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[Herald Interview] Park Ki-young’s motherhood, power of empathy

Singer with over 20-year career talks about how she started singing again after becoming a mother

It was one of those beautiful spring mornings where everything on the street sparkled under the warm sunlight. Stepping into a small and cozy coffee shop located in Hapjeong-dong in Seoul, this reporter was greeted by an unusually warm smile and handshake from singer-songwriter Park Ki-young, who celebrates her 20th anniversary in the business this year. 

“I think my biggest strength is that I have the ability to empathize. I can closely relate to others’ problems, thinking, ‘How can I make that situation better?’” said Park, beaming a radiant smile.    

Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)
Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)

True to her words, “empathy” forms the backbone of her annual project “Four Seasons,” through which Park has been releasing songs every season starting with the winter song “Law of Nature” in December 2016. Most of her songs from the project were crafted based on stories sent by her fans. Through those songs Park sang about the various struggles of life she deeply empathized with, such as job-searching and self-reflection.

But this time with her new spring single “I Love You Too,” she sings about unconditional love.  

“’I Love You Too’ was inspired by my fan’s passionate expression of love towards me, and I thought, all of us can feel the same emotion if we were madly in love,” she said. “And for me, I have already felt that emotion through my daughter and husband.” 

Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)
Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)

Emphasizing her identity as a mother of Ga-hyun, her six-old-year daughter, the veteran singer shared how the “sing for you” project was related to her little girl. Without doubt, her daughter is her biggest treasure as her eyes lit up while talking about motherhood. But parenting also involves grit. When her daughter was born, the singer devoted her time solely to taking care of Ga-hyun, and her singing career halted. “I’m not exaggerating, I was so busy that I haven’t used a hair dryer for two years since she was born,” she said.

“People kept asking me if I wasn’t starring in any TV programs at that time, and I thought, ‘Maybe my singing career will end because of my daughter.’ But what was most important to me was to raise this creature well, the biggest homework for me,” Park recalled. Even the book she was reading before the interview was on child psychology. The song “I Love You Too” also features Ga-hyun‘s voice.

When Ga-hyun started day care, Park was finally able to sit in a coffee shop and scribble some lyrics. And instead of talking about her own life -- mostly parenting struggles -- Park started communicating with her fans and reflecting their stories in her music.  

Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)
Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)

Park cited Ga-hyun as her greatest teacher who taught her the order of nature and the importance of focusing on each moment.

“When raising Ga-hyun, I learned that things happen naturally when the time comes, no matter how impatient I get. She learned how to walk, talk and behave, as time went by. And that’s a big lesson and a blessing for me, as I suffered too much from leading a goal-oriented life in the past,” she said.

“My ‘sing for you’ project, singing a song for ‘one’ person in ‘one’ season, is also focusing on the moment in the same context,” she said.

In order to communicate intimately with her fans, Park has been holding a small scale studio live performance since April last year.

She said this project meant a lot to her, as she gets to look into people’s hearts and become those people when making songs for them.

“I will continue it unless some kind of disaster happens,” she said. 

Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)
Park Ki-young (Moonlight Purple Play)

Now in her early 40s, Park said her life has been full of mistakes and hardships, including legal battles with her former agencies and a divorce. Back in her tumultuous days, she had secluded herself on Jeju Island and furiously drove around in the middle of night to let out her stress. The flame of sensitivity used to devour the singer. But Park said she now knows how to handle the fire.  

“What I realize now is that, my sensitivity actually helped me a lot in raising my child. You just have to let that fire dance inside you, as you will eventually learn how to control yourself,” she said. 

“Singer for fame? Such thoughts left me a long time ago. I sing for myself and to live in the present. If others can find comfort in my songs, that’s an additional thing to be grateful for.”

Checking the clock, she whispered that she soon has to wrap up the interview; she has to pick up her daughter from kindergarten.