The Korea Herald


[INTERVIEW] Eric Nam talks about first English album, hopes of winning over global fans

By Hong Dam-young

Published : Nov. 14, 2019 - 21:16

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Although he doesn’t make as many TV appearances as he used to, Eric Nam’s musical career is in full swing -- more than ever, in fact. Over the past few years, the 30-year-old Korean American singer has made himself known both in the K-pop scene and elsewhere with world tours, genre-bending music and high-profile collaborations with world-renowned acts. But he decided to get more intimate with his global fans with his first English album, “Before We Begin.”

“I’ve always wanted to release an English album, ever since I became a musician. Many people have asked me if I was trying to break into the global market, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m just slowly gearing up for it. And with the global rise of K-pop, as a bilingual artist, I thought it was the right time for me to serve as a bridge between cultures and promote K-pop,” said Nam during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

(Stone Music Entertainment) (Stone Music Entertainment)

His self-made album is fronted by the rhythmic pop track “Congratulations,” featuring Marc E. Bassy and a song about the sense of freedom that comes after ending an ailing relationship. It also features seven other love-themed tracks, all written and composed by the singer himself. While in the past Nam often released songs in both languages, he said by crafting the new album in his mother tongue he could fully immerse himself in the creative process.

“For the past few years, I had to write songs in English and then come up with Korean lyrics later, but delivering the original version’s emotion and context was really hard work. With ‘Before We Begin,’ I felt way relieved because I didn’t have to do that kind of work,” he said.

Atlanta-born and -bred, Nam went on to share that he’s struggling with his musicality in the K-pop scene, where his musical taste wasn’t well received. When he came to South Korea to pursue his K-pop career, he spoke little Korean and his pop-leaning sonic flavor didn’t quite fit into the K-pop sound.

(Stone Music Entertainment) (Stone Music Entertainment)

“While I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in Korea, I felt that I wasn’t in the right place as a singer. Many people criticized my pronunciation and style, which they said was too popish, white people-like, or buttery. I would often wonder, ‘Maybe I am not that appealing as a singer. Maybe I won’t be successful as a singer,’” recalled Nam in fluent Korean, which he spent years honing.

“But music was so important to me. So I decided to develop my own style in order to gain confidence. As a result, now I am finally able to do music I like regardless of other people’s comments.”

Nam was a bicultural musician. He grew up with pop music, admiring Ed Sheeran, but also started off as a K-pop musician when he made his first TV appearance in Korea in 2011 on a famous audition show. And for Nam, promoting an English album didn’t clash with his K-pop identity. Rather, he believed it would help expand the genre’s reach globally.

“In the US, acts like BTS and Blackpink have already become mainstream, and I’m so grateful for that since I also get to have more opportunities. But still, many people think of K-pop as just a genre where idols with brightly hued hair dance in sync, unaware of the fact that there are many other genres in K-pop -- like R&B, ballads and hip-hop,” said Nam.

“And I thought I could show the other side of it and make it more accessible to global fans as a bicultural musician who promotes in the US. I don’t think music is confined to nationality or language. People listen to good music.”

(Stone Music Entertainment) (Stone Music Entertainment)

To translate K-pop into the US market, the musician decided to follow its rules and localize his strategy. But at the same time, he believed he could bring out the best of himself when he felt comfortable with himself. Nam said his forte is that he tries to localize for whichever market he’s in and finds out what he’s best at. “Sometimes I do feel unstable, but I think having an honest conversation with myself is crucial for continuing a stable career and mindset,” he added.

The multitalented musician, who used to be a popular master of ceremonies and entertainer in Korea, plans to keep gaining recognition as a musician rather than a TV personality. Consequently, he is less visible on the small screen, but has a bigger presence at festivals and on stages. Going back and forth between Korea and the US, however, Nam will continue to take part in local radio programs and music-themed reality shows in Korea.

“Recently, somebody asked me if I’d retired because I wasn’t doing reality shows anymore. Honestly, I was afraid that I might feel depressed if I didn’t achieve the same level of fame as before. But I’ll just keep doing what I’m good at, making efforts to make my music known around the world,” he said.

Nam has toured around 15 North American cities last year, followed by shows in Australia and cities in Europe through March to June this year.

“Before We Begin,” which comes out Thursday evening, features “Come Through,” “Love Die Young,” “You’re Sexy I’m Sexy,” “How I’m Doing,” “Wonder,” “No Shame” and “Runaway.”

By Hong Dam-young (