By Kang Myeong Seok
A man named TAEYANG crouches in the dark. And then, he slowly walks out. This is what his title track “EYES, NOSE, LIPS” is like, from his new album <RISE>. Even his M/V takes him in an extreme close-up and then moves away to show his entire body. The song takes us through a very detailed and slow journey, one that guides us to slowly reach the feeling instead of immediately to the emotion. There are no high notes while the melody slowly lifts his emotion to climax, and he beat that was glued as one becomes separated in more details as the melody goes on. The journey that could even seem stuffy describes the bitter journey the singer had to go through. When the song ends, the man leaves the darkness of his heart and into the light. Leaving out all techniques and performances, TAEYANG became an ordinary man who sings about the long-gone love with his heart instead of his voice, getting out of the shell of a big star. This is the journey the star walked on for the last 4 years, producing this album. He embarked on a journey when he began preparing for the album, and now I am here with him, who returned with the new album. What kind of a person did he become, after the years of his journey?
How does it feel to release an album after 4 years?
TAEYANG: It is actually going really well, but it doesn’t feel real. When someone congratulates me, I feel like I should be congratulating another artist called TAEYANG. (laughter) Before I released it, I wanted to unveil it as soon as possible and move on to the next one.
In 2012, you said your album was nearly ready. It took you 2 more years.
TAEYANG: Back then I strongly wanted to dig into what I wanted to do deeper. Back then, in the U.S., medium-tempo R&B had reached its peak and the direction became unclear. I encountered new R&B like that of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. They are mainstream now, but as they were underground musicians back then, I had to look for mix- tapes to listen to them. I wanted to be the first musician in South Korea to try the genre.
To put it precisely, what you wanted to do is PB R&B (mixture of Electronica, Rock, Hiphop and R&B). I can see some traces of it in “LOVE YOU TO DEATH.” Why didn’t you try it fully?
TAEYANG: What I had in mind was completely opposite to what the agency had planned. I felt like this genre could become a new trend, but the agency thought it is too deep and unfamiliar to the public. So we tried to convince each other. At first I found it difficult to understand. As a member of BIGBANG I am already doing mainstream music, and what meaning does it have if I do it again on my own? Shouldn’t I try something no one has, and try it no matter what the outcome is? So it took me a while to understand and decipher the intentions of the agency.
So you understand them now?
TAEYANG: I am still a little saddened by the fact that the album did not follow the exact blueprint I had designed. But looking at it in a different perspective, I may not have completed the album perfectly enough to fully convince the agency to let me do what I want.
What made you think that?
TAEYANG: I really enjoyed the time when I was eager to find what I want to do, or was searching for my passion. That phase continued for 2 years after I released my last album. I just loved doing that. And I loved the music that was produced then. But I wasn’t being objective. My dreams became too big, and when I showed my music to others, they didn’t see what I saw in my music. And then I lost my direction from there. And I am back to what I am good at, what I am supposed to do and what I can do.
That’s how strongly it stayed with you.
TAEYANG: That’s right. I travelled often—for my music, but in search for myself as well. People ask themselves about who they actually are. Since the debut, I worked without taking a break, half willingly and half by force. So I forgot what I loved to do, what makes me happy and what my hobbies are. The journey was to find those again.
Did you find them?
TAEYANG: I think I did. And I am happy. Before, I didn’t know what made me so uncomfortable and upset in certain circumstances. It was about who I was, but I only thought about what happened. But now I know who I am better than before. I also know that I get more energy when I follow my passion freely.
Everything points to “EYES, NOSE, LIPS.” The song is close to PB R&B, but with a complex melody. But it was successful with the public.
TAEYANG: That’s true. Some might view it as a simple ballad, but the beat in the song is something that wouldn’t normally be used for ballads. It is the most appropriate song for me right now.
Your agency seems to agree. It leaves out any performances, which seemed to be your strength, but it was chosen as the title track.
TAEYANG: I worked too hard producing songs up to “EYES, NOSE, LIPS.” I wanted to do the genre that I was attracted to, so instead of focusing on the feelings or sincerity of music, I focused on the feelings I get from the sounds. It was important for me to vocalize something that went along with those sounds. But as time passed and my album release was delayed, I was forced to think more. That’s when I realized music is a medium to convey my emotions. I realized that sharing and conveying those emotions with others can move people’s hearts. That’s when “EYES, NOSE, LIPS” was produced. So it was a song that openly expressed my emotion, and my boss told me the public will find it fresh. He said I never let such details of my voice stand out before, so let’s go with it this time.
Is that why you sang it with such details? Every verse sounds like you are talking. It is like seeing a monologue from beginning to end, pouring out your emotions.
TAEYANG: It’s hard to put them in words, but I think the song was a compression of what I had been through until now. Before, I only tried to convey what I heard. But now when I listen to music, rather than focusing on vocal techniques I understand better the emotions and the feelings. So every time I sing a word it feels different. EYES NOSE LIPS is quite different from the intro “RISE” and “LOVE YOU TO DEATH” which I sang long before. I wondered if I should sing with my current emotions all over again, but I did think, although I gained more depth in me, the energy I had back then couldn’t be relived. So I decided to keep the past songs as memories.
The melody of “EYES, NOSE, LIPS” changes gradually but continuously, and ends completely differently to the beginning.
TAEYANG: I think it was natural that it happens to be that way, because the song contains elements that have become so familiar to me in the last 4 years. My circumstances led me to make a song like that. I could have exploded my feelings in the song. I could have broken into tears, yearning for the love that’s gone. But for me, tears welling up were what it was. Instead of blowing up an emotion, you try to oppress it, dragging it until the end. Because you don’t release it, there is something that lingers, and that’s what I felt. Just like the emotions linger after letting go of someone you love, I wanted that yearning to linger after listening to my song.
It is very like you, to dig deep into the song and express your feelings with such details. Even upbeat songs like “STAY WITH ME” and “RINGA LINGA” have similar complex structures.
TAEYANG: It wasn’t intentionally done that way, but passage of time led me to this path naturally. Preparing this album, I took more time understanding the sentiments of the song instead of singing it. After fully understanding it, I sang the whole song at once except for the part where my voice overlaps in “This Aint It”. Before, I would sing the same verse repeatedly to convey emotions better, but this time I would be struck by a certain feeling and would just sing through. I picked the best one out of the songs that were done this way.
Sometimes don’t you want to show a voice that can immediately appeal to the public? You don’t hit any high notes, and even if you did, it seems like you are hiding them they don’t stand out.
TAEYANG: I would do it if I liked that kind of songs, but I am not interested at the moment. Passionate songs are necessary sometimes, but I like touching the detailed emotions now. People might like songs that hit high notes, but as time passes, I tend to catch every little emotional detail of songs.
“RINGA LINGA” and “STAY WITH ME” seem like a transition period. Structure is complex—“RINGA LINGA” is completely different to “EYES, NOSE, LIPS” as it involved a trendy melody and dynamic performance.
TAEYANG: That song definitely has an essence of me as well. It was my first single before my album release, and I strongly wanted to create something that I can showcase. That applies to the performance as well. I wonder what it would have been like if “EYES, NOSE, LIPS” was out first. Going through dance moves like “RINGA LINGA,” I grew fond of free expression instead of a tightly structured one.
The album <RISE> is about the process of starting with “RISE” and returning to “EYES, NOSE, LIPS.”
TAEYANG: No matter what the outcome is, it’s definitely got that process. (laughter) A long journey that holds what I searched for, did, and gained in the last 4 years. So songs from different phases are in the album. 4 years ago the Intro was made, and things I felt and had to admit for the last 4 years are in the album as they are. It is far from an album that was created in one set period of time. During the 4 years, I worked on many songs and felt different emotions every time.
Did you want to include more songs? You must have worked on a lot for the last 4 years.
TAEYANG: That was my main concern until the end. We were picking the tracks as the release date was approaching, and we originally wanted to include 13 songs. But in the end we very objectively chose 9 songs. We left out all the songs that seemed like I was trying too hard to show what I wanted to do.
But considering what you have been through, didn’t you want to include more? Like, including the not-so-perfect songs? (laughter)
TAEYANG: Yes, it still stands true. I partly want to produce a mixtape with all the songs that aren’t included. I want to see the public’s response. Even if the unreleased songs were classic, it will never get a chance to become one. If the public thinks it’s not good, I would also want to know that. I want to actively pursue this after consulting my agency. I can’t tell you the details now, but we are trying to do something interesting. On TV what I can showcase is limited, and the agency agrees with me that we put as much effort as we can when I appear on TV. I want to do a lot of performances and concerts. I would like to continue doing guerilla performances as long as it is well received, and after I am done with concerts in Japan, I will hold some in South Korea.
We hope to see you as a solo more often, because the journey is now over. (laughter)
TAEYANG: For some reason my motto has become “going slowly.” This album took 4 years, so I will still do the next one even if it takes 6 years! Hahaha! I’m joking. I can’t tell the future, but I will search for music that can satisfy both my passion and people’s desire for sure—so that the songs I sing can build people’s expectations.