[trans] Harper’s Bazaar Jonghyun Interview (June 2016) fondueoflight: ※ Do not re-translate into another language
Your actual atmosphere is very different from the sides we see you on TV. You are very energetic on stage but you actually have a small voice and talk slow in real life.
J: That’s right. The image shown on TV and how I am in real life is very different. I feel anxious in front of a camera. (Bazaar: Even though you’re a singer of 9 years since debut?) Even though no one believes it, I still am. Stage cameras are okay but I get very tensed up when I’m on reality or on variety shows. So, maybe that’s why people say I feel much younger on TV. It’s not like that at all when you meet me in real life right?
You seemed to show a buoyant spirit on TV but I feel like you are introverted and calm in real life. You also looked at your smartphone in silence when there was free time in between shooting.
J: I am searching up videos on Youtube. I watch it to keep me awake when I have schedules or feel sleepy. I rarely get any sleep if I have schedules starting from early morning. I started sleeping late out of habit ever since I dropped out of high school as I didn’t have a specific time to go to school. I actually slept only about 2 hours each day until 2 years ago. I felt fine back then but I started to feel a chronic fatigue since last year… I am naturally a sensitive person and I think I’m more sensitive since it’s just before my album release. I am the type of personality who dives into something very fiercely until I finish it. I think about the things I need to revise all day.
You picked dropping out of high school as your first turning point in life. What is your reason?
J: It was a choice that allowed me to escape from puberty. I only realized this by now but I actually just notified my mum (about dropping out) rather than asking her consent. Of course, I asked her permission saying that I have set up this plan, but from my mum’s perspective I think it must have sounded like “I’m going to drop out no matter what”. I think I was able to grow more mentally because my mum respected my choice. My environment had changed in one day and as much as I felt my mum’s trust in me I felt stronger responsibility. It felt like my mind had stretched out as if someone was holding my head and toes and stretched me. So it might have left stretchmarks or scars but it’s a wound of glory.
In one web magazine, they called SHINee as ‘delicate artist’ when picking out the 5 charms of each SHINee members. Do you agree?
J: Naturally I thought differently because I am walking on a path that not an average person would pick since young. It is correct that I don’t fit into being ordinary (t/n: he is referring to his career as an idol). However, I personally feel that being artistic is a phrase that’s been glossed over prettily. People say it’s ‘artistic’ to describe things like ‘it’s peculiar’, ‘it’s not understandable’, ‘it’s progressive’ or ‘his/her opinion is distinct’ in a positive way. I should say its real meaning is a little different from its meaning used in social context. Art is same as well. Isn’t art something about interpreting and expressing something in your own language? It’s not something only beautiful or heavy but the meaning of art in society includes an element of fantasy. In that context, I think idols can be artists too. Art isn’t something very grandiose.
It is right that you don’t fit into the type of an ordinary idol. Even by looking at your music, you fill your whole album only with self-composed songs or you work as a producer and a songwriter for musicians of other agencies such as Lee Hi, Kim Yerim, IU, etc.
J: My dream was becoming a song writer originally. I picked singer as a way to achieve that dream more easily. It wasn’t planned, it happened to be like that as the timing was right but I don’t regret it even thinking about it now. It turned out to be a good fortune. I think idols are artists who are at a very advantageous position. Musicians need to be conceptual and idols are great in terms of exciting one’s imagination. Also people call idols that make music as ‘above expectation’ due to stereotypes even though making music isn’t really particularly something that special. It’s an inherent flaw and a strength that idols have.
You don’t say you love or thank them unconditionally when interacting with fans too. I thought it was very realistic when you said “The relationship between artist and fans is not simply only something just beautiful. We expect, disappoint, impress, get angry with each other… It’s a relationship of a person to person that goes through these emotions several times.”
J: I hear from a lot of people asking “Can idols say such things like that?”. Especially during interviews like this (laugh). But I think it’s the right thing to do to speak honestly to fans and people who know me well. Of course, there will be people who might be upset. But on the opposite, I think it could also hurt people when I hide myself or show something fake. I would rather show my real side, I am not a person who can hurt people by lying. So I always tell my fans that “I’m just a person who show up on TV. We will continuously be good friends.” Fans will know very well about what I mean.
So you’re the type of person who says clearly about your thoughts. In your solo mini album <BASE> that was released last year, I was impressed by the distinct sense of identity that wasn’t collapsed by SM’s planning ability.
J: I think it’s not meaningful if solo albums weren’t like that. My music can be divided largely into two; work that I do for personal interest and work with a purpose of wanting to create a certain image to the general public. Both are meaningful but for solo I think it’s only correct to show focusing on the former. I didn’t want to create another view of SHINee. So while planning for <BASE>, I suggested the company of making a unit or a collaboration album if they wanted to lead the album into the direction that they wanted. I had confidence that my solo album will come out some day even if it didn’t get released last year. The important thing was not when the album would be released, it was a problem about what kind of thoughts I would put into so I didn’t push them impatiently. Then two days later I received a call “Then do what you want to do”. When thinking of SM, people usually have this image of high suppression or no exchange of opinions but it’s not really like that. Since the company has high standard within itself, it might be hard to overcome that wall. But to say my personal opinion… you just need to do well. Then you’ll be able to do what you want.
Did you express freely about what you kept in your mind in your new full album which will be released sometime in May?
J: I wanted to create a sexual album. An album that had an overall sexy nuance not only with the title song and something that would inspire imagination rather than something blindly provocative. But there’s a difference as a producer to start its work saying “I want to create this kind of album” and to reveal “I have worked thinking something like this” after completing it. There were a lot of ‘tackles’ that came in asking me to relax or hold back a little when I proceeded my work letting people already know that it’ll have a ‘sexual’ code. They would interpret lyrics into something that was sexy while it was really nothing…(laugh) It was fun too as whether they were informed about it or not influenced so much on interpreting the music. As a result, I am satisfied because I was able to do things that I like as much I can. Of course, it’s fun and thankful if the album does well but even if it doesn’t I have already accomplished the intended goal.
A sexual nuance that stirs imagination, it naturally makes me think of Maxwell or D'Angelo.
J: Of course, I have neo-soul genre that I sing in a falsetto style too. Apart from that, there’s a diverse genre mixed in the album such as PB R&B and new jazz. Hip hop was so in style for a while so I naturally listened to a lot of hip hop beats. I was able to ease my curiosity on beats that I have recently become interested into such as future bass or trap. In general, it’s a story of ‘having a romantic something between two’ or ‘falling in love’ so there are no break-up songs, not even one ballad.
It’s a concept that makes me anticipate on its presentation, just like how you changed your voice in each track of <BASE> as if you were acting a character. For that reason, you received a review that it was a theatrical album.
J: It’s a part that I consider extremely important. To express emotions comfortably and accurately, you need to use your breaths rather than the tone or depth of your voice. The breaths are all different when you cry, laugh, or be surprised so when you use that appropriately you can show expressions just through your voice. For writing lyrics too, I tend to start work after constructing the personality of the character accurately first. Of course, the idea grows by substituting myself so a lot of my personality is seeped into the character. The most important thing is the situation that the narrator of the song and the listener is in. If I don’t set the general frame, I cannot get ideas on not only about the lyrics but the melodies too.
What kind of person is the narrator of this album?
J: He’s very unctuous but it doesn’t mean he’s flaky. He’s the type of person who makes jokes often and says cheesy things without hesitation. That kind of man that girls scold him saying he’s cheesy but you end up liking him secretly.
I heard you really enjoy writing including lyrics too. You have a habit of making memos of every little inspiration because you aim to become a writer.
J: My dream was to become a novelist or a Korean language teacher during middle school. But after taking my first mid-term exam I thought ‘Ah, I can never be a teacher’ because my grades were so bad. So I joined in the school’s band and changed my career path as making music and writing lyrics. Even when I go see fortune tellers, they say that I have an ability to deliver thoughts and persuade people. The fortune teller said “Your fate is to become a teacher but since you haven’t studied at all you’re a con man!”. (laugh) People who are eloquent or have a literary talent is so attractive as an artist or as an opposite sex. I want to start writing in earnest whether it is poems or novels when I’m over 30.
Your novel <Diphylleia Grayi: Things that have been released and set free>could be considered as a small start then. Why did you write a love story when you said you never read romance novels or watch romantic movies?
J: That’s the irony in life. I thought who the readers would be when I wrote the book just like when I write lyrics. The majority of the readers will be female so I thought what kind of stories from me would they listen and be swayed by the most. And that was a love story. But I thought I could never write more than 2 pages about lovey dovey romantic relationship so I wrote a story about break-up and times after the break-up. I was in great happiness all throughout the writing process because I was able to look back to myself in a different way than writing diaries or lyrics. There are 4 characters in the book. The male protagonist, the female protagonist, singer and a junior colleague of the male protagonist. All four of them are sides of me. Encountering with a character that were given each side of myself, that work was so fun. People usually would think the male protagonist is me but that man is the attitude that I have when doing music and the woman shows the attitude that I have when treating people that I work with. The singer is me from other people’s eyes, and the junior colleague is the side of myself that I show when I’m in love.
That junior colleague had a role of offering condolence silently at a distance.
J: To speak honestly… It’s when I’m in a one-sided love. When I fall in love, I tend to continue that emotion blindly so much that I haven’t loved that many people since I was born until now. It’s difficult and takes a long time until the moment I’m in love. Maybe it’s because of that, I had an abstract plan of making a family before but now I don’t even want to date or get married. I am satisfied with the way I am in life and I’m having fun in making other plans than a romantic relationship so I’m really into that.
I was actually surprised that you found the word ‘Diphylleia Grayi (Skeleton Flower)’. It’s a rare flower that becomes clear when it gets wet, it’s not a word we use commonly.
J: It’s such a pretty flower. I really like finding words like that. If I have a word that I like, I search to know its dictionary definition and think about what kind of social meaning it has. It’s like doing a lot of addition and subtraction with a word. Sentences and words tend to stay in my memory a lot.
Is there any phrase or word that crosses your mind lately?
J: There’s a text message that someone sent me and it remained in my memory for a long time. “Let’s meet for sure before the spring comes.” That sentence was so pretty and it was fun because that person doesn’t use honorifics to me but said something like that. It felt warm too, I wondered why that person said it in a way setting an abstract time limit rather than saying March or April. I felt a little moved by it. I wrote a story and also made a song called ‘Us, before spring comes’ because of that. He’s a close hyung who’s currently abroad and spring has already passed before we got to meet. But I think it will still remain before I release ‘Us, before the spring comes’.
Like all of your lyrics or novels, you are actually a person with a romantic side. Do you think you’re a romanticist yourself?
J: Yes and I’m also a dreamer too. Dreamers are people who dream hopeless dreams. I believe there should be lots of dreamers. Even though it’s a hopeless dream, a change can be induced by having more people who try to reach that dream. What’s funny is that once that dream is realized, they are no longer dreamers. But I hope they stay as dreamers by finding another dream again. It is correct that I am a person who’s objective and realistic at the same time too. What that means is that I know very well that people don’t understand me. I carry out what I want to do saying “I know people will find me strange when I talk like this but I’m still going to do how I want”. It could be a rebellious spirit or a way to attack the unexpected. Things that seem so useless in the eyes of others or things that people would think why would he give such a deep meaning to that extent, things that I can’t even understand; I really like those things.
What other ‘useless’ thoughts do you have for instance?
J: The true meaning of existence? For example, like Santa Claus. Everyone knows that it doesn’t exist in the world but when you do something good due to your faith that Santa Claus exists, in another words I believe it exists regardless of whether its existence is real or not when it influences me in a way. Like that, the boundary of ‘it exists’ and ‘it doesn’t exist’ collapses.
It’s an ‘artistic’ thought.
J: Yes. Artists are people who make the most unpractical things in the world. But I think that’s the difference between creatures and human. Ah, I am into the word ‘creature’ lately. It has a more sophisticated nuance compared to beast but it still has its raw feeling without sounding like it’s a swear word. I think my intention isn’t delivered correctly when I say ‘the difference between a beast and a human’. I think about such things too. What the difference between beast and creature is, how different is its depth. When I talk about something like this people usually say “Yeah. It is philosophical. Humans need to think about such things and look deeper. But do you must…?” or “So, have you watched <Zootopia>?”.