to meet anyone with the last name, Dong, who isn’t a relative. No matter how uncommon your last name is, you’re usually bound to find at least one other person in school with the same name. So I had this feeling of being remote and alone. Now that I’m older, I just see it as rare, unique.”
Twenty-three years old. It’s an age when you know some things and don’t know some things. That goes for anyone, but not everyone thinks deeply about it. “I know my faults very well. In the past, I was really afraid that others will find them out. But early this year, there was an instance when I really opened my heart, and I also changed a lot while releasing and promoting my album. I’m still young, and I think it’s an age when it’s okay to show myself hitting against [struggling, going against] something. That doesn’t mean I can be a spoiled child, of course.” Nonsense. A spoiled child plants himself in one place and throws a tantrum. Taeyang is moving forward. “I think the next solo album will take as long as this one. I was working hard on this album, and it still took this long. Then again, if I change the mindset that it needs to be a full album, I can release singles now and then when there’s time and promote that way. It wouldn’t be bad to promote the way I did with “Wedding Dress” last year. At the time, it bothered me a little that I couldn’t commit fully to my solo activity. But, looking back, it meant a good song didn’t get lost [amongst the album tracks], so it was pretty good.”
Until Solar came out Taeyang rarely left the studio, to the extent that his boss had to push him to meet people, so there is no reason for me to advise the same again. I only suggest generally – wouldn’t it be nice to just do what you want to do freely? “I’m a singer, not a producer, so I enjoy being on stage the most. Being on stage is more fun than leaning too much in one particular area. In a way, I’m able to endure the time in the studio because of the thoughts of being on stage later.” Then shouldn’t he get out of the studio more? “My ideas, whether they are melodies or lyrics, begin outside the studio. That’s why I’m sensing increasingly that travel is important, and I make memos on my iPhone now and then. If I were more outgoing, I would have probably written more songs. But because my natural character isn’t that way, it takes a lot of time and effort to get one song out.”
In an era when everyone is clamoring for attention, when ridiculous sayings and music that isn’t even music gain popularity based solely on celebrity, Taeyang says he wants to spend more time. “Truthfully, my personality doesn’t really suit this era or its trends. You have to make things quickly and always be doing something. Ultimately, in order to express something fully, I need to gain a lot through experience. And, most of all, I want more time for myself.” I ask again how old he is. And suddenly wonder about a twenty-seven year old Taeyang. “I’m curious, too… How I’ll be.”
I ask this earnest young man two rather juvenile questions to close. They both begin with “when.” Firstly, when will he have a romantic relationship? And secondly, when will he go for his military service? “As far as relationships, I trying to first meet a lot of people. Starting with the people around me, I feel like I need to get to know a lot of people. And of course I’m going to serve in the military, but I’m praying every day that the reunification will happen sooner rather than later. ^^” I won’t explain his expression after he said that. (By Jang Woo-Chul/Editor)
Translations by Sylvia@ALWAYSTAEYANG.COM | Do not remove credit when posting elsewhere
Thanks to Sol-mate for the photo scans