interview

ELLIOTT KIM

I'm Elliott Kim and I'm a singer here in Korea. I've been living in this country for 2.5 years. My debut album came out at the end of July 2018, so it's been a little bit over a year since my debut.

You've said that you've been living here only for a few years. Are you originally not from Korea?
Yes! I was born in America, Maryland, which is right next to Washington DC. I grew up there for 21 years and then I moved to Boston for school and work. I lived in Boston for 4 years and then I moved to Seoul. I'm now 27.
Is it your international age?
Yeah, this is my international age! You know, nowadays even Koreans themselves often wonder why they still have this Korean-style age. The funniest thing is when Korean people ask each other's age they usually just say the year they were born, not the actual age number. Personally, I make a lot of mistakes with that too. But Koreans are nice to me. They are not usually that strict for foreigners.
You're an independent artist now, right? Would you like to sign under some label one day? Which agency would you prefer?
As for me...I won't ever say "no" and refuse to work with any agency or entertainment company ahead of time. I think if there is such a situation I'd first see how I'm personally going about it. I'm going to do what's in my best interests and if the company is okay with that and it can become a good partnership then I think it's a great idea. But it's all about finding the right situation and having an idea of what you want to do with your career. For me, I understood where I was in my career when I came to Korea. With my age and other factors... I know that a K-POP agency is not going to be interested in me and that's okay. There are a lot of various agencies in Korea but when it comes to finding the right one... I decided that I'll do this on my own first because most of what they're going to do for me is going to be the same as what I do on my own.
Is it difficult to do promotion in Korea on your own without any help?


I think everyone goes through the same things, every artist and every company has access to very similar marketing channels. It just depends on how you use them and who you know inside these channels so you can get some primary access or something like this. If you look at the music services in Korea like Melon, Bugs, Genie all these things, they have their own music centers and it's they who decide on what artist they'll put on the front page. So if you're CJ Entertainment, for example, and you own Melon, well, you're going to put your artists on the front page. That's the difference between my and someone else's marketing. But it's always a matter of money and it doesn't matter how big the company is if they don't want to put money in your promotion as an artist you're going to have the same results as if you're on your own having no money for self-promotion.


Fans usually can feel the difference between the Korean artist and a foreigner artist in Korea. What do you think about it? Is it more difficult for a foreigner to do a promotion in Korea?
This is actually an interesting question because it depends a lot on the style of music you make. Well, nowadays the list of popular genres has extended. But for quite a long time, let's say 10 years ago, it didn't matter if you're a Korean-American or Korean-Australian or a native Korean if your music didn't fit what people liked you weren't going to be popular. Nowadays there are so many more ethnic Koreans who were born in another country and work in the Korean music industry. Much more than the fans may know.
The songwriters, the producers, the members of various groups and so on. It always surprises me and I wonder why do we all look at this in the same way and come to Korea? But as for Americans, considering what a lot of us think about the market in America, we're very happy to have any marketing power in Korea and we tend to have more opportunities here than we do in America. So even though promoting in Korea may seem a little bit harder because there are still two things that you have to learn which are the industry here and how this market moves and then living here and how to live here...I think that part of this stuff still happens no matter where you are.

If I'm in America I still have to learn how to navigate the American music industry. I would be moving cities, learning how to live in there. It's all the same. The only real disadvantage of not being in America for me is that I'm away from my family and from what feels more like home to me. But Korea will always be a second home for me. There's one analogy that I really like. Let's say you have a house and a garage. Nobody actually lives in their garage but still, it's almost like your home. And that's what Korea feels like to me, at least for the near future. It feels like I'm in my garage, I'm almost home but something's just quite not there…maybe some day.


What do you think about promotion in other foreign countries?

Sure! Be that Japan, China, Russia, America or any other country I'm always looking for potential places where my music can be popular or I can be popular as an entertainer. You always need to have your focus and your focus needs to be to establish your market somewhere. But if you're in Korea, for example, but your fanbase is somewhere else then sometimes artists in Korea can be a little bit apprehensive about that fact. I had a friend years ago and his fans were all from South-East Asia. It was really strange to me but he just said that still it worked and all of those people were his fans. So now I always look for collaborations or any other projects where I can participate either as a songwriter or a featured singer... pretty much everything I can do for the production no matter if it's in Japan or China... Well, China would be a little bit hard because China has its own world.
What seems especially difficult for you when it comes to promoting in China?
Well, it's not about the language... but China's market is kind of another world. If you want to promote in China you need to go through very specific channels. Even performing there and all of that stuff seems quite difficult for a person like me who isn't even really a Korean. But, yeah, I'd be happy to go anywhere where people are interested in me. I'd be happy to travel there, promote there and give them plenty of my attention. Although Japan is a little bit far out for me if I'm going to hit the second market intensely that would most probably be Japan. Because I have friends who already work in the music industry out there. And if my Russian fanbase is able to make enough noise, you know, I'll be happy to go and perform there as well.
Would you like to be just a musician and singer or do you want to try MCing or acting, for example?
Oh, you know, I'm a really bad actor so I'll go with not being an actor. I think I'd be really ashamed of that. Because when an actor wants to come and be a singer I'm okay with that if he or she is talented enough. But if every single actor decided to become a singer I wouldn't be okay with this. I have a cousin who works as an actress in Los Angeles and I'd feel bad because she's so good at acting and I'm not. So if I just were getting work because people knew who I was I wouldn't be proud of it. And as for MCing, I've actually done that before. I worked on a TV news broadcast and then was a weekly guest of a radio show. Also, in college, I had my own radio show so I've done a lot of radio broadcast hosting and I'd love to do more MCing. That's something I think I'm really good at and this is a very good way to interact with people and make them excited.
What do you think about various restrictions Korean artists usually face with? Like dating restrictions and so on.
Yes, that's especially true for Korean K-POP idols. They do have rules. When you sign a contract you agree to a set of restrictions basically. Personally I equate them to the ones a professional athlete in America would have. The athlete's contract will usually say he can't ride motorcycles because we're paying you money and we don't want you to get hurt. So it's kind of similar in concept but when your work means to be always surrounded by people not only your physical condition but also your emotional desires are involved. It's really hard. And as you probably know, when it comes to dating, be it forbidden or not, the idols do date. What the company really asks you to do is not to let people find out. Korean music fans are protective all over the world but it's even more intense in Korea. They may be strangely possessive of the artist to the point when they feel like they are in a relationship with the idol. So they think that the artist cannot be in a relationship with anyone else and feel cheated on when they find out about them dating. That's why the company puts these restrictions to protect the artist first. They usually sign these deals when they're young and the company wants to protect them from the fans' reactions. Because when you're just 20 years old and you're dating someone thinking you're in love with the person whether you are or not and fans are accusing you of that...that'll be really hard because you're still a kid. So I think that companies want not only to protect their artists' image which they are "selling" but also protect the artist as a person, though not all of them fully realize that. And that is why when idols get older the freedom is easily given to them. The companies just want to protect them until they are ready to protect themselves. But that's actually a very interesting topic, all these restrictions, and limits. You know, sometimes when you see an idol and wonder why he does a reckless thing like that... I think that a person may be just testing the limits. Some of them do like testing their limits to see how far their company will let them get away with. Until they get in trouble, of course. I have one friend who kept breaking the rules until he got kicked out. Well, he kind of wanted to get kicked out but he was also curious about how far he could go.
Do you have any crazy fans? And how do you deal with them?

Well I'm not that popular now so I don't have crazy fans. Maybe in the future... but as for now, I don't have any intense super fans. I do have fans who message me and if I were to put it unapologetically I'm not going to see and reply to all of these people's messages, it's not going to happen. But the reality of it is when you have those fans it just depends on your personality. Some people feel really uncomfortable and frightened about it and some of them are much more okay with it. As for me, I think if it's awkward then you can ask them to keep enough space but personally I'm kind of used to it. My dad was quite well-known in the area he worked in so when we would go around people would recognize him. I also grew up being recognized as a part of my dad's family so it's not awkward for me. But it is awkward for lots of artists because it's just their privacy. And I grew up feeling like nothing in this life can be private and if I did anything good or bad people would find out. So I just don't have the same feeling of privacy that other people do. If I want to do something I first give it a thought. But that's my life, I've always been living like that. And other people are not like that so they just don't want to consider other people's reactions all the time. And one more thing is that the more you can protect yourself as an artist from the start the easier it will be for your future career. There are some famous examples of such errors. Like Jay Park who got in trouble for his MySpace comment that he made when years before he was popular in Korea. You know, even in America celebrities may get in trouble for some Twitter comments they made 10 years ago. So what I want to tell people is that the Internet is forever and if you've posted something inappropriate it's still there. Hide it now or just stop saying things. But you also have to be aware that when you're the product yourself anything you do can be construed in any way if they want it to be like that so you have to protect yourself ahead of time. You don't want to anger or turn people off of you before they even have a chance to find out who you are because of something you've said earlier or someone said that you said now, right? Even if you're famous it's still really hard. And you try to stay as inoffensive as possible while somewhat being able to still express what you mean.
Finally, let's talk about things that you're up to now. What are your plans for the future?
Oh, I actually have a song that just came out 2nd October. And I have 3 more songs that I'm planning to release before the end of the year. I don't know when exactly, I still have to go over the marketing, talk to some people and see what a good plan is. But two of the songs are already completed and we're just working on the marketing plan. For one of the songs, there will be a featured rapper, I'm still not sure who yet but there will be someone. So that's definitely something to keep an eye out for the rest of the year. And as for the next year, I'm hoping to release a compilation album with five songs I released this year and three new songs on top of them. I want to put them all together as an album. That's kind of my nine-months plan and after that, it's all up in the air. I'm always happy to perform and be an MC. I actually told people that I don't want to work on the radio anymore because it takes so much time but, yeah, I could end up on the radio again...you just never know. But as for now, I'm more focused on the songs that I'm going to release before the end of the year. One song came out today and we'll see about the rest of them. I had a really fun time throughout the whole writing and recording process. I wish I could put all of my songs out, to share them with everyone but I'm always told that I need to save them and put them out really carefully and have a plan... I actually finished the songs a few months ago but we're still coming up with the marketing plan and we'll get them out as soon as we can. And hopefully, people enjoy them!