Taeyang performs the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and his single debut track, “Only Look At Me“.
When I read about Taeyang, the words that come up the most are ‘sincerity’ and ‘honesty.’
It’s something I talked about a lot.
Does that govern everything in your life?
No, that’s not really the case. It’s just one of those things that you’re born with, that can’t be easily changed, you know? It’s not so much that I’m trying hard to be that way. It’s just me, I think.
Have there been times when you wanted to change your personality? Some people just act on their impulses while you worry or overthink. And a lot of times, those results are better.
That’s true. To tell you the truth, I felt that way a little bit after my last solo activities. It wasn’t for very long, and it wasn’t so much that I wanted to change. But I think I gained a certain amount of confidence. It’s not “I have to change something,” but more a feeling of, “Ah, no matter what I try now, I can at least feel confident about this part.” I feel like I’ve gained composure or confidence.
A step forward?
Yes, which is why that time period remains very precious to me. It wasn’t exactly the solo activities themselves, but realizing that getting through those difficult times alone was a step forward. I tend to agonize for a long time over things that you can just take in stride and do, but now… I feel like I’m a little better now.
When I watch you on stage, two feelings arise. That [everyone] ought to perform that hard. Or that you are performing too hard. It goes beyond simply working hard – it’s like your life depends on it. There’s pleasure in watching a stage like that, but it’s hard to play [have fun] along with you.
I think pressure plays a role, too. I don’t know. Like I said earlier, I’ve always lived that way. So I was ruled by the thought that I have to be diligent about anything I do. A little excessively so.
You feel it’s excessive yourself?
I didn’t know then, but I feel like it was excessive when I look back now. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can be that diligent now about something that I don’t like or that doesn’t really appeal to me.
Does that mean you’ve learned to let go a bit?
You’re right, that’s what I learned. I had this thought a lot after my solo album – that it’ll take a long time until my next album. Because it took a really long time to release my solo album.
That’s been the case every time you released solo material, hasn’t it? Redoing half the album after it was completed, for instance.
That was a sign that I was doing too many things at once. At one time, I thought, “From now on, it’ll take even longer,” but looking at how I’m doing right now, I don’t feel that way anymore. Things are coming along much better musically, and I don’t feel like it’s going to take so long. I think for the next album, I won’t have the kind of feeling I had in the past, and I’ll feel much less pressure, too. I think I’ll be able to enjoy it much more.
On the other hand, GD&TOP’s performances feel like they’re really having fun on stage. You’re probably together almost all day – what kind of effect do you have on one another?
We’re influenced greatly in all things, first of all, because we live together. They’re the friends with whom I share musical conversations most often, especially Ji Yong. Because we have such different dispositions, we can learn a lot from each other. And things that I find difficult to do, given my personality… Even though we do the same thing, Ji Yong would do it very easily, so I think “Ah, that’s something I can learn from him,” and so forth.
When you think so much, you end up obsessing over every emotion, right? You analyze and analyze, again and again, and in the end you come to a conclusion, but, meanwhile, don’t you miss your chance to date? After all, there’s a timing for everything.
That’s why I can’t [date].
Was it two years ago that we said, “Let’s meet after you’ve experienced many more temptations?”
I can’t. I don’t think I can.
I don’t want to make any conclusions, but I have a tendency to observe people, so even after seeing someone for an hour or two, I find myself analyzing, “Ah, this is this kind of a person.” After all, there are good relationships and not so good relationships. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t want any bad relationships, but I try not to create such situations. But that makes it hard to form deep relationships, especially romantic ones. Now I find myself avoiding people I don’t like without even realizing it. It just seems better than seeing them and being burdened emotionally…
I noticed you spoke about your ideal woman in a recent interview. You said you like a western [non-Asian] type.
What happened was, I don’t have anything specific to say when reporters ask that question. I’ve liked someone very deeply before, but I never particularly thought it was my ideal, appearance wise. Because it was different every time. I mean, there’s no reason when it comes to attraction.
It’s just instant, right?
Right, it’s instant, and it’s circumstance. That’s why it’s hard for me to describe my ideal woman, so there are things I always say in formal interviews. Like, basically, someone who will understand me. You know, the obvious stuff. Someone I can learn a lot from. But then, the reporters ask for “visual” stuff.
They ask, “Like who, exactly?”
They ask this a lot, “Who among celebrities?” I really don’t have anybody. The one thing that’s true is that, ever since I was little, when I watched foreign films, or even when I travel – and this is different from actually liking someone – but I would see western women and think they were very pretty, so that’s why I said that…
Western features? Or figure?
Just the feel, I think.
It’s not a physical thing, but more a certain energy, perhaps?
What is the most stimulating thing for Taeyang right now?
This might be a really boring answer, but I feel the most stimulated when I’m in the studio. The reason I’m in the studio even when I’m not working is because I become inspired watching the hyungs work, and that’s how I start working on my own music, too. Recently, a guitarist was playing in Teddy hyung’s room, and it just caught my attention. Listening to those guitar sounds, I thought, “Ah, I should make a song like this,” so I’m thinking of writing a song that uses guitar. It’s like that.
That’s a good answer, but try to think of something outside of the studio.
I feel motivated when I watch young kids.
Yes, teenage kids. Kids who haven’t been tainted.
You think you’ve been tarnished somehow?
I think so.
You said that 2009 was a difficult year and that a lot changed thereafter. Was it then that you felt you were tarnished?
That’s right. I didn’t think so at the time, but now I think that was the case. At the time, I just hated it. I didn’t even know what “it” was. I just hated the situation, and as time passed like that… I actually saw the film, Black Swan, yesterday.
You saw a certain similarity?
It really gave me that feeling. So much.
What did you think of that girl – the ballerina who smokes and does drugs?
Lily? I actually liked her the most.
I’m not surprised. That kind of energy? I think I get it. Speaking of situations that don’t appeal to you… How was it with “Secret Big Bang” recently? You were Tae Team Leader, right? I laughed when you said, “I’m a man!”
You can write this or not, but honestly I did that because of the other guys.
Because everyone else was working so hard?
Haha. As you can see, my part is really small. I had the least filming to do, too. I told them from the start that I don’t know about this parody, about why we even have to do it. Honestly, there were other members who felt that way, too. It’s just one of those things we ended up having to do, and I never expected it to air on television.
You didn’t know it would be broadcast?
I thought it would just be for the concert. I actually never even saw “Secret Garden.” They told me what kind of a role it was, so I started preparing. Then they told me I had to wear a wig, and I said I wouldn’t wear it, that there was no way I’d wear it. I went at it with the staff for about 30 minutes, “I’m not going to do it. I won’t do it.” They finally said, “Fine, don’t wear it if you don’t want to.” But when I got there, Ji Yong was already in drag. It just seemed wrong to refuse then, so I went along without complaint.
At first, I thought Big Bang took the easy way out with this album. But the more I listen to it, I think it’s clever. Do you like it?
In terms of satisfaction, it’s my favorite Big Bang album so far. We spent a little more time and effort on it. We had a lot of discussions among the five members. Anytime you put a lot of effort into something, regardless of whether the result is good or bad, it means a lot to you. I think this Big Bang album has that kind of meaning.
G-Dragon once said, “In the beginning, I thought we just had to appeal to the Korean public. But now, I think we have to make it suitable for the entire world.” He also said that he can do it.
(Gesturing toward G-Dragon) That’s him… I couldn’t do it. I… how should I say it… I’m still trying to make music that I can be more satisfied with.
Do you get the sense that if you’re satisfied, the public won’t be?
That’s not necessarily the case, but I don’t know. So far, I think…
You still want to satisfy your own desires?
Yes, if it’s something I like more, I get the feeling it’ll be harder for the public to appreciate yet. At least – yet. I don’t know. Whether that’s just the Korean public, or even how the international public would respond -that’s something I don’t know.
Don’t concern yourself over things like that.
I don’t anymore.
It’s best to just do it. Who would complain anyhow? You’re Taeyang. Haha.
But I think what Ji Yong said, about trying to adapt to not just the Korean, but the international tastes, is really nice. I often had similar thoughts while preparing my solo album. Even if it’s not greatly recognized in Korea, I wanted to show people in other countries, “Wow, there’s someone in Korea who makes music like this.” From that perspective, I think Ji Yong and I communicate a lot better than before.
It was great to see you dance while waiting for the shoot. What are you like in clubs?
I just dance. I don’t drink.
Have you ever lost yourself or felt high?
A lot of times.
Without even drinking?
Yes. One thing I want to say is that I don’t need alcohol to get to that point. Dancing is more than enough. I think that’s why I love dancing so much.
Fifteen minutes of dancing trumps a bottle of whiskey? Then what about singing? Do you sing while thinking of the public or the audience?
When I’m singing alone, I truly become the lead/main character of the song. Especially if the lyrics are sad…
What if it were a song like, “Yesterday I took drugs, and today I raped someone and drank alcohol”?
Right, just like that. Honestly, when I’m alone I think I get even more absorbed in songs like that. Especially when I’m in the shower, it’s almost like I’m making a music video. Those are the times I like the best.
I suddenly feel swept by loneliness. How do you feel about interviews? No matter how good the atmosphere is, you can’t be 100 percent truthful. It’s an inherent limitation of having a recording device present.
That’s right. I think interviews in general aren’t a good match with me. The reason I prefer magazine interviews like this is because, rather than following a planned script, you can speak comfortably with each other and have serious conversations. And depending on the situation, I can communicate my thoughts 100 percent. It may not happen every time, but I like that I can reveal my feelings at least a little more.
Do you ever think you would like people to view you a certain way?
About two years ago? I think that thought was really central at the time.
At the time, what kind of person did you want to be viewed as?
Just the honest and upstanding image that people had of me. I think I was stuck in that mold without even knowing it. I would try to say things that fit that image a little better instead of just saying what I really felt. Looking back now, it was all… I think it’s better to show my true self.
You’re sick and tired of it now?
Yes, I can’t do it anymore. But, honestly, at the time I wasn’t trying to be like that. It just sort of happened. I thought the situation called for it.
Sometimes, when you feel like you’ve changed, the past can come back to haunt you. Do you have any regrets?
Since the moment I decided to become a singer and became a trainee, I’ve never regretted anything.
Have you ever envisioned a different hairstyle?
I’ve never once imagined a different style since getting this cut. That’s why I can’t change it now.
Why is it only long in the center?
That’s because… It would be strange if the sides were long and there was nothing in the middle. Haha.
How far do you want to go, musically?
I want to reach the sky.
All the way to your death?
Well, that’s probably not possible but…
What kind of song will you be singing at age forty?
I guess I’ll still be doing my music.
By then, will you drink occasionally?
It doesn’t feel particularly good to drink.
I keep getting the urge to talk about women.
Go ahead and ask.
Say you met a really attractive girl, someone with the kind of energy you want. If you miss her today, you’ll never see her again. What would you do?
But I think if it’s someone I really like, I’m not so lacking in confidence that I couldn’t approach her.
Then what would you say?
I’ll be like, “Do you like puppies?”
Because I love dogs so much.
Then I’ll ask a little more plainly. You want to spend the night with that sexy lady over there. What do you do?
… That’s really hard. I don’t know what I would say. Teach me.
Um, well… Do you have any desires/greed outside of music? I want to see a dark side of you before we end this interview. What’s the thing you’ve wanted to possess the most? An instrument, perhaps?
Haha, no. I want to learn them, but I don’t have a desire to own them. Actually, that was my worry until pretty recently. I’m making money now, and I’ve even bought a car. I used to save up for months in order to buy an item of clothing I wanted, and I don’t do that anymore. That’s a little bit worrying.
You really do worry over nothing.
But if we’re talking about material possessions, one thing I’ve always wanted since I was young is a house with a yard. I want to raise a big dog there – an Italian dog called the Cane Corso. It’s like the Japanese Tosa. Totally black, big with a really cool silhouette.
What kind of advice does G-Dragon give you?
It’s more like he gets frustrated with me. Before it was, “Why are you like this?” Now he says, “So does that make you happy?” Haha, I think he gets really frustrated.
Most recently, what made him say that?
To tell you the truth, we’re guys, so, for instance, when we’re done with work and our schedules work out. He wants to go out, have some drinks and check out the girls. But I say, “Then I’m not going.” From his point of view, it’s frustrating. I can totally understand, because I want to hang out with him, and I’m sure he really wants to hang out with me in those settings.
Then you really don’t go? Aren’t you even curious? You won’t know until you go.
I feel like I know what kind of feeling/atmosphere it’ll be. I already sense that it’ll be unappealing.
Music and dance – maybe you’ve already experienced too extreme a pleasure.
That’s the biggest thing for me. I even think the love that exists in this world is imperfect. I realized that a little early. Having met a lot of people, observed a lot of people, I realized that the perfect love that I envisioned doesn’t exist.
Isn’t there something appealing about the uncertainty, itself, though?
Uncertainty doesn’t attract me, I think.