Courtesy Photo: CJ ENM
K-Pop Phenom Eric Nam Talks New Mini-Album 'The Other Side' And Life As One Of Korea's Biggest Stars
The breakout Korean-American singer tells GRAMMY.com about the challenges he faced in writing and creating his newest project in the middle of a pandemic: "It was not easy"
Eric Nam's journey into K-pop stardom is a fairy-tale-like story that almost didn't happen.
Born and reared in Atlanta, Ga., the breakout Korean-American singer had hopes of being a performer. (His parents, on the other hand, did not share his vision.) As a kid, he took up several music-centric extracurricular activities as a means of getting into a good university: He trained as a member of the Atlanta Boy Choir and played in his high school orchestra.
After graduating from Boston College, where he majored in international studies and minored in Asian studies, in 2011, he began a career path that initially took him in the opposite direction of his dreams. He landed a consultant job at Deloitte, the multinational business advisory and accounting firm, which he ultimately deferred to follow nonprofit initiatives in India. Life as a world-class singer was put on pause.
Things began to change, however, while he was in India. His YouTube videos of him singing K-pop covers landed him a spot on "Star Audition: Birth Of A Great Star 2," South Korea's answer to "American Idol." He placed in the top five in the show's 2011 season, and his journey into music took flight.
Nam has since worked his way to become one of the most recognized names and faces in Korea's mammoth entertainment industry today. Over the course of nine years, he's released four EPs and one English-language album, 2019's Before We Begin.
His latest mini-album, The Other Side, released in late July, is a melting pot of playful, upbeat sounds that combines elements of pop and house music. Largely written during the coronavirus pandemic, the album contains a message of freedom, as heard on the lead track, "Paradise."
"It was not easy," Nam tells GRAMMY.com about the making of The Other Side. "Luckily, two or three of the songs we had already written prior to the pandemic. We did a lot of Zoom calls. But I also found it challenging in terms of content, because the only thing that was on my mind is everybody being locked down and the realities that we're living in. So I was a little stressed about that, but then I realised this is something that everybody is feeling right now. The frustration, the heartbreak, the pent-up energy—whatever it may be, let's write to that. That's kind of how 'Paradise' and 'How You Been' came to life."
Outside of his music career, Nam has hosted multiple TV shows in South Korea, including "KCON:TACT" and "After School Club," as well as the podcast, "K-Pop Daebak w/ Eric Nam." As South Korea's go-to host for Hollywood stars, he's interviewed Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Will Smith and many others. It's no wonder he was declared one of GQ Korea's Men Of The Year in 2016 and featured in Forbes' 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2017.
GRAMMY.com spoke with Eric Nam about his new mini-album, The Other Side, his double life as a host to Hollywood's elite stars and the urgent need for dialogue and social change within the entertainment world and beyond.
You're a singer, songwriter, TV personality and host. Was this always your dream growing up?
Not really. I fell into it in many ways. It was a dream to be a singer/performer, but I never thought I had a chance or had a real shot; I never thought I was good enough. And I think a big part of it was [that] I never saw an Asian face on TV or doing music, particularly in the U.S. where I was born and raised. So it was never a realistic possibility for me, but I think it's fascinating that I am doing it, and I'm very thankful.
Did you have a backup plan? Did you say to yourself, "I'm going to give myself X amount of years in Korea"? Or was it success as a singer and nothing else?
I think it was the former. I said, "Let's give it two to three years. And within three years, if it's not going to work out, then let's not waste valuable time in my 20s." And for me, the backup plan [was] to go back to consulting or finding another job.
What are the differences between your new mini-album, The Other Side, and your last album, Before We Begin?
I think Before We Begin may have been a little more understated and mature in the musicality. I think this one is a little more playful, a little more upbeat, a little brighter. And I think that draws more from the K-pop side.
Why did you pick "Paradise" as the lead single?
I really wanted to experiment with sounds in a way that I hadn't done before. I wanted something that hasn't often been heard, particularly in the K-pop world. A lot of my peers, be seniors or juniors, they'll text me or they'll call me and they'll say, "Thank you for doing the music that you do because it pushes the genre forward in different ways." It's a very rewarding thing to hear.
How was the process of making an album during the pandemic?
It was not easy. Luckily, two or three of the songs we had already written prior to the pandemic. We did a lot of Zoom calls. But I also found it challenging in terms of content, because the only thing that was on my mind is everybody being locked down and the realities that we're living in. So I was a little stressed about that, but then I realized this is something that everybody is feeling right now. The frustration, the heartbreak, the pent-up energy—whatever it may be, let's write to that. That's kind of how "Paradise" and "How You Been" came to life.
Young K from DAY6 wrote four out of the five songs on the mini-album. How did that collaboration happen?
I'd worked with him in the past on some songs that haven't been released, but he's a great lyricist. I was in California and I texted him, "Hey, I have a bunch of songs. I need lyrics. Would you be down to work on these with me?" And he quickly responded "yes" on them all. And then we just started the process of collaborating.
You've worked with some amazing producers in the past, including Timbaland. Are there any other producers you would like to work with in the future?
2020 has seen some real shifts in social dynamics: racism against East Asians in the U.S., the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement. Do you think those social dynamics are going to impact the Korean music industry?
I really don't know how it's going to affect the Korean industry, because I feel like in Korea, people feel very far-removed from the realities that are going on outside of Korea. So I'm sure while people may be more sensitive to it, and maybe more cognizant to what's going on, I don't know exactly how that will change the industry itself. Does that make sense?
The one thing that we strive for—not as a Korean artist or not as somebody working [or] living in Korea, just as humans, as a citizen of the world—is for more dialogue and for social change. I think it's something that's needed. I think it's something that's way overdue. I can't wait for somebody to say, "OK, let's open up dialogue and have public discourse in a healthy manner so that we can all learn from these experiences that we're having."
If there were any three songs in the entire history of music that you wish you could have written, what three songs would they be?
Adele's "Someone Like You". I think that was a song that truly captivated the entire world. And it was a song that anyone and everybody could relate to globally. "Blackbird" by The Beatles. And I'm going to go with a collaboration: Alicia Keys and Usher, "My Boo." I love that song: two of my most favorite artists growing up in one song together.
What was the moment in your career where you wanted to pick up the phone and say, "Mom, I made it"?
I feel like I have an imposter syndrome where I'm like, "Why am I here?" You think about it, like, I was this kid from Atlanta, Ga. I can barely speak Korean. I'm the one of the few active people from three seasons of that one TV show. But I think it's the tours. It's so wild to be able to say that I can do shows in front of thousands of people and have them sing my songs in Korean and in English—that is wild to me.
How did you become the go-to person in South Korea for A-list Hollywood interviews?
I had to do all these different TV shows all the time. They were putting me on TV to become a reporter for international people coming in. That really kick-started my career, because for the first time in Korea, I was asking very straightforward questions. One of my first interviews was Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man. Then the movie houses started calling: "Hey, we'll fly you out to London to meet with the cast of Justice League. We'll fly you out to Hong Kong to meet with Benedict Cumberbatch. And that's kind of how it happened.
Is there anything else about The Other Side you'd like to share?
I think this is an album that is, hopefully, just going to continue to help progress my music. But my hope is that in the next year or two, I can really start to make bigger moves on a more international level, in the States and Europe [and] in Latin America, that are interesting. Fight for acceptance, fight for representation, but also at its core, great music and content.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards
Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category
The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.
Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville
Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.
Championships – Meek Mill
In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
i am > i was – 21 Savage
Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.
IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.
The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae
Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.
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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream
Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund
This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.
“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”
Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images
Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West
Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium
Taylor Swift will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.
The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic. I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West! https://t.co/xw6YMN38WE pic.twitter.com/IhVPQ8DMUG— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) September 17, 2019
The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1
"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!"
Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.