[KPOP/INTERVIEW] 2AM: UPCLOSE AND PERSONAL
“Jo Kwon is the “It boy”!” This is how Jo Kwon described himself during the “Radio Star” segment on MBC variety show “Golden Fishery”. That is very true. Jo Kwon and his group 2AM are the “It boys” of the moment. Their new single instantly shot to No. 1 on digital sound source chart and they are all over the television.
But come to think of it, they were quite a strange bunch. In 2008, they debuted with a charismatic image yet presented themselves as idols who are starting from rock bottom, singing that “the only thing to give you is this song.” And rather than becoming talk of the town right away, they looked like a group of hard-working singers.
Two years later, they have finally started to establish an identity. They are one of the most sought-after guests on variety shows and their most recent single “I Can’t Let You Go” topped online sound source charts immediately after its release. 10Asia talked to the group who is steadily rising to top.
10: Your single “I Can’t Let You Go” topped singles charts as soon as it was released.
Jo Kwon (Jo): I couldn’t believe it. The highest our song ever ranked was No. 3 on a chart with “This Song.” But “I Can’t Let You Go” topped all real-time charts within an hour of its release. And it was the first time I had seen the members of my group look so happy. Chang-min’s face was all red when he came home and how he smiled!
10: Topping a chart as soon as a song is released also proves how popular you are. Do you realize how popular you are?
Jo: I do a bit now. Since even the elderly recognize me. It had been my goal to show the real me and be loved by people by appearing on variety shows so I’m happy nowadays because I think its gradually coming true.
Seulong: We all like going on variety shows so we’ve enjoyed appearing on them but it’s been hard too. Kwon in particular had such a tightly-packed schedule that he had to get IV shots in between too. But I think we’ve gotten to see such good results because we tried hard.
Changmin: And in the meantime, we also kept talking about working on an album. That we want to make a comeback.
10: It must’ve not been easy taking care of your vocal cords.
Jo: It’s actually difficult. Since I have to keep talking when I’m shooting MBC make-believe reality show “We are Married.” too. But it’s all about self-management. I go to the hospital if I’m in the least bit worn out and drink lots of water. I don’t want the rest of my group to suffer because of me. Whatever situation I may be in, I want to do the best job I can at singing.
10: I think your feelings toward each other must have changed during the past year because of the different schedules you had.
Changmin: There were times when we wouldn’t see each other for days. But I think we grow closer during rough times. We worry more for the other person.
Jo: Jinwoon kept text messaging me while I was shooting SBS variety show “Family Outing.” He sent it right when I was feeling tired saying, “How is it? Careful you don’t catch a cold.” I felt so thankful to him. Some people ask if other members of my group don’t envy me since I sometimes have the busiest schedule but we don’t have any qualms about it. We’d been trainees together for a long time, going through hard times together, so we are good at understanding and being considerate toward each other.
10: What did you think of “I Can’t Let You Go” when you first heard it? It seemed like producer Bang Si-hyuk put a lot of though into it — so that it could be received well by the public.
Changmin: We too immediately said the song was going to be a hit.
Seulong: I felt a bit awkward singing it in the beginning because it wasn’t the JYP style I had become used to but I started realizing how great it is while recording it.
10: It was impressive how your harmony in the hook of the song was emphasized, different from your previous songs. It expresses your voices better as a group.
Jo: I think harmony is important in appealing who we are. Since we are singers and part of a group. We hadn’t harmonized for the recorded version of “This Song” but we did when we performed the song live.
10: Jo Kwon, you lead the harmony. Is there anything you keep in mind in particular when you sing?
Jo: I think emotions are crucial to harmony. The listener will be moved when we put our hearts into the song rather than being too technical about it. I’m the main vocal for the hook but when every member concentrates on the lyrics and pours his heart into his singing, we can make the melody sound like it is sung on a single note rather than several.
Seulong: “I Can’t Let You Go” is a song which shows that we are indeed a group. I hope people will feel and think that we are a group, not a 2AM which pursued their individual activities upon hearing how we harmonize.
10: What did Bang Si-hyuk ask for when you recorded the song?
Jo: Both him and Park Jin-hyung always emphasize that we have to sing as if we’re talking to someone so that our emotions get delivered to the listener. The difference between them is that Park will point out everything about the song, to the smallest detail, while Bang will ask us to sing the song in the way we feel about it after looking at it overall. He’ll then coach us until we express the emotions in the right way.
Changmin: Park is a singer-turned-producer so he’d give us vocalization lessons while recording a song. But Bang emphasizes expressing the emotions more. We kept practicing based on that and what we thought worked so I think that’s why the album may seem different from our previous albums.
Seulong: I have a part where I sing as if I’m churning out the rhythm. I like grooving as I please so I think it was easier to express who I am as a singer with this song.
10: How was singing “I Can’t Let You Go” for you, Jinwoon? Part of the lyrics that you sing says, “I get hurt too, even if I’m young.”
Jinwoon: I sang it the way it was written. I had a first love too and everything but when I tell people, they often say “What would you know when you’re so young.” I really sang it the way I feel it.
10: At the SBS Music Festival last year, I saw Jinwoon patting Seulong’s shoulders. It looked like you do your job as the youngest of the group.
Jinwoon: He told me to, as if I’m practicing playing the drum on his back.
Changmin: We step on him when we’re at home.
Jo: He does a good job of being the youngest. (laugh)
10: In reality show “We are Married,” you guys seemed to give off the vibe that you as a group would attack intruders when Jo Kwon’s make-believe wife Ga-in appeared at your house.(laugh)
Jo Kwon: We do that. Do everything as a group.
Seulong: We were able to act comfortable around her when we shot that because we’re friends with her. And she came to our house as Jo Kwon’s wife so we tried to make it funny.
10: Jo Kwon, it seems that you’re going on the dates that you usually don’t get to do through “We are Married.”
Jo: At least I can. There are cameras and a lot of people around when we shoot the show but I don’t mind it too much. I really have fun with it.
10: Well fans usually object against idols going out but I think the response is a bit different with you and Brown Eyed Girls member Ga-in.
Jo: I’m surprised about that too. I didn’t know we would receive this kind of response when we first appeared on the show. I think some people think we would actually look good as a real couple because we treat each other like friends, quite comfortably. I also think we’ve scored some points from fans after appearing on the show because I get to show the more masculine side to me and Ga-in is seen more as a lady who knows how to act coquettish, different from the slightly haughty look she puts on when she’s performing on stage.
10: You seem to be the one who acts more coquettish though. (laugh)
Jo: I can’t help it because I’m younger. (laugh)
10: What do the rest of you think?
Seulong: He acts exactly the same as he usually does.
Jinwoon: It’s fun watching other couples but Jo Kwon and Ga-in really look good together.
Changmin: I envy them a lot. For the fact that they can date so openly. (laugh)
10: Well it can’t be all fun, especially since you’re all becoming busier with your appearances on variety shows. Jo Kwon had to participate in a sports event on “We are Married” even though he caught the stomach flu. What keeps you going?
Seulong: I think the common desire to make 2AM successful.
Changmin: What we said when we first started appearing on variety shows was that one’s individual popularity equals to that group’s popularity. When we go on a show, we introduce ourselves by saying, “Hello, I am 2AM member whoever.” And by saying this, the viewers get to hear the name of our group. That’s what was important to us — making our name known. When we first debuted, Park Jin-young used to tell us, “Wherever you are, at a small event or on TV, put yourself out there with the mindset that you’ll each attract just ten fans that day.” I think that helped us a lot.
10: And I think the response to “I Can’t Let You Go” proves that. I think your group has entered a new phase due to your activities during the past year. What sort of team do you want to become in the future?
Seulong: First of all, we want to keep going the way we have been going so far. Show our real selves on variety shows, sing sincerely on the stage and be good at self-management and also taking care of our throats. We’ve gotten where we are now because we steadily built on our experience so I think we’re stable now. I think that if we keep going, there will be a day we receive even more love from our fans.
10: Changmin has to answer three questions in a row. (laugh) First, why did you change your singing style? When we listen to you sing “Another Day” in high school, your deep voice sounds very attractive. Do you think you will go back to singing in your old voice tone?
Changmin: For the time being, no. My real voice is the current voice but it was the trend back then to sing R&B in a deep voice like [Fly To The Sky singer] Fany, so that is how I did my vocal exercises. But I kept getting a sore throat singing like that, so I started doing vocals in my own voice and changed to my current voice.
10: I will read you this question, asked by one of your fans, word for word. “When I heard you were a military-graduate-idol, I thought you would be very old but was shocked that you were surprisingly youthful.” Why did you go to the military so early?”
Jinwoon: He called you “youthful”, not “young”…
Changmin: My mother told me to go. She persuaded me by saying things like if I go during my freshman year of college, she will buy me a car when I get back. Or that there will be no obstacles in pursuing my singing career if I fulfill my military duties. I wanted to go to the army later because if I became a singer first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep doing music after I went off to the military. That is why I went early.
10: Changmin is an idol but he gets ignored a bit on KBS variety show “Star Golden Bell”.
Changmin: I get ignored a lot. (laugh)
10: You are an idol and ballad singer. What is like to play a character who gets attacked like that?
Changmin: Honestly, in the beginning… I sort of liked it. I thought they were expressing their interest in me and I had said I wanted show my funny sides a lot. But after a while the fans would laugh when I was singing ballads. (laugh) That was a little hard on me. But the image that I show in variety programs is sort of the guy-next-door image, so when I get attacked on entertainment shows, I attack them back. It was a little difficult for a while but I don’t feel the pressure now.
|2AM member Jo Kwon [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]|
10: What kind of thoughts run through your head when you get involved in spontaneous situations, like when you suddenly had to start beatboxing on “Radio Star”?
Changmin: That I have to do it. I could be bad but be honest and give my best shot at it. If I run out of breath, that could be funny too.
Seulong: I think on variety shows, people accept you the way you are as long as you are honest about whatever it is that you’re doing.
10: So you were being yourself and got misunderstood in the Netherlands as being gay with the “Dirty Eyed Girls” video. [“Dirty Eyed Girls” is a parody group of Korean girl band “Brown Eyed Girls” composed of two 2AM members and three 2PM singers.]
Seulong: I sort of overdid it in that… (laugh)
10: How do you feel about doing many variety shows even though you are very skilled singers?
Seulong: It is all right because we ourselves enjoy appearing on them. We like talking with a lot of people on those shows.
Changmin: There are people who listen to our music more after seeing us on variety shows, so I like it.
10: Jo Kwon, have you felt that you could really date Ga-in after having appeared on MBC variety show segment “We Got Married”?
Jo Kwon: I think I would be lying if I said I don’t have such feelings at all. I heard that even actors believe that they are truly in love with the person while they are acting to express romantic emotions toward a lover. I think it is a similar case with “We Got Married”. I think we’re increasingly developing these wonderful feelings as we get to know each other’s personality and charms.
|2AM member Changmin [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]|
10: How did the other members react when Jo Kwon said on “Radio Star” that he “almost became a 2PM member but saved 2AM by coming to this team”?
Seulong: It was true and bitter to hear too.. (laugh) There was a 2AM member among 2PM singers too. Like all the trainees at the company, Kwon and I went through seven different combinations of groups before finally making our debut as 2AM on the eighth combination.
10: When Jo Kwon took his college entrance exam, there was a heartwarming story about Changmin making a lunchbox for him. What about when Jinwoon took his exam?
Jinwoon: My mom made mine. Everyone had a very busy schedule…
Changmin: We couldn’t go and support Jin-woon when he took his college exam because work ended late in early morning. But we plan on going to his graduation if we don’t have any work that day.
10: Fans really loved to see Jinwoon wear his school uniform and many have requested that he keeps wearing the uniform in college.
Jinwoon: I heard there were schools in the U.S. that wear uniforms, so if you send me to the U.S….
Jo Kwon: Just wear it. Wear a sailor uniform.
10: If 2AM could hold a solo concert, what kind of performances would each of you want to put on?
Jinwoon: At the last fan meeting, I made a digital sound source myself and sang a rock song. But the sound was disappointing because it was not a live performance. When I do a concert, I want fans to see me making music with friends that I have been doing music with.
Changmin: I want them to hear the songs that I really like. Personally, I like everyone from Ray Charles to Rancid, but so far I have only song trot songs. (laugh)
Jo Kwon: I want show them a unique and fantastic performance.
Seulong: Lady Jo Kwon?
Jo Kwon: Not Lady Gaga, something cool.
Seulong: I want to do a performance but with no dancing. I want to just stand and sing a song like Ne-Yo’s.
|2AM member Seulong [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]|
10: Are there any activities that you want to do separately? I think some fans still want to see Seulong’s body accentuated.
Jo Kwon: Shoot a sexy photo spread?
Jiinwoon: Im Seulong sexy photo spread!
Changmin: If you appear topless, you’ll get mistaken for a woman.. and become famous in the Netherlands again.
Seulong: I do work out harder because fans like that side of me. Everybody wants to do solo activities, and I do too. But I think we still need to work as the group 2AM.
10: In the teaser video prior to the album release, there was a scene where Seulwong got soaked in the rain and you received an outpouring of questions such as, “Seulong, how did you bulk up your chest?” (laugh)
Jo Kwon: His chest was big even before he started working out. His chest feels hard because it is all muscle now but before working out…
Seulong: Everyone is born with certain exceptional body features. I was born with an exceptional chest. (laugh) The trainers at the gym always touch my chest, saying that they want their chest to be like mine. They told me to “develop the area which is best developed” and that is how I got to be like this, but all you have to do is just work out hard. But you can’t do anything about what you are born with, so you have to give it up. (laugh)
10: After watching “We Got Married”, fans even wanted to know what kind of smell was coming from Seulong’s room.
Seulong: Oh come on.. that is so wrong. My room doesn’t smell, right?
Jinwoon: That is because you are in your own room.
Seulong: No! I don’t smell! Really!
Changmin: There was one time when we left a chicken breast in there and it rot. (laugh)
Seulong: That was because I am very forgetful and I forget to remove lunchboxes and stuff. It doesn’t smell now.
10: What about the rooms of other members?
Jinwoon: Not really…
Jo kwon: Oh, your room smells too. Sometimes it’s even worse than Seulong’s room.
|2AM member Jinwoon [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]|
10: Jo Kwon seems very confident. (laugh)
Jinwoon: His really doesn’t smell.
Jo Kwon: I buy a bunch of air fresheners and put them in my room. I put about two in Seulong’s room and I even put in moisture removers in all the closets. (laugh)
10: What is the most radical thing that you have done while working as 2AM?
Changmin: Taking my glasses off. My eye sight is 2.0 and I feel uncomfortable wearing glasses. So I took them off for wardrobe and concept reasons. Some people like it and others tell me to put them back on.. I think that was a radical thing. (laugh)
Jinwoon: Hitting my chest during my singing. (laugh) It was okay to hit the chest but I went too far by saying on the radio, “What I can never give up on stage is hitting my chest.” If I give it up now, I feel like losing.
Changmin: Chest-hitting was not in the original plan, but he did it once during the music video and got a pretty good reaction from people. And he’s been hitting himself ever since.
Seulong: Looking back on it now, I think I went a bit too far with “Dirty Eyed Girls.” (laugh)
10: How did you guys react after shooting “Dirty Eyed Girls”?
Seulong: I didn’t think it would be such a huge hit when I was shooting it. When we get together with the 2PM boys, we get along really well, even better than you see on TV. We just did our thing and people really enjoyed watching it.
Jo kwon: I knew it would become the talk of the town. (Licking his lips with his tongue) We do it like this — how could it not be a hot topic? (laugh)
Changmin: I still remember these guys saying, “I think this will surely get us onto [Korea’s year-end music festival] MKMF.”
Jo Kwon: And we really did it a lot on variety shows.
Seulong: They still make us do it.
10: You will probably have do something beyond that performance to make them stop.
Changmin: Beyond that? What in the world can we do…
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