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[Interview: GQ Korea July 2014] Taeyang: “To Me”


“To Me”
Editor Jang Woo Cheol

Taeyang has released his new album <Rise>. The title song ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ has not only maintained the top spot on domestic music charts for a long time. It is also doing well on international iTunes charts. In Japan, he will soon be conducting a multi-city concert tour. As a solo artist, he is experiencing what can be described as success, more so than ever. And yet, Taeyang said, “I don’t have much to say. If possible, I didn’t even want to do interviews this time.”

Do you remember the texts we exchanged the morning of the album’s online release?
Yes. “This is the way you did it? Congratulations.”

And your response to that text?
(Laughs) “I didn’t do it like this. It just turned out like this,” I said.

Should we start from there?
After [the last album] <Solar>, I didn’t really think much about what to do as far as the next album was concerned. I just went on a lot of trips. As to the next album, I figured I’ll just do whatever I want. The music I was into at the time was very dark, cold underground R&B, and when I tried to make that kind of music, I ended up butting heads with our company a bit.

You didn’t think that would happen?
In hindsight, I don’t know why I thought this, but I thought I would be able to do whatever I wanted for the next album. No one would care…

You figured YG’s commercial expectations wouldn’t extend to Taeyang’s album?
Right. That had been the case up until then. And I guess I ended up going too far.

When you say underground R&B, do you mean artists like The Weeknd?
Yes. At the time, I found it very fresh, and I felt it was my direction. I’d always done R&B, but in the last five years, R&B music had become kind of ambiguous. Melodic, medium-tempo songs had already reached their apex. It had lost its spark, even for me. So I wanted to be the first one in Korea to release this new kind of music. (Laughs)

You wanted to release it before Frank Ocean’s <Channel Orange> came out, essentially.
Yes. Right. (Laughs)

But the company, or more specifically, Yang Hyun-Seok, felt differently.
The company’s wish was for my music to appeal to more people. It was hard for me to accept at first. But I realized that, if I continued to be stubborn, the album would never come out. And I thought… My obstinacy, my inclinations are only going to grow stronger with time. The things I don’t want to do, I’m going to want to do even less and less. And if that’s the case, maybe I should try to accept things when I can still be a little open-minded. And I changed the way I approached making this album. I think, as I made each song, I lent an ear to what a lot of people had to say.

With YG, there’s this strong image that, compared to other companies, their artists are unrestrained and allowed to express themselves freely.
(Laughs) I think there’s a misperception. There can’t help but be a difference from what you see from the outside, looking in. In the end, this place, too, deals with mainstream music and deals with the general public. To compare, I’m the gambler, but I’m not the one who actually decides how to bet. I make the moves, but it’s the company that looks at those moves and makes the bet. And as the company continues to grow in scale, its musical colors have become more varied. Sometimes, it’s still hard to believe a group like Akdong Musician is in our company. Anyway, now that the album is out, the thought that comes to mind is that, maybe, this method suits me. There may be a difference in my level of satisfaction, but I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. What did you think of it?

I suppose you could say this with most music, but it’s an album that reveals good things the more you listen to it. When I watch Yuna Kim’s competition performances over and over, I start seeing little moves, nuances that I hadn’t noticed before. It’s similar. I discover these moments that show me that you really put a lot of care into it. That you didn’t just brush past anything. What interesting pronunciation. What interesting choice of word.
Hearing you say that makes me feel like the things I took such care to express came through after all.

Have you listen to the album since its release?
I think I still need some time before I could listen to it [objectively] with a cold heart. I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to talk about it when that time comes.

You can still speak about it without being cold-hearted.
So far, I just… For now, I just want to let the album lay. I just want to hear what people have to say. I don’t have much to say. If possible, I don’t even want to do interviews this time.

Goodness… Then aren’t there ways to release the music you originally wanted to do?
Honestly, I’ve thought about it, but that would be a last resort. ‘Fine, then I’ll release it on my own,’ is not the way I want to go about it. When they’ve acknowledged it, or when I’ve convinced them, I feel that’s when it should be released as a proper album.

You’re getting the best reception of all your solo songs so far. So what’s with the tone of this interview?
I know, right? (Laughs) That’s why I didn’t want to say too much, but here I am saying it all. (Laughs)

What was the first song you made?
‘Intro (Rise).’ When we first made it, I thought, this is it. As soon as I listened to it, I could visualize the track arrangement [album structure?], even the album packaging.

It grabbed me. The sound was sophisticated, and there was a feeling of big dreams, of moving through large, expansive spaces that I liked. And the phrase, “Put your hands in the air” – it conveys that sense of travel. But when the intro ends, it’s followed immediately by ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ and ‘1AM.’ It’s like the journey ends abruptly, and we’re suddenly somewhere here in Hapjeongdong.
It’s true. In this album, dreams and reality coexist like that. (Laughs)

You and Teddy wrote the lyrics to ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ together, right?
As the album kept getting dumped and delayed, Teddy hyung and I talked a lot. Our conclusion was, let’s make a song that’ll have people saying, “Oh, he’s a really good singer.” Okay, so let’s make a love song. Over the last four years, I’ve loved, and I’ve parted. And the things I had jotted down on my notebook became this song. It’s just my story.

You sang the song beautifully during your debut stage <Inkigayo>.
Did I?

You didn’t know? Because you’ve always emphasized performance, I think your voice and your singing were, in a way, things enjoyed only among those who seek out your music. But with this song, you sing it in its entirety. There’s not even a chorus even.
Yes, I have to this time. To be honest, when I’m performing, I don’t have the compulsion that I have to sing everything well. But I try because then people make a fuss, “Why does he sing so carelessly?” So there was a little bit of, “Okay, then I will just focus on singing this time. What do you say now?” (Laughs)

I could feel you singing with such care. I may not be able to explain it clearly like an audition program judge, but it’s the kind of thing you can just feel. A part of me thought, “Here’s a guy singing about heartbreak, so what’s with all the earrings? The tilted hat? Did he get dumped because of that?”
Haha. But it’s my experience that when you break up, you really do start taking care of your looks more. When things are going well, you go around wearing whatever, but when you break up, you start to care. You really do. I don’t know if it’s because you want to mend the relationship, or because you can’t stand to see yourself crumble, but you really do.

Then when you went to Paris Fashion Week dressed up like a peacock was when you [broke up]…?
(Laughs) If we’re going to talk about Paris Fashion Week, it’s a lot of fun watching the shows. But, the whole time, I was uncomfortable with the appearance that I was there just to be seen, a celebrity wanting to be photographed. When, really, if you’ve been invited to a show, it’s simply courtesy to wear their clothes and try to look good… To be honest, the first time I went, it was an escape, in a sense. I would stress and stress about the album and just feel stuck, never getting anywhere. So I left to refresh myself and have a change of pace. But the second time I went, I realized it. What this is about. I don’t think you’ll see me [in that kind of setting] again.

‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ is followed by ‘1AM.’ But why is it 1 o’clock?
Actually, for me, it would be more like 4 or 5AM, but I figured 1AM would make more sense for most people. When you come home a little later than usual. You take the last bus home, and you’re a little drunk or your head’s just starting to clear a bit.

I guess that’s how lyrics are. When it’s written from personal thoughts and experiences, you can relate to it more. These two songs about love start the album. Their position at the start – was it simply because they were the title tracks?
Basically. Since the track order does influence the songs’ sales. My idea originally was to follow ‘Intro’ with ‘Love You to Death,’ but to say let’s open the album with a song that barely made it into the album was… In the end, the ‘Intro’ and ‘Love You to Death,’ the two songs closest to the music I originally wanted to do, ended up book-ending the album.

The first two songs are followed up by ‘Stay with Me,’ ‘Beautiful (Body)’ and ‘Ringa Linga’ – a set of songs with fast tempos and a club feel. I think ‘Stay with Me’ is your best collaboration with G-Dragon so far. It’s like a photo in which both of you came out good.
Yes, I think so, too. That song came about because, well, the album I was trying to make originally had no featurings. And that, from the company’s point of view, was another matter of concern. (Laughs) I gave it some thought. I would have loved to sing ‘Let Go’ with Cho Yong-Pil sunbaenim, so I pursued it, but we were pressed for time and couldn’t make it happen. I went to him with the song, and he told me the music was good, but that he didn’t have the time to sing on it. In a way, I was grateful he declined because I understood that he’s not someone who does anything casually. I didn’t want to rush it either. Anyway, I needed to include a featuring,and Ji-Yong is the person I spend the most time with, both in and out of the studio. Ji-Yong is very adept, you know. He’s my closest friend, but [it amazes me] how he’s able to take in everything and process it in his own way. I watch him, and it influences me. He goes with the flow and yet still maintains his own color. With Ji-Yong, I really share my inner thoughts. I can’t whine to the composer hyungs after all. If things aren’t going well, as the artist, it’s my position to cheer them up and say, “Let’s try again.” But to Ji-Yong, I can act my age. I can say whatever is welling up within, and he listens. And we talk about women, dating issues and stuff. ‘Stay with Me’ came about really late in the album’s progress. I like it, too.

Last year’s ‘Ringa Linga’ is a little different though. Listening to you, Tayeang, sing, “Ladies cry over my body” made me, I’m sorry to say, giggle a little from embarrassment. On the other hand, in terms of style, choreography and performance, it was the most intensity you’ve shown.
True. I agree that, lyrically, the words and content weren’t something I related to. But I think that song was important in a way, timing-wise. In terms of timing, it wasn’t bad. I was going to the Paris Fashion Show and stuff (laughs), so it didn’t seem like a bad move to sing this trendy club tune. The lyrics are a little different from my style, but I was confident in the way I expressed it through performance.

And with that, we move onto the second half of the album. ‘This Ain’t It’ was the most unexpected song on the album and, personally, the song I listen to the most.
It was unexpected for me, too. I heard it by chance and liked it, but it didn’t occur to me to sing it. It’s a song that CEO YG said would sound fresh if I sang it, so I said I’ll try.

It’s a different genre from what you’ve done, and I find your way of pronouncing, your way of phrasing things expressively, refreshing. As the one singing it, how did it feel?
Unfamiliar. Since there is no rhythm [to latch onto], you have to rely purely on emotion to guide you to the end. I was lost at first. I tried just singing it my way. Then I tried singing it as if I were crying. But emotions are subtle. About the fifth time I sang it, I think I found my way.

I found your pronunciation particularly intriguing. You pronounce [the vowel] ‘eo’ as something between ‘eu’ and ‘eo,’ making use of the Seoul Kyeonggi area dialect.
That was… I told you I just sang it my way at first. But I guess it was really extreme. The people listening were like, “Why are you singing with such a strong accent?” I’d never heard that before. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s just how it came out naturally. Not intentionally. I didn’t try to sing that way on purpose. That would have felt forced. I only realized after recording it. “Why did I pronounce it like this?”

What an amusing story that only a singer from Euijeongbu could tell.
(Laughs) Pronunciation is so important. I’m not saying you always have to speak precisely. It’s like being able to understand with your head what you’ve expressed instinctively. ‘This Ain’t It’ was, in many senses, unexpected for me, too.

‘This Ain’t It’ is the first song of yours that I would want to listen to alone on my way back home from a trip. I can’t help thinking that’s something quite meaningful for the singer, Taeyang.
It’s something I’ve thought about, too. So when I hear you say that, I feel good.

You mentioned the featuring earlier, but the next song ‘Let Go’ makes me think of Cho Yong-Pil.
I remember hearing this song’s melody for the first time. I heard it on the stairs on my way down from the third floor to the second, and I really liked the sound of it. I only realized after recording it that it reminded me of Cho Yong-Pil sunbaenim’s song. “Oh, it really does.” But I never used it as a motif or anything. Later, I even considered changing the arrangement, but I seemed to be the only one thinking that. (Laughs)

And then the final track ‘Love You to Death’ begins. Right after the album’s release, you said at a press conference that it is your favorite song. And that it barely made it into the album. I think that could be interpreted two ways. That you included it because it was your favorite song out of the music that you had originally wanted to do. Or that it was the one song that at least somewhat fit in with the album.
It’s true that it’s a song I really like. But there’s actually another song I like even more out of the work I did with [Happy Perez]. The reason I chose ‘Love You to Death’ is because it suited the album best. More than anything, I like the lyrics. It’s passionate. You’re saying you’d die for this woman. And the sound is masculine, too.

Are you passionate?
Yes.

Is that something you realized after experiencing love?
I think so. When you like somebody, you definitely become [passionate]. Knowing that about myself now, I feel like I should control myself in advance so that I don’t fall so deeply.

If it were that easy, why are there so many love songs in the world?
True. I’m not even aware of it – it just happens…

One time, I was listening on iTunes, and, like magic, The Weeknd’s ‘Wicked Games’ came on after ‘Love You to Death.’ It felt disconcertingly good, as if a film that had ended restarted in a fresh and strange way?
I do think… I’d like to present this album in a different way somehow.

You’re being quite cagey.
You know. An album’s only out when it’s out. A concert only happens when it happens. (Laughs)

You’re doing a tour in Japan, right?
I wanted it. My biggest motivation for releasing an album is to perform. Since the album’s out, the next step [is to perform]. I think, after touring in Japan, I’ll be able to show a more seasoned concert in Korea.

So what’s next for you?
It’s hard to say. Whether it’s through this album, or through each and every performance, or, even through any misunderstanding and by clearing up the misunderstanding, I hope it’s all a process of approaching my true self as an artist. I think, possibly, I discovered a lot of different sides of myself through this album. You could call it confidence. Maybe it was an image of my own making, but I don’t want to make music while feeling trapped by the attention of people who seek only that image in me. All the time and opportunities that come my way, I want to confront them. Whatever my image, whatever the reaction, I think I have to go all the way. Whether through inner struggle or through traveling, ultimately, my disposition or color as a musician is going to keep growing stronger. No matter the song, I want to persuade people with music and project myself within it.

“More so than to anyone else, to me. I’m singing to myself,” is the impression I get.
That’s true.

“Not to you as much as to [me].”
Right.

Do you approve of the singer, Taeyang?
To tell you the truth, before, like when I was doing ‘Where U At,’ for instance, I think I was very satisfied with the idea that I was doing what I wanted to do. But if you were to ask me now whether I like who I was as a singer back then, I’m not sure. But I could tell you I like myself as a singer now. And I think I’ll like myself even more in the future.

I feel like I should shout, “Fighting!”
(Laughs) Before I look at myself as a singer, I look at and study the people I feel are true singers. Cho Yong-Pil sunbaenim is one. And also Kim Choo-Ja sunbaenim, having listened to her album. And I feel like I start to understand things I didn’t understand before, and I start to take after them. If, in the past, I may have thought, “That’s so cool. I want to be like that,” now I find those sides within me naturally. And that makes me think I’m on the right path as a singer.

Kim Choo-Ja’s album came out on the same day as yours. As a listener, I found it a very fun coincidence.
I didn’t know Kim Choo-Ja sunbaenim before. But listening to this album, I marveled at her way of expression. That there is a singer who could express herself like this. It made me feel deeply what it is to sing something your own way. Why that’s important and so difficult. My dream is to create music and performances that persuade everyone without a doubt. I’m sure I’ll come across some stumbling blocks along the way, but there’s something cool about having no fear. Really, a singer just needs to be cool. It seems artists who persevere like that receive less attention from the public. Not many people take notice. And because of that, standards go down.

All you can do is just keep going forward, continue along your path. You are fortunate and blessed that you can walk that path with the people who blazed the trail and with other cool contemporaries.
Yes.

Earlier, didn’t you claim that you didn’t have anything to say?
I don’t.

Should we talk about gardens and interiors? You’re very engrossed with them these days.
Yes, I’m moving to a house with a yard, so I started getting interested in these things. There’s a table I’ve been wanting to get, but it’s so expensive that I couldn’t even consider buying it new. But I heard you can buy it cheaper if it’s vintage, so I’ve been combing the internet lately.

There’s a bonsai tree here.
It’s a cherry tree. For some reason, cherry blossoms touched my heart this spring. I watched the petals falling along the streets and thought, “They blossom once a year and then disappear with such beauty.” I had never felt that way before. So I bought this bonsai, and I plan to plant a cherry tree in the yard in my new house.

Online edition: Part 1 and Part 2

Translated by Silly for alwaystaeyang.wordpress.com. Please credit in full.

13 thoughts on “[Interview: GQ Korea July 2014] Taeyang: “To Me””

  1. Every time I read a JWC interview with YB, I want to go back and re-read all the previous ones to see how they connect up. It’s great that there is such continuity and someone is right there chronicling YB’s growth as an artist with affection but also candor. It also helps that JWC captures fans’ sentiments so well and can ask all the questions we may have wanted to ask but never get to… (and what’s more, he can get the answers!)

    I love so much about this interview, I need to digest a bit and come back and comment more…

    Also, this is such an interesting contrast with the Vogue interview. Look how the interviewers approach the same topics in different ways but get different feelings and details even though he says the same things.

  2. Wow! Two interviews in one day! Huge thanks to silly!
    I know! These two interviews are overwrapping in funny way. I guess its from the different interaction of interviewer vs interviewee.

  3. Thank you for the translations🙂

    I really like Jang Woo Chul’s interview for YB, it always seem like he knows what to ask. YB is as always, has his own way of expressing what he has to say in these interviews and I really appreciate that. i like to know what he thought, what he felt and is currently feeling and thinking on the album. I’m glad that YB likes who he is now and is more comfortable in this current state than before and I agree with him. It also seems like there were a lot of compromise that he had to make for this album to be released and I don’t think we’re all surprised by that. I want to note the part when JWC commented YB’s singing style, on these little details that YB focuses on because as a fan, I love his singing in this album and it’s obvious he really cared.

    haha yea I’m one of those fans who always comment when YB doesn’t bother to sing all his lines…He knows😛 and i’ve got to say thank you YB for the extra focus in singing😀 I love your voice and I can’t be more grateful haha

  4. Thank you silly for the translation🙂

    So glad to finally read this in it’s entirety. As always, JWC never fails to disappoint us. I think I need to go back and re-read to form some coherent thoughts, but I love this interview already.

    Something that stuck out, for me, was “In this album, dreams and reality coexist” I really love this description. I remember first going through the album and being a little bit confused by the arrangement, but I think this just sums it up perfectly.

    It was interesting to find out how some songs came about, and I do hope YB gets the chance to collaborate with CYP one day. I was especially interested to learn that from the intro, he’d already imagined the album arrangement and packaging.
    I would kill to hear the song he likes more than LYTD. It definitely seems as though the original album was a lot darker.

    I’m glad he’s finally got to a point where’s happy as the singer he is, and that he’ll like himself even more in the future. It’s reassuring to know😀

    JWC had me giggling away in this interview.

    A part of me thought, “Here’s a guy singing about heartbreak, so what’s with all the earrings? The tilted hat? Did he get dumped because of that?” LOL

    “Listening to you, Tayeang, sing, “Ladies cry over my body” made me, I’m sorry to say, giggle a little from embarrassment. ” me too, JWC. So did Body (although that may have been more hysterical laughter than a giggle hehe that song is my jam though)

    Hmm…I think I need to go re-read it again to take everything in. There’s definitely a lot that i need to go over and absorb properly, and I might just go read all the old JWC interviews as well hehe.

    Thanks again silly!

  5. So glad you all enjoyed it. Haven’t posted here in forever, but just wanted to say thanks.

    “In this album, dreams and reality coexist.”
    I love that passage, too. It sums up his feelings, and the album, perfectly. The whole exchange, with JWC saying he feels like they’re suddenly dropped somewhere back in Seoul, is pretty much how I felt. I even reordered the album in my playlist for a while because I found that contrast so jarring. But in the end, it’s what I like about the album. There’s honesty in its flaws. It may not have been the album he envisioned, but there’s nothing not real about it.

    And yeah, the interview had me giggling, too. “Dressed up like a peacock,” ROFL. Welcome moments of levity in a interview that could have gotten quite somber otherwise. JWC for the win!

  6. Thank you so much for your translations, Silly! Without you, we (intl fans) would never have the luxury of experiencing these small glimpses into YB’s head.

    I find I’m able to understand YB a little better with each interview – this was no exception! This was definitely one of my favourite JWC & YB interviews- for its honesty and humour. Like many of you, I was also LOL-ing throughout the read, yet I also felt this overwhelming sadness while reading about YB’s thoughts.. (This is gonna be a looong comment!)

    “…it’s an album that reveals good things the more you listen to it”.I really resonated with this comment, not bc of the pronunciation or choice of words (me not being korean, I didn’t initially notice those details), but more so bc of the general sound of the album. When I heard eyes, nose, lips, I was mesmerized by how hauntingly beautiful YB’s voice was..at the same time I was confused bc it didn’t sound like something YB would sing. Then I listened to the whole album and was even more confused because it wasn’t the sound I was expecting from him. Like YB mentioned, I was hoping to hear some of the cold, dark R&B influences, yet only mildly heard it in LYTD. I was happy he was ‘succeeding’ in the charts and gaining recognition by the general public, however was frustrated at the same time. I decided to give the album another shot and listened to it again and again. During this process, was when I fell in love with the album. I could finally understand the journey. YB’s matured, deep voice (his voice!) shone so beautifully in almost every song. My favourites would def have to be the into, eyes nose lips, This Ain’t it, Let Go, and LTYD.

    That being said, reading this interview, I get this feeling of defeat (or maybe complacency is a better word?) from him.. It may be for now..just for this album, but it’s so evident in the way he answers the questions that his own album is slightly foreign to him. “I didn’t do it like this. It just turned out like this,”; “I don’t have much to say. If possible, I don’t even want to do interviews this time.”; “It’s a song that CEO YG said would sound fresh if I sang it, so I said I’ll try.” “Unfamiliar”.

    The issues of company expectations vs. artist intentions is a balancing act that most singers, actors, etc will have to deal with. I guess it’s partly YB’s problem for naively thinking he could do whatever he wanted, which probably made the blow worst (esp considering he had already recorded and chosen the songs to be released). Having to start again from the bottom would have def been a struggle.

    However I’m also happy to hear that he’s beginning to appreciate it a bit more as well. Not to mention, gaining confidence (yay!). He notes that although it’s different, he didn’t do anything he didnt want to, which is the most important. Although he wasn’t able to release all the music he wanted to, he was still involved, and present in the production of this album is very significant and essential.

    Which is probably why YB loves to perform so much (and why all of us love to watch him live); whether he’s singing pop or R&B, he can always make it his own.

    “No matter the song, I want to persuade people with music and project myself within it.” There’s that confidence shining through!

    I’ll echo JWC – by shouting FIGHTING!

    P.S. Can someone tell him to release a mixtape of all these unreleased songs!

    1. From this interview, it seems that this album is like YB graduating summa cum laude in a course that his parents forced him to take, haha. It’s not that he doesn’t have the talent to do it (and obviously he did well) it’s just that he can’t be completely satisfied with the outcome and then there’s the dilemma of what to do next with the rest of his life!

      Thinking of how Take It Slow and Love You To Death nearly didn’t make the cut for their respective albums really makes me crazy. How many other hidden gems are there in the YG vault? And what do we have to do to get them out?

  7. Thank you Silly!!

    Urgh!! Such a good interview. One thing I love about YB’s interviews is that he makes you think. He doesn’t just give you those typical idol answers but he gives you answers that are real.

  8. I hope someday YB will find a way to presents his music in the way that can be accepted by the market, and approved by Mr. Yang too. At least I know (or feel) that he is a wise & good fighter, with capabilities such as talents, smart, persistence, patient…and recently I’ve read that his brain structure withstands stress well ! That’s an asset..lol.
    But the most important are stay healthy, happy, & fall in love (just write a song when it happen, Baeby ^ ^)

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