Star Timeline: “Youngbae’s Music” :Taeyang devotes half his life to music


No stars just drop from the sky. This applies especially to a K-Pop star whose stage is the world. To become a star, they spend 3 to 4 years of patience and hard work. Training in teenage years is harsher than anything. During these years of training, countless youths quit, being unable to handle the merciless pressure placed upon them. They tuck away their dreams, half willingly and half due to tough reality.

The same harsh years were placed upon Taeyang (Dong Young Bae, aged 26) the lead vocalist of BIGBANG. As a trainee, he fought against himself at the YG Entertainment Headquarters in Seoul Hapjeong for 6 years—that’s 2190 days, or 5256 hours. He chose this path in 6th grade, when he could have spent the years hanging out with friends or doing mischievous things. That’s why he was even more determined. He never tried to cheat, and his 6 years were filled with honest hard work. And his hard work paid off. In 2006 he made a debut as a member of BIGBANG, and now he stands at the top, shining bright.

The hero of this week’s Star Timeline: TAEYANG’s “Time Slip” location is the old headquarters in Hapjeong where he fostered his dream. The new one was built in 2011, but the old one remains as the “dream fosterer” for trainees. The place with bittersweet memories also remains the same way to TAEYANG, who recently unveiled his 2nd full album “RISE,” as his “growth stimulator.”

Looking around the old headquarters on June 15, Taeyang comments, “This place has changed a lot. But what remains the same is the humidity.” Like someone visiting a childhood playground, Taeyang seemed like he was transported back to 12 years ago. He began pouring out the stories that were kept in his heart.

#1. What the 13-year-old Taeyang said changed his life forever: “I want to be a singer”

Since when did you want to become a singer?
“I loved music since I was little. But I didn’t express it since I was too shy. When I was in 4th grade, going to acting academy was in. My family was having financial difficulties so I was sent to my aunt’s and I tagged along my cousins who went to the academy. YG was choosing a children version of Jinusean so I auditioned for it. And I appeared in Jinusean’s music video. I encountered hiphop for the first time, and I wanted to become a trainee there.”

Did you tell that to Yang Hyun Suk yourself?
“Yes I did. After working with Jinusean, I had to go back to my old life. But I didn’t want to. I went to YANG and said, ‘I want to become a singer. Let me train here.’ And he goes, ‘Ok, let’s do it.’ I think he liked how determined I was at a young age.”

That wouldn’t have been easy for a 6th grader to say.
“Asian financial crisis hit my family hard when I was in 4th grade. I didn’t understand what was going on. On one hand I hated that life, but on the other, I thought I should find something I am good at and help my parents out.”

What was your first impression of your boss, Yang Hyun Suk?
“I thought he was ‘really huge.’ Back then, it felt like he was the largest and bulkiest man I have ever seen so far.”

Your parents must have been very concerned.
“At the beginning, yes. But they gave me one condition: ‘You are doing this on your own will. Do not ask for help. You must get good grades at school.’”

You met G-Dragon for the first time around then?
“Jiyong was part of an underground hiphop group back then, until he was chosen by YG. We sometimes fought when after becoming trainees but we only had each other. We were unable to have a normal school life, so all I have of my childhood memories is with Jiyong.”

You must have also seen him as your competitor?
“Back then, YG already viewed Jiyong as a trainee and an artist. I was a trainee who walked in to the building on my own will. I did feel that I was treated differently to Jiyong. So I wanted to learn more. Of course, I partly did see him as a competitor.”

#2. Dong Young Bae’s teenage life: Precious moments with Kwon Jiyong

How was life as a trainee?
“It was like I was part of the real world. Since I was thrown into the real society after only spending time at home and school, I had a difficult time because I didn’t really know all the social etiquettes.”

It must have been really hard.
“It was. Especially because it took so long to get there from my house, which was in Euijeongbu. I finish school at 4 and leave for Hongdae on a bus. I arrive at 6 and train until 11, and run to the bus stop to catch the last bus. It would be 1 am when I arrive in Euijeongbu, and I had to walk half an hour to get home. And then I do homework, and go to sleep after 3 am. My daily pocket money was 2000 won, and I would be left with just 400 won after all the bus trips.”

What did they teach you at the agency?
“The current trainees are trained under a systemic structure, but back then, watching over the shoulders of more experienced dancers and singers was all we got. But we were able to learn how to be a person before becoming a singer. We start by cleaning the agency. Hon Pyo, who is the head of the department, was like the strict watcher back then. He would check how we cleaned, and if he finds a piece dust, we would have to do it all over again.”

Were the more experienced artists friendly and did they teach you techniques?
“It was hard to talk to them. They were already stars. They weren’t that warm to us. I was so jealous when members of 1TYM displayed on the floor their newly bought outfits from the U.S. for their 3rd album, and it filled the huge room. Jiyong and I told each other ‘When we become singers, we can wear outfits like them.’ Teddy was my favorite. I always told myself I would become a rapper like him.”

When was the hardest time?
“I could laugh about it now, but it was when YG Family’s 2nd album came out. Jiyong was singing the title song “Hiphop Gentleman” with other artists, and I was lucky enough to record one of the tracks. YG Family won an award on Music Awards, and I was watching it on TV with my mother. Sean, after receiving the award on behalf of the group, was naming all the artists involved in the album. I never expected him to name mine, but he really ended up not mentioning me. My mother asked me why my name wasn’t called despite getting involved in the album. I felt so bad, and I wanted to hide.”

Your dream was to become a rapper, but now you are a vocalist.
“One day boss asked me if I have friends who are good at music. So I introduced T.O.P to him. The moment boss saw him he asked T.O.P to sing. He was a rapper. Because R&B was more in than hiphop back then, boss asked everyone to sing first. After much hesitation T.O.P sang R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly.’ And I think he was nervous, he stopped in the middle. It was so awkward that I continued singing. That was the turning point. Boss told me, ‘You can sing as well. Practice singing more.’ We talked about why I became the vocalist amongst ourselves recently and remembered this story, and we all laughed our heads off.”

Any memories outside the training room?
“Jiyong moved to Ilsan so we went to La Festa a lot. Back then online community messaging was popular among high school students. When there were rumors of a “pretty” girl, Jiyong would send her messages and actually meet up. We would eat out and go to karaoke and stuff. But the sad part is, most girls were just really photogenic. Haha. Jiyong made possible to do all these things that I would never dream of. I sometimes want to go back to the old times when Jiyong and I hung out in Ilsan.”

#3. 23-year-old Taeyang, hit by a crisis and another opportunity

How was BIGBANG created?
“I thought Jiyong and I would be a duo. But boss was planning to make a boy group. First, Hyun Seung (currently a member of Beast) joined us and we used the same dorm from when we were 17. Then he left, and T.O.P, Daesung and Seungri joined. Back then, Jiyong and I didn’t want a boy group. We knew T.O.P well but didn’t know the other two at all, and their roles weren’t clear either. I didn’t know how I would get along with them. But after training, we realized that we connect really well.”

BIGBANG wasn’t very successful at the start.
“That’s true. “Pretty” boy groups like TVXQ were in. We weren’t tall, nor did we dress pretty. People just thought, so there’s a group like BIGBANG. That’s why we continuously released singles. We released one a month, and during the preparation period we went to different newspapers for interviews. We would go on TV once the album was out, so we didn’t have time to sleep.”

And then “LIES” became a huge hit, like a lie.
“Originally that song was Jiyong’s solo. But boss thought it would be better if BIGBANG did it together. Our music changed from hiphop to electronic. But the outcome was great.”

And thus the heyday of BIGBANG began.
“After that one hit, 4 songs “Haru Haru,” “Last Farewell” and “A Flaming Sunset” in a row became huge hits. And we started receiving grand prizes at music awards. But that was just work. We didn’t get one day of break. No time to celebrate. We wondered if we would be able to eat a meal. After the success in South Korea, we were told to ‘start from scratch’ in Japan.”

BIGBANG had its ups and downs.
“For years all we did was work. The workload led to some invisible cracks among the members. We were exhausted, and we became edgy, but we had to see each other everyday. While doing solo each may have thought a group is not needed anymore. So we became nervous. I thought, are we going to end like this? I agreed back then that idol groups do not last 5 years. And just like that, bad things started to hit us. Members went through ups and downs, and it affected all of us for a while. I was heart broken. I wasn’t the one going through it all, but someone so close to me having a hard time was very difficult to watch. I was pushed to the edge, and then I thought, I do not want this to end. I do not want to be separated from the members.”

Do you still have personal plans that you want to pursue?
“The things we went through affected all members a lot as well. People say solo promotions are for the group’s benefit. But being human, people tend to focus on themselves more. But we are different. We realized that without BIGBANG, we couldn’t do what we want to pursue.”

Have you ever fell off track?
“I once fell off track big time. The four of us filmed a beer commercial, except Seungri who was underage, and we thought after filming it, let’s drive far away in Daesung’s car and hide for a week. We would get caught if we used credit cards, so we even thought about withdrawing huge amounts of cash. We were going to do this when the manager drops us off at the dorm, but he dropped us off at the office. Boss wanted to talk to us. We were nervous, and soon found out he knew about our plans. Seungri told on us. Boss was kind though; he asked us what was giving us a hard time. So we thought, instead of losing our direction, we should talk it out.”

#4. Heart-breaking first love of 21-year-old Taeyang

What was your first love like?
“I am deeply wounded by it. I started liking her before my debut, and I started seeing her after the debut. But because I was so busy I couldn’t confess my feelings, and we spent years just having a crush on each other. I had an important task of making a debut, and I couldn’t date her. But I did see her once in two months. The power that love gave me was infinite. She made me think I should become the best. Her presence was bigger than work for me. That’s why I could hold on despite not being able to see her often. But it wasn’t the same for her. I couldn’t get in touch with her for a while so I was getting anxious, and later found out there was someone else. Everything lost meaning in my life. Everything felt futile, and music felt like work. If this kind of love cannot have a happy ending, I wonder what real love actually is.”

Are you dating anyone now?
“I didn’t date often, but I did date. But I am too busy to see anyone, or have the opportunity.”

You said you want to become an artist that touches people’s hearts. Now that you have become a singer, do you have any other dreams?
“Not much has changed. I still want to become an artist. I don’t think my dream is complete yet. What I pictured in mind was becoming like Michael Jackson. Singing on stage in front of tens of thousands of people while inspiring them. I have much more to do. There is so much I want to show.”

You must have created a lot of great memories with BIGBANG members while you were on World Tour.
“After the concert in London, we went to a club. We were the only Asians. I think people were intrigued to see Asians enjoying the music dressed in cool outfits. Local people approached us asking what brands we were wearing, and added us on their social media. “Gangnam Style” was in at that time, so people asked us, ‘Do you know PSY?’ I like explaining things, so I told them we belong to the same agency.”

What does YG mean to Taeyang?
“It’s my youth. I am 26 now, and I spent half of my life at YG. I will spend more of it here from now on. The agency became huge now. Artists became more diverse. The old headquarters is the same. When I first walked in, I thought everything changed. But the humid smell is till there. Back then, everything happened in the basement—from recording and practicing to management. I think it was most “YG Family-like” back then. The agency is too big to be called a family now. It’s like a YG Town now.”

From Naver  (translation by YG Life)

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9 thoughts on “Star Timeline: “Youngbae’s Music” :Taeyang devotes half his life to music”

  1. Maybe I’m just being fanciful but there is a sweetness and sort of sad nostalgia that doesn’t come across so well in the translation. We’ve heard most of these stories one way or another through the years but you could really feel his heart in what he was saying – like he was really reminiscing and feeling all those lonely and impactful memories all over again.

    The realization that he really grew up within the walls of YG hits harder when you look at a timeline like this. The people he spent most time with apart from school are with the staff, trainees, managers and his team members. So it really is more than just work to him – he knows how people depend on him, and these are people he cares about. It must be especially difficult when career and “family” is mixed up like that because his attachment to people would also greatly affect his career decisions ( and because of the nature of his career, his artistic decisions as well.) As a fan, I really wish we could hear that alt r&b /electronic soul album he has hidden in a basement somewhere, but I also know that he can’t release an album just to please himself. Hopefully, there will be a chance not too far down the road for him to release the music anyway as a gift for fans without any pressure to produce hits for the label.

    In any case, while I do understand the interest in the “back story” behind the songs on the album, especially “Eyes, Nose, Lips” I hope this won’t be the beginning of prying too much into his private life. YB’s consistent discretion in the past has always helped him have a little bit more freedom so it seems a better policy to just continue doing what he has always done. (Though maybe he just wants to finally end all the speculation that he has never dated — he has! And may that be the end of the matter till he announces his marriage hahaha.)

    1. MIXTAPE MIXTAPE MIXTAPE!

      A part of me wishes he would just release all of his solo stuff independently or for free. I get the sense (I mean, YB has been pretty explicit about it) that there was a lot of conflict between YG and YB during the making of this album. I don’t think YB is okay with it as much as he was previously as he is very vocal about it. And I’m sure YG is not cool about be called out that often.

      1. From his most recent Chosun interview [@ibeunjin](and he has said variations of this many times before.)

        “When I released my first solo album in 2010, I was into American underground R&B. I wanted to work on African-American music like Frank Ocean, with cold and dark sound as a base. When I prepared my album that way, the CEO (Yang Hyun Suk) said that the music ‘lacks popular appeal’. The songs that I worked on since then are the ones on the new album.” That’s the reason why it took four years for the second album to be released… The first album was mainly about R&B dance and electronic soul music, but the second album has Britpop ‘This Ain’t It’… Taeyang said “I thought I would be able to create a different feel if I sang Britpop, but I am not totally satisfied.”

        “….I have a lot of concerns about my musical direction that I will take after this album, but in the end, I am just a person that likes to express music through singing and dancing.”

        I have a feeling too, that YB will have to make a lot of big decisions about his career in the next year or two.

  2. i like how this interview gives more details on his youth,his training days and his feeling for his first love. All this while we know that he had a heartbroken first love but he never really mentioned more about it. I wonder if the girl is single now will they be together again? That would be great for him!

    1. I’ve have read many different interviews where he talks about his first love that I don’t know which story is true. There was one interview where he said that they both knew that they liked each other but he never confessed because he saw that she was concentrated on her studies, so he let go so she could do her best and allow her to make her dreams come true. In another interview he said that they argued a lot and it was intense how they “broke up”. I don’t know what to believe anymore.

      1. I have the impression that this all happened over a period of time so all those things could have been true at one point or the other, especially when looking back at the past in various perspectives. Without really knowing details, it’s not going to be easy for us as outsiders to piece things together. (With complicated relationships, its sometimes hard enough for the people in the relationship to figure things out themselves!) I’m glad he’s being vague about the details though – some things should really be kept private.

        What does seem true is that a broken relationship affected him deeply, which was really the point he was trying to make – that he has experienced heartbreak, that it has left its mark on him,, and that is why he can sing the way he does.

  3. Taeyang’s interviews are always a joy to read because he is always candid and honest with his answers. And (omg!) though honest, he never says anything stupid right? Always so thoughtful and insightful to his career and life.

    I almost forgot about his family’s financial hardship during his teenage years. For me its says a lot about his character, determination, and dedication to music to take that risk of pursuing a career that is full of uncertainty instead of taking a safer route (school, college, career) to support his family. Mad respect.

    And the fact that he still got good grades (except that C in math heh) is soooo attractive. *sigh*

    Thanks for the translation!

  4. I first read this interview in Korean from Naver then English translation by Dana and YG. I agree with BM that some of the nuance might have been lost in translation(which is inevitable sometimes), especially the sweet memories with nostalgia and a bit of sadness part. (btw, Great translation! Very much appreciated!)

    YB is a rare breed in K pop industry. This kid never stop amazing me. ❤

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