Jeongmin, now an accomplished singer-songwriter, used to live in the glitz and glam, wear heavy makeup and dance in front of thousands of crowds.
For eight years, he was a vocalist for the now-defunct K-pop act Boyfriend, signed under one of the major K-pop labels, Starship Entertainment. Since 2011, the youthful six-piece boy band had a promising start with numerous hits like “I’ll Be There” and “Janus,” especially flourishing in Japan. But just like many K-pop acts, the group disbanded last year after an extended hiatus. Jeongmin was lost in darkness, but music helped him find a way out.
“I was totally lost. I didn’t know what to do next, whether I should enlist in the military or find another job. Honestly speaking, I had resorted to alcohol a lot back then,” recalled Jeongmin during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.
It was just like any other night. After drinking with his friends until the wee hours, he called up one of the producers he’d stayed close with on his way back home. “He was a longtime producer for Boyfriend. So I called him to ask for advice. I told him that I was nothing without music. We talked for long hours and finally reached a conclusion, to establish a new label together.”
In June last year, Jeongmin launched his own label called Araline with producer Han Jae-ho, the founder of the famous K-pop producing team Sweetune. Becoming a songwriter was a dream come true.
Now, under a new roof, the now-26-year-old is more prolific than ever. Through a steady stream of mellow ballads, Jeongmin has successfully positioned himself as a rising star in the scene, releasing three albums so far and performing over 18 gigs across South Korea and Japan. He is set to drop another self-made ballad on April 6, “Thinking of You (working title),” which he explained was an uplifting song fit for spring.
The transition was successful, but shedding the label “K-pop idol” wasn’t easy. “I’ve definitely changed a lot since leaving Boyfriend, but people still tell me that I haven’t fully broken out of it,” said Jeongmin.
“Back then, I was ‘idolized,’ with my overall behaviors and words being stiff and unnatural. I was getting used to faking smiles in front of cameras. Our company had manufactured a lot of things of us, and I had the feeling of losing myself. Now I’m more like, let’s say, ‘a normal senior in college,’ rather than an idol.”
There also have been times when he felt his company wasn’t supporting him enough. He would complain that his agency was keeping him boxed in, and wasn’t encouraging his songwriting or pushing him to take the next steps in his career.
“But thinking back, all I had to do was keep making efforts and living to the fullest. As time went by, I was recognized and my music was in demand. It was just a matter of endurance,” he said. “I’ve matured a lot over those years and though there have been ups and downs, I’m grateful for what I’ve been through.”
Clad in a plain oversized shirt, the idol-turned-musician looked relaxed and comfortable talking about himself. Now he doesn’t shy away from showing his bare face and disheveled hair to fans in early-morning live broadcasts -- something that once would have been unthinkable. He’s also been posting videos on his own YouTube channel that capture his down-to-earth daily life.
The concert-oriented musician went on to share his hopes of connecting with fans by releasing new songs more often and playing more gigs at festivals. One of the tasks on his to-do list is to perform riverside at sunset with a hint of a breeze.
“I’m not a showy person. I hope fans could approach me in a friendly way and I want to show them natural and raw sides of me,” said Jeongmin. “In the past, I used to hear thousands of fans’ screaming coming from distance on stage. Now the stage isn’t that big anymore, but I’m enjoying that cheer more closely.”
Wrapping up the interview, the former Boyfriend member expressed his affection for his ex-bandmates.
“We still keep in touch and see each other a lot. I’m not sure if we will reunite as Boyfriend, but I have a feeling that one day, all six of us will get together for sure,” he said.
By Hong Dam-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)