Testing the Musical World Beyond KoreaIt is 2:30 in the morning and someone picks up the phone. "Hello, is this Mr. Park?" I ask. A cautious voice replies, "Who?"
Nowadays, for Park Jin-young -－ Korean singer, songwriter and producer －- screening phone calls and keeping a tight lid on his phone number has come with the territory of having a recognizable name. It required considerable patience for this reporter just to reach him.
Last November, Park Jin-young, 30, arrived in Los Angeles, California, to write songs for six well-known American singers. But Mr. Park is hesitant to reveal who the singers are. "They are suspicious that I might take advantage of their celebrity by spilling the beans," he said.
The artists are reputedly top figures in the American music industry, often ranked in the top 10 of Billboard pop music charts. Mr. Park met these singers through an American music producer who has worked with such R & B stars as Janet Jackson and Mya. Mr. Park met the American producer when he traveled to the United States for g.o.d, Korea's boy-group sensation, to produce their new album.
Although Mr. Park was asked to write the songs, it has not yet been decided whether they will be included in the albums. Singers initially work with about 60 songs for an album. After a selection process, they single out the best 10 or so for the final cut. At the moment, Mr. Park's songs are included in the 60 possibilities.
Mr. Park is scheduled to make a short trip to Korea Saturday. Once known as a sexy singer, he has built an impressive career in Korea as a revered songwriter and producer. Mr. Park has produced albums for and been a mentor to rising musical acts such as g.o.d, Park Ji-yoon and Jinju. Park Ji-yoon, who made her debut amid criticism that her singing career would be short-lived, is now a major star who has established longevity in the fickle world of pop music. Everybody seems to agree that she owes her success to Mr. Park's guidance.
Although Mr. Park enjoyed success in his native country, he felt the need to challenge himself and achieve success beyond Korea. He chose as his next undertaking to test himself in the American music scene.
"I thought I should be the one to challenge the American market, where musical talent, a good command of English and established namesakes are essential to stand out and stay on top," he said. "Like Park Chan-ho, the major league baseball player who made the first move to go to the United States among all of the Korean baseball players, I would like to stand at the head of Korean music, aiming toward achievement in the American market."
So far, Mr. Park seems to have made a good start. When asked what it is about his music that appeals to American sensibilities, he said "I have hip hop elements to my music, and I work on harmonizing a hip hop sound with beautiful Korean melodies. That is, I create something that's more than hip hop and I think that is what appeals to the American market."
Whether his new start could turn into a lasting contribution to American music remains to be seen. His ambitious move could propel Korean popular music into the international arena. We will watch and see.
by Choe Jae-hee