“See you in two years,” Taeyang said after he wrapped up his interview with 10Asia. The magazine has been interviewing the artist in two-year basis: in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. What this coincidental meeting with Taeyang left was a recorded process of his growth as a grown up and changes he had in his life. The idol who first made his public appearance through a reality program in 2006, which revealed all his debuting process to the viewers, became a rising star in black music in the country with his first solo album released in 2008. In 2010, he showed off his talent that gave him the title of a composer, producer and performer in his first full-track album “Solar.” Finally in 2012, Big Bang began sweeping local and international music charts with “ALIVE,” even gaining the ‘Worldwide act’ award at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Now, they are waiting to kick off ‘the’ world tour. During the past six years, the 18-year-old boy has grown to become a 24-year-old man and his group, Big Bang is only a few steps away from meeting a new world. Having experienced the success and the worst scenarios as artists in the past few years, Taeyang is now standing at the half point of his 20s. The group’s popularity has reached its peak and they’re ready to make a new start. Even if it is possible that Big Bang could become bigger stars than they are now, restoring the same vibe and beauty they have right at this moment of their lives would be impossible. 10Asia will be recording that moment of each member for the next five days. First to come is, of course, Taeyang. We hope to meet him again in 2 years.
“I realized that I just wanted to be free.”
Q: You guys wrapped up promoting yourselves in Korea. It seemed like everything you guys would do in one year was all done within just three months. How does it feel?
Taeyang: It was busy but personally, it felt good to think that this was a new start. If we were doing our music activities like this in the past, it would have been hard. But this time, the results were pretty successful and rolling out an album during one of our most difficult times rather helped us. And we were pretty confident about the latest release too.
Q: It literally seemed like a new beginning for Big Bang. You guys are receiving positive responses not just in Asia but also in the United States and Europe. You even garnered an award from the MTV EMA and entered the Billboard chart without any special promotion.
Taeyang: I highly appreciate all the love we have been receiving with “ALIVE,” but it feels rewarding and natural at the same time. I’ve been dreaming about this day in the past.
Q: You imagined that this would happen?
Taeyang: It doesn’t mean that I expected how successful I’ll get. I’m talking about my attitude. While going through so many things and preparing the album, I felt so many things. I began appreciating the other members more and thought that we could do anything with this mindset and confidence. During Big Bang’s promotional period, I always drew the things that I’ll achieve in my mind.
Q: Was meeting global musicians and collaborating with them a part of that picture you had? Now, Big Bang can work with international artists like Under Dogs and Diplo.
Taeyang: I’m so happy that we’re now working with producers that we’ve been looking up to all these years. But this is what we had in our minds the whole time. We wanted this to happen but we sort of knew that it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time. But meeting Queen’s guitarist Brian May was truly inspiring. I was not a passionate fan of Queen when I met him but after that day, I started listening to Queen’s music. I was highly influenced by Queen’s Freddy Mercury. Don’t we look good together? (laugh)
Q: To be honest, no. (laugh)
Taeyang: I wasn’t talking about vocal techniques but being free. In the past, I had a lot of things in my mind that was not related to music. I also had things in my life that I’m not so proud of. But I think I’ve changed a lot.
Q: I think your fans and other people saw that change as well. Randomly dancing in a variety program and putting your arm around IU were so unlike you.
Taeyang: People might feel a bit unfamiliar with new me. But this is just who I am. If I had this idea that celebrities need to be perfect, I won’t be acting like this. But I realized that I just wanted to be free.
Q: Well that explains why you’re so vibrant on stage these days. You were showing more limited moves in the past but when performing “FANTASTIC BABY,” you look like you’re really enjoying yourself.
Taeyang: Before, I calculated my moves not to influence my breathing to sing better. I had to do that to feel satisfied. But all I think about now is giving off a good energy on stage. I used to take ten minutes to meditate in a restroom to organize my thoughts. But nowadays, I always bring my speaker everywhere I go and listen to the songs I like. It’s keeping what’s real and getting rid of other thoughts I have in mind.
“After all, regardless of genres, what inspires my music is just a good energy.”
Q: When you were promoting yourself with a solo album two years ago, you focused on every detail in recording songs. It was the same on stage performances as well. But this time, everything seems more implusive.
Taeyang: That’s actually the talent I had. At some point, I was fitting myself into the frame that I thought I had to be like. I controlled myself and became a perfectionist in preparing my performances. But think about how broad and extensive ‘music’ is. Stupid enough, I was trying to find an answer in it. I realized that I’m still too young to find answers to such questions. Of course, that provided me a chance to know more about what music is. I think I found what I want naturally as time passed.
Q: Was there a special incident in that it made you think that way?
Taeyang: Well, I didn’t have a special incident for it but last year’s trip gave me a really good influence. I flew to Los Angeles last year, without planning things, and I visited Chris Brown’s studio with Teddy. Seeing how he makes music inspired me so much. I mean, Korean artists produce amazing music too but they inevitably have to concern about their songs’ popularity. But I felt that he doesn’t care about those things and make music that he likes. I found that they record about 100 songs to make an album. Here, we don’t start at all if we don’t like the song when listening to it, but he tries everything. Whether you like it or not, you just record the song first. I learned a new way of approaching music. I’ve always liked music but I realized that I had more worries than joy when making music.
Q: Was that shown in your last solo album? I heard that you made music after watching snow falling out the window. When listening to the tracks, I felt that you had a lot on your mind when making those songs.
Taeyang: I don’t know what the reason is, but something was shadowing my eyes. I had so many things that I wanted to achieve but I had no energy to pull that off. They say that it’s a ritual for idol groups to go through major internal fights at their fifth year mark of their debut and we had that with other problems and accidents. There were no problems within our group and that sort of made me feel a bit tired in the process. While working non-stop, I just stopped seeing and learning things and just kept being loved by my fans. Usually, I draw a big picture of what I’ll do and will achieve at the beginning of every album promotion, but I had no picture at all before releasing “ALIVE.”
Q: It sounds to me like being conscious of other people pressured you even more.
Taeyang: Yes, I think it was a transition period. It’s difficult to explain in words, but I think I made myself that way eventually. Now I’m free from being conscious of how other people see me. Actually, I was about to drop another solo album last year but I couldn’t. It didn’t feel okay about doing a solo activity while other members are going through a hard time. Instead, I traveled and got inspired. I began being honest about my feelings and dancing in variety programs. (laugh)
Q: At the beginning of your singing career, you showed natural moves when dancing. Did you regain that energy?
Taeyang: Yes, I now know that being natural and free is my talent. After all, regardless of genres, what inspires my music is just good energy. The energy I had as a rookie artist can be felt through the music I made that time. Whether it’s R&B or whatever, the energy that an artist has is everything about his or her song’s everything. That probably explains why, the first recordings are the best when recording tracks. You could come out with better versions in terms of techniques, but the final decision is always the first file you recorded. Almost all tracks in “ALIVE” are the first ones we recorded in our studio.
Q: Your vocal in “FANTASTIC BABY” is quite surprising to think that it’s the first file of recording. The song’s based on a fast electronica sound, but you don’t lose that distinctive voice tone you show in black music. That all harmonize in a dynamic sound.
Taeyang: How you sing a song is not that important. Whether it’s black music or a different genre, I now have my own energy that could cover songs with my own color.
Q: Then you must have so many styles of music that you’d like to sing in the future.
Taeyang: For example, now I have a wider picture for my future solo album. I was obsessed in pushing black music for my solo albums because people have a bias of me in doing the genre. I wasn’t able to find the music I really like doing. That could have stopped me from absorbing different styles of music I could have in the past. I used to only listen to black music in the past, but now it’s more diverse.
“I want to make this team the best in the world.”
Q: So now you don’t have a distinction between Teayang as a member of Big Bang and Taeyang as a solo musician?
Taeyang: You got that right. I used to deny to those questions in the past but I guess I was in a dilemma. There was a time when I thought I had my share of work in Big Bang and it was my album if I put my 100 percent effort. But after all, what’s important was that wherever I am at, the songs I sing have to be the best in anywhere. While producing “ALIVE,” I felt that I wanted to make this team the best in the world. The dilemma I had in the past is now meaningless.
Q: The world’s best? I’m guessing it’s not like topping the Billboard.
Taeyang: Of course not. By saying ‘the best,’ I mean ‘becoming a more free person than anyone else when doing music.’
Q: Your world tour that’s about to start soon could provide you a chance to reach that goal, huh?
Taeyang: I’m expecting a lot. I noticed that more-than-expected number of people’s eyes are on us. Technically, we’re at a starting point and we have so many things that we want to experience. We want to show the world that what Korean musicians can do.
Q: You’d really have to pump out all your energy. (laugh)
Taeyang: My plan this year is not to rest. (laugh) No joke, I’ve never cared how old I am till now, but it’s inevitable to be concerned about my age. Being 24, this could really be the best year of my life in terms of success. I’d love to go out and play but I don’t. There’s this energy and talent that I can’t control inside me. If I waste that energy on playing outside and hanging out with friends, there will be nothing left to show on stage. So I always save that energy. That’s one of the reasons why hiatus is difficult period for me to bear. I have nothing to do. (laugh)
Q: You look really excited about all the things you’re about to do in the future. (laugh)
Taeyang: I love it. Working on this album was the happiest period of my life since my debut. I did things I wanted to do and we were heading to the right direction. The band at the concert for example, it was perfect. The session players in the band, who came from abroad, practiced all our songs in advance and made us listen to it. They perfectly practiced all our songs. It was like walking into a whole new world. Their play even made me love the songs that I was getting tired of listening.
Q: So would it be different to play “Look Only at Me” with the band session?
Taeyang: It’s embarrassing to say this, but “Look Only at Me” is an amazing track. I can’t believe that it’s my song. (laugh) I feel that I was too young when I recorded this track a few years ago. It was a bit difficult to digest too so I couldn’t immerse when singing it. I think I could do better if I have a chance now.
Q: So how is it to look back on yourself six years ago?
Taeyang: Whenever I think about my past, I think that I was stupid. (laugh) I don’t know if I should say this myself (laugh) but I was really pure and naive back then.
Q: Last question. What does Big Bang mean to Taeyang?
Taeyang: Whenever I get a question about Big Bang, I tell reporters that ‘Big Bang is just Big Bang.’ I think that’s the right answer to the question. No matter what metaphors I use, it doesn’t suit our group. How people perceive us doesn’t affect who we are and it’s possible that our popularity may die in the future. But I’m not scared of that. It’s okay if we go through an accident and can’t go up on stage. The reason why we can continue doing our music is because us five are enjoying our time together as a team. We all like music and wherever we go and whatever we do, I’m thankful that we’re together. I have no fear and this is how it’s gonna be.