When In Rome: The Global Reach Of K-Pop Star Eric Nam
The most distinctive thing about the rise of Eric Nam is probably how the entertainment industry stumbled upon him. As a young man in finance a viral YouTube cover got him a place in Star Audition: Birth of A Great Star 2, a popular program in Korea which jump-started his career.
Following this he has hosted many TV programs, often interviewing Western media’s biggest celebrities, making him one of the most prolific Korean artists today. He is also a talented musician, with his second EP ‘Honestly’ charting at number six on the Billboard World album charts.
With his electro-pop, reggaetón and dancehall inspired melodies, oftentimes rooted in his American upbringing, Eric Nam adds a fresh approach to an industry at times uniform.
While on his world tour, Clash caught up with him ahead of his first concert in London, one of the many dates which are sold out.
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First tour in Europe how do you feel about that, most excited about?
Don’t know what to expect, really excited for it. Romantic ideal of what it is, how cultured and cool it is. In my head it’s like: "oh yeah I am going to be touring Europe be super cultured, have a croissant an espresso in the morning, an English breakfast..." but I will probably just be struggling to survive. Trying to stay awake.
But I’m going to get to visit a lot of cities I’ve never been to before so I’m really excited. And in London I get to play in this really exciting venue which is sold out, and then get to hang around and write with some English artists. It’s gonna be a blast. That's the plan for now.
You are very busy at the moment as you are currently on a world tour, do you get to relax and focus on your music?
It’s really hard for me to focus on one thing, that’s the way I have always been. Also, I think a big part of working here (Korea) is that you have to do everything, and be everywhere, and that is really the most challenging part about this job, I am on tour, recording, putting out music in a few weeks, TV, and a bunch of other things.
If I had to change anything, I would get a few months just to concentrate and work on my music, that would be a dream come true. But I love to perform and be on tour, so it’s a lot about appreciating the ride of the many things I do.
Do you ever get time to just let go?
To be frank, I don’t get to relax, my weekends are not weekends, and I work the most during holidays. I feel like I’m constantly on the go, it is at times exhausting but I push my self this way because there are so many things I don’t want to miss out on.
The sense of accomplishment I get from finishing my projects is just as good as chilling on a beach somewhere and drinking cocktails. Once a twice a year I will force myself to take days off, but then after two days I just have to get going again.
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How’s your creative process? What do you do to find inspiration for your music?
For me writing is a very collaborative process. I have written songs by myself before, but I feel like the best songs come when I’m with other people, trading ideas. I will go into a session with a bunch of other people; we all have different stories and cover diverse paths of lives, and it’s a bit weird because we all meet for the first time, but we pour our hearts out.
Someone will be like “I just fallen in love” or “I’m going through a break up” or even “A bird just pooped on my head this morning”, and half the times that is the starting point for a brand-new song. Even in mundane situations during the day, ideas will pop up in my head for a song; and that’s where it all kind of snowballs from, and taking in from everyday life, really.
You are not from Korea, grew up in America, how hard was it to be part of the entrainment world of Korea?
It was really hard, and it is oftentimes still difficult. It is just the reality of the environment I live and work in. I have been here a long time, and have made a name for myself so I can work a certain way, people respect me in that regard.
When I first started, I had a harder time, because I didn’t understand why and how certain things needed to be, in my head it is the wrong way, but in Korea it is the only way, trying to compromise was difficult, but now I get it. In the end, it is about: When In Rome...
Do you find it just as difficult to break in the Western world and charts?
I think it looks like the Western world is more willing to have more Asian representation within the mainstream media, at the same time, the media has to be wiling to give it a shot. BTS and Blackpink are doing really well, and that is amazing, but on the Western chart front it is no risk as they are guaranteed success.
I am hoping that in the coming years that Asian artists will be brought because the music industry believes in their talent, simply. The ideas, and the way the conversation is framed, are changing, but it will still require more time for people to be willing to take advantage of it.
I think of K-Pop as its own genre, is a stepping stone for K-Hip Hop, R&B, etc. Once people are fans of K-Pop it is easier to discover the other facets of the Korean music industry, especially if there is more content readily available.
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Eric Nam plays O2 Academy Islington in London on June 21st and 22nd - ticket LINK.
Words: Noura Ikhlef
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