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Rolling Pod (Rolling Stone Korea Podcast)
K: Today's guest is musician Jung Yonghwa. Hello.
J: Hello, this is Jung Yonghwa. Nice to meet you.
K: So we finally meet here. I said this before we entered: it's our first time seeing each other, but it feels like we're familiar.
J: Same for me, too.
K: It wasn't awkward at all. Back there, we just went straight to talking about miscellaneous things and the army. What I'm most curious about is, were you aware of me before?
J: Of course, of course.
J: Since a long time ago, you've always served as a commentator. I see you all the time. I always saw you on TV, and now that I met you in person, it feels different but somehow familiar.
K: Did you watch my appearance as a Grammys commentator?
J: Yes, right. I was always watching you.
K: In addition to that, I also wanted to ask you whether you've checked out my remarks about your music, whether it's on social media or (published as reviews).
J: Yes, I have. My fans often let me know, so that's how I read them. I've always been very grateful to you.
K: I see. There are many of your fans around me.
J: Thank you.
K: How should I put it? Some artists have lots of fans who have a general level of fervor, but in your case, you seem to have "core" fans who are very deeply into you and have been on your side for a long time.
J: It does feel that way. How should I put it? I'm always truly thankful for that. Since long ago, my fans seem to think of me as someone really perfect. It's a little...
K: Is that a burden to you?
J: Rather than a burden, it's much more of a motivation for me. They make me think, "Alright. Then I should work harder." I'm always thankful, and because I know (how they think of me), it makes me strive further.
K: Is it like, "I'm not as perfect as you think, but since you consider me so, I shall put more effort that way"?
J: Yes, it is. To me, I feel like, "I'm not THAT great..." but they'd say...
K: That you're a genius.
J: Right! They seem to take me that way. I would think, "I'm not at that level, but I should do what I can to meet their expectations to an extent." Whenever I'm going through a hard time, reminding myself of this gives me strength. This has been going on for more than a decade, which has become all the more heartfelt.
K: When you look back on such reviews from back then and see yourself right now, even though you still might not be perfect, do you feel that you have improved to the extent that you aren't embarrassed (of your work)? For instance, when you held this new album in your hands...I'm sure you've heard praises like, "Jung Yonghwa is such a songwriting genius. He's so good at making music." At one point, did you ever feel like, "With this level of achievement, I've done well"?
J: To be honest, these days... in the middle... actually, in the early days, I was so confident.
K: When was that?
J: When I first debuted. I was so confident that, when I look back on it now, I wonder how I could be that confident. I was afraid of nothing. I used to think, "I am the best." But with more experience, I came to...
K: See what you lack.
J: Yes, what I lack. I kept thinking I needed to be perfect, and that got me stuck in a rut. I fell into so many slumps just by myself.
K: What caused you to fall into slumps?
J: In my case, it's when I depended too much on the outcome.
K: You mean sales?
J: Yes, sales.
J: There's a progression (of thoughts). It starts out with, "People are ignorant of my music." Then, as time went on, it made me think, "Was I wrong about this?"
K: Because the time keeps passing.
J: Right, as more time passes, I'd think so many times, "Am I on the wrong track?" I thought this way for many years.
K: Around what time did you think this way the most?
J: Before I joined the army.
K: That was around 2018.
J: Yes. But that had been going on for quite a long time, as I felt it.
J: Now that I look back on it, it feels like I shouldn't have thought of it that deeply. But back then, there wasn't any slump from particular activities, but it was about the outcome. I was affected too much by the sales, and (the negativity) kept getting deeper and deeper. I couldn't set my direction right. There's music I wanna make, but... Originally, I used to think that I needed to make music that was popular, something that the general public and my fans would love.
K: It's best if you make music that people also like.
J: Yes. Since long ago, I have really strived my best to find the middle ground between what the general public likes and the music I want to make. There was a struggle inside me. I didn't want to make music that only caters to the general public. I wanted to make music that I also liked. I tried hard to meet in the middle. That made me fall into this labyrinth...
K: It ended up being neither.
J: Right, it made me feel that I couldn't do either. This went on for quite a long time. Then, I went on to think, "If I tried something new, would the general public accept me?" Even though I've done many acting projects and variety shows, I didn't think as deeply as I did about making music. When I was in the army, I thought I wouldn't worry about these things once I was discharged. I'd think, "I'm gonna make music that I want because I'm in my thirties."
K: It happens to everyone. Before you're discharged, it feels like you can conquer the world. You're full of confidence.
J: Right! That's what I thought. When I'm in my thirties, I'd sort things out. I won't think such thoughts anymore. I will only go in the direction that I want to go. But now that I am in my thirties, it's not that easy.
K: What was it about? Did the same pattern continue, or something else?
J: It was hard because thoughts kept popping up every now and then. I'm all right, but every now and then, the darkness from the past...
K: The shadows...
J: The shadows would creep up...
K: and submerged you.
J: And submerged me. It still lingers sometimes. That's what made it difficult for me many times.
K: But that's because you have the fundamental identity as a singer-songwriter. If you're just a star, success is determined by your label. To be frank, if you're singing someone else's song, it's their song. You have the option to think, "Let's get a better song next time." But if you're the one making music, you have to negotiate between what other people like and what you're good at.
J: Right, right.
K: For instance, you released something with a very popular approach, in your opinion. But there's no response to it. Then it gets--
J: Exactly. That's the kind of struggle I was going through so many times. I'd often think, "What am I doing?" When I first started out, my dreams were (huge). Now that I've debuted, I wanna be on the Billboard charts.
K: You always said Billboard No. 1 was your goal.
J: I always said that everywhere I went.
K: Is it still your goal?
J: It's something I always dream about. But it's--
K: It's not unattainable, though.
J: In my early days, I'd just say, "I'm gonna make it happen, no matter what." I was really full of confidence and believed in it. How should I put it? Back then, everything I said was accomplished. Whatever I said I wanted, I earned it.
K: You were the icon of accomplishment.
J: Yes, yes. When I debuted, I said, "I'm gonna win the rookie award. Next, No. 1." Whatever I said, it came true. At the time, I even had thoughts like, "If there is a god, god made me the main character." I was so confident.
K: You were very self-satisfied.
J: I really was. I had a conviction about myself.
K: Because you didn't know failure.
J: Yeah, because everything was going well.
J: Although I was afraid at the time...I did feel afraid a bit. That's why I wrote many, many songs back then. I really wrote a lot. I was super busy, but after I was done with the day's schedule, I would go to the studio and write songs all night. I'd sleep 1-2 hours, then go back to work. I'd be like, "This one's good, this one's good, too." Everything was exciting and fun. It seemed like (my dream) would come true. It was so much fun.
K: It empowered you so much with a sense of efficacy.
J: Right, right. I loved it so much. Then, it started to feel like (the dream) was becoming farther away from me.
K: When was that, if you could describe it this way, the first taste of "bitterness" you had? Oh, why is there a mosquito here? Was there a specific instance that made you feel that way?
J: It feels different now, but there's a song called "Can't Stop" by CNBLUE. After our world tour, the first one by a Korean band, we wrote songs and made that album, Can't Stop. If I look back on it now, it did very well, loved by many. But at the time, it didn't live up to my expectations. Not even 10%.
J: To me, it was such a well-made song.
K: It was actually quite popular.
J: Yes, it fared well.
K: It was a turning point for you.
K: It was mentioned by Billboard, too.
J: Right, right. It was received very well critically. But at the time, I thought it should have done so much better. I guess back then, it was difficult for me to accept it. Since then, from my perspective, it became less and less evident (in terms of popularity) compared to the level of heat that I could recognize before. I thought this wouldn't do, and I kept writing more songs. But the more I released music, the more it seemed like the heat was dissipating. That was the painful part.
K: You lost the excitement.
J: I lost the excitement. The dreams that I constantly reiterated since my debut, like becoming an artist on the Billboard charts, became embarrassing, to say out loud.
K: In the beginning, you had nothing to lose.
J: Right, right.
K: You were just starting out, so everything you achieved was a milestone. But after you've accumulated them quite a bit, it no longer lives up to your expectations.
J: It didn't live up to my expectations. Saying these dreams out loud started to sound...
J: Far-fetched, yes. And because of my pride, it made me say such things less and less. There's a track called "Note to Self" on this album. I wrote the lyrics thinking back on those times. It goes like this. There is a book that I used to read all the time. At some point, this book was abandoned on the back shelf, collecting dust. But it's not something I can throw away. I'd often feel that (my dream) is like that book. Still, it still lives within me.
K: The ambitions, dreams, and aspirations for something grander.
J: It's always there. It's always there, but the moment has come where it's more and more difficult to discuss it. It also overlapped with many other struggles.
K: The fact that this is a struggle for you means that you're someone who can't give up that (dream).
J: Right, right. I can't give it up.
K: Whatever you said, it would come true.
J: That's right. But because of these (desires), I was always able to move forward. To my fans, too, because they have been following this side of me, my history to date, I feel that perhaps that is the reason they continue to have trust in me. Now that I think of it.
K: They know that you've experienced this kind of darkness and released music after much consideration.
J: Yes, right.
K: They understand where you come from, your backstory.
J: Yes, yes, yes.
K: Even around me, there are people who couldn't wait for us to meet one another. This is something particular to me, but aside from my musical taste, there is a certain type (of artists that I am interested in). As a critic, there's a kind of...I wouldn't say my principle per se, but it's a characteristic of mine. I really like underrated but talented artists.
J: Whoa...I see.
K: I mean, you say you are a successful artist, and that's a fact. But to me, JYH is someone who has many interesting aspects. However, so far, so-called music critics aren't recognizing him as much. The moment this thought came to my mind, I became very interested in you.
J: Thank you.
K: This isn't to say I am trying to hype you or anything. It means there's more for me to talk about you because people don't know about that side of you yet.
J: I see.
K: Around the time that you released One Fine Day, I thought, now that you have reached this level, that critics would -- but then, I'm sure you're well aware that at the beginning, they weren't very fond of CNBLUE or JYH. Because you've been involved in certain unpleasant events...
J: Yes, that's right.
K: Your music should have been first introduced and then reviewed, but it's because the reputation was damaged to begin with. Music critics have always disliked idols, and being a rock group and a rocker (exacerbated their attitude). Wasn't that tough for you?
J: At the time,...
K: I mean both back then and now.
J: Yes, it was tough back then. Still, despite the hardship, I was so confident.
K: You were successful.
J: Aside from that, I was very confident. I believed that in the end, everyone will recognize. I wasn't afraid of that. They're going to recognize, for sure. What I thought instead was that when it comes to bands, there was still a kind of...
J: Yes, there's still a kind of preconception (about what a band should be like). If that's the case, I'd thought, we should just become even more successful as we continue our career. Once we hit it bigger,...back then, we were very fond of Maroon 5. We wanted to follow their path. That's what we thought. Let's become more famous as a major band. That way, we could...
K: Make them understand.
J: Yes, make them understand. I thought of it this way more than the other way around.
K: Around that time, in addition to various other opportunities, I became interested in you. That's when I wrote, perhaps, the first full-fledged music review of your album, One Fine Day. It was published in IZE magazine. I wrote an article that saw JYH in a new light as a songwriter.
J: Yes, yes, that's right.
K: Not as an idol or as the leader or vocalist of CNBLUE, but...this is because of how I actually felt it at the time. You're not just CNBLUE's JYH, but a musician with capabilities as a composer and a producer. That was my new interpretation of you, and this review was the first instance where I became familiar with you. I began to have more and more interest in you since then. It's been quite a long time, though, now. Eight years.
J: That's right.
K: In fact, wasn't that album a key turning point for you, too, right?
J: Yes, it was to me, too. It made it exciting for me again.
K: About music?
J: Yeah. When I was lost about what to do about my music, it gave me a new sense of vitality, perhaps. It made songwriting so much fun again. The album was a stimulating experience.