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Han Hee-jun talks about taking his talents back to Korea, new album
By Brian Han
Halfway through emceeing the 2015 Korea Times Music Festival on Saturday, Han Hee-jun beelined straight back to his air conditioned dressing room. The bright stage lights and dry Southern California heat can drain the best of performers, but he didn’t seem to mind it much.
“Is it bad if I’m already tired?” he said with a smile on his face. “It’s always good to be back in Los Angeles. Yesterday I was relaxing on Venice Beach and now I’m onstage at this beautiful venue. Right behind us is in my opinion the greatest singer [Kim Bum-soo] to come out of Korea. It’s like a dream.”
The 26-year-old singer spends most of his time in South Korea these days, but he’s no stranger to Los Angeles.
Just three years ago, he was one of the many talented voices on Fox Network’s “American Idol” where he made it to the Top 9 before being cut from the show despite a strong final performance.
“When you are in the zone of this industry it attacks you so quickly that you didn’t even know you had been attacked,” he told CBN News afterwards. “You look back and you think, ‘Wow, I went too far and I became such a different person.’ That’s when you realize you have to go back to who you were.”
And so to regroup, he took his talents back to his roots in South Korea where he was born and raised to start essentially from scratch.
Han entered another televised singing competition called K- pop Star and although he didn’t win, he did well enough to gain recognition and sign with the management company Polaris.
Since then he hasn’t looked back.
“We’ve been working on an album, which will be out next week in Korea and I’m so excited to share it with my fans,” he said.
The new record features all original songs inspired by one of his favorite singers, Tony Bennett, who at 88, won a Grammy for best pop vocal performance earlier this year.
“His style has been influential for me and I’ve always been a rough crooner type, but my management wanted something different,” he said.
Polaris asked him to soften up his approach and try something different, which required a compromise.
“The process itself was hard to take in at first, but the result was awesome,” he said. “We met in the middle with what I wanted and what they wanted. It was a perfect balance between realistic goals and my dream.”
That dream also includes writing his own music.
“It’s not very often that you see a successful K-pop singer who also writes all their own music, but my next goal is to break down that barrier,” he said. “The songs on the album are written by someone else, which is normal, but a month later, I’ll be releasing some songs that I wrote.”
As excited as he is to show the world his latest work, he’s still not entirely sure where he fits into the whole K-pop landscape.
“The Korean music industry is obviously different from the U.S.,” Han said. “When I first came I didn’t know if I was going to fit. I’m not Kim Bum-soo, I’m not a K-pop idol so I guess I was somewhere in between that. They didn’t welcome me at first so I earned my own space and I think it’s working.”
He recognizes that K-pop is rapidly growing across the globe and he welcomes its popularity.
“It’s human instinct to want something new and I think K-pop is that right now,” he said. “To see all these non-Korean people come out and support the movement is really great to see.”
But the singer also takes a very cautious approach to all the success to keep himself grounded.
“The best way I can put it is that K-pop right now is kind of like a lollipop,” he said. “It’s sugary, it’s tasty, but you hope that it doesn’t melt too fast. We can continue with this success, but we also need more artists who can stick around and make a long term impact.”
Despite the uncertainty, the one thing Han can be sure of is how he feels at this very moment.
“I’m really happy right now,” he said. “I’m in a good place right now and for that I’m grateful.”