Sung Si-kyung talks love songs, L.A. and sex

June 10, 2014
Sung Si-kyung inside a Koreatown hotel in L.A. (Christine Ha / The Korea Times)

Sung Si-kyung inside a Koreatown hotel in L.A. (Christine Ha / The Korea Times)

By Tae Hong

There’s a lot you can say — a lot that has been said — about Sung Si-kyung, but here’s something that fits him now, in this moment: A long-beloved ballad singer who’s recently become the face of sex talk in Korea.

But as Sung will remind you inside a Koreatown hotel the Thursday before his appearance at the Hollywood Palladium as the guest singer of cable channel tvN’s American launch, he’s a singer before he’s a talking head.

After all, the 35-year-old’s 14-year navigation through the rapidly evolving world of Korean music has been nothing short of impressive. He remains a giant who stands his ground in the ballad genre while dancing idols sweep fans, fame and chart success.


witch hunt

Sung, left, is one of four hosts in JTBC’s controversial “Witch Hunt,” which took Korean variety programming and turned it upside down.

Everyone here — everyone everywhere, really — wants to talk about his role as one of four hosts in JTBC’s controversial “Witch Hunt,” which took Korean variety programming and turned it upside down.

The talk show revolves around discussions and advice-giving when it comes to relationships between men and women. So what makes it special?

For one, it’s the kind of show in which superstar actor Song Seung-hun can talk about how long he thinks a man should last during sex without so much as an eyebrow being raised.

“These kinds of things needed to come to light. I always liked being rational, even as a kid. Korea is very conservative and steeped in a kind of dishonesty that comes from the remnants of a culture of Confucianism. But if change comes in the form of someone being hit at the front lines, then I think “Witch Hunt” is in that role, when no one can talk about sex and no one knows why they can’t. It’s a simple start, and to be honest we could be doing worse. I don’t think our program is that raunchy,” he says.

It’s funny, he says. Parents think their children don’t have sex before marriage.

A kiss scene in a film spurred his mother, a long time ago, to tell him never to do what the protagonists were doing. She comes from an older generation of Koreans, one in which some stuck with one lover their entire lives, he says.

Those notions are breaking now.

“Mind and body are equal, but Koreans have been taught that mind is more important, and they can’t say anything even with a knife to their throats. When you have a girlfriend, it’s not just a platonic love. But when it comes to the body, it’s all — ” he presses his index finger to his lips and shhs. “For parents to tell kids that safety is important, that they should be seeing people who take precious care of their bodies, that’s very important. There were bad things because it was in the shade, and so “Witch Hunt” holds a big meaning. I have a lot of pride in regards to that.”

The show’s not just about sex, he points out. Sex is only a natural part of the conversation when it comes to relationships between people.

“Things we don’t like to talk about, like a woman’s pleasure, or that it’s not good when a woman talks too much — things like that which I can’t understand. Through this, we can say, ‘Oh, that’s right.’ Let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s just say it. How can you talk about love while leaving the body out of it? It’s not that we just want to talk about sex, but the response we get is telling of just how little we did before. I said before, ‘Why can’t we talk about sex on television?’ It’s a society in which people think you’re a bad person if you say ‘sex,’ and so to be in the middle of that process to break that, it’s a very good thing.”


“Witch Hunt” may be the hot topic that follows his name nowadays, but Sung is adamant that he’s neither a variety entertainer or a TV host -- he’s a singer. (Newsis)

“Witch Hunt” may be the hot topic that follows his name nowadays, but Sung is adamant that he’s neither a variety entertainer or a TV host — he’s a singer. (Newsis)

“Witch Hunt” may be the hot topic that follows his name nowadays, but Sung is adamant that he’s neither a variety entertainer or a TV host — he’s a singer.

The future is unpredictable, and anything may be a go. But music will always be in the picture, he says.

“When I first started, my hope wasn’t bigger than to just enjoy singing. That can’t change,” he says. “I don’t have specific plans. I don’t think to myself, ‘I’ll have to do this when I’m 40.’ If I can sing music that people like, then I’ll consider my career a happy and successful one.”

A changing landscape helped him branch out. While roles were limited in the past, things are different now, he says.

“Before, if Yoon Jong-shin was too funny, the value of his music would go down,” he says, in reference to the ballad-singer-slash-composer whose success in variety programming runs from “Family Outing” to “Radio Star.” “That’s not the case anymore. As for me, I think I can do variety shows freely because I gained confidence in my career. I have confidence in my concerts and in my music, and so I can be honest and always think of it as a good thing. I don’t force myself to be one way or the other. It’s just me,” he says.

If there was ever any doubt that Sung worries about keeping his music fresh while G-Dragon “holla”s at Missy Elliot, here’s his answer:

“People ask me if I’m tired of singing about love,” he says. “Love, love, love. I answer that I’m not ready to sing about world peace. I still have a lot to say about love, and it’s something I can sing about until I die. In terms of musical development — will there be such a thing? I’m not sure. There will be attempts. But I still like love songs. Still. There’s so many scripts when it comes to love. Why do people keep watching romantic comedies and melodramas if it’s all the same? If you’re tired of it, don’t listen to it. I keep going under the belief that there continues to be people who want me to do what I do.”

Plans are underway to release an eighth album by the end of the year.

“I’m going to think very carefully [about it],” he says. “I want to show a different but familiar image.”


Sung is no stranger to L.A. His last performance here was in 2012, for a joint concert with Lena Park.

“As you know, L.A. is big and wide and diverse and bountiful. Mysterious,” he muses. “My father worked in L.A. before I was born. When I hear stories of that time, it amazes me to think of how incredible and fascinating it is that Koreans traveled thousands of miles here to create their own society. The size of Koreatown is surprising. L.A. makes me think that Koreans really are incredible. What my parents’ generation accomplished, it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Frankly, he says, he envies people who live freely abroad, those who experience culture and travel. He used to nurse his own dream of studying in a foreign country. Sometimes he finds himself remembering that, yes, a world exists out there.

There was the surf shop man from Texas he met in Fiji, who went on vacation but stayed after meeting a beautiful wife; there was the Swedish man in Germany who made a decision to just stay and start a business.

“[Koreans in the U.S.] may crave spicy rice cakes and miss Korea, but remember that some people living in Korea envy those who live abroad,” he says. “So take care of your health, enjoy yourself and show everyone the charm of Koreans.”



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  5. Maine Gracia Casablanca

    August 24, 2016 at 7:08 PM

    I may have discovered Sung Si-Kyung when he is this popular already but it’s never too late to appreciate his songs and his singing style. I was looking for Korean OSTs and found his name and tried listening to his songs. Then wham! I got hooked. He sings in Korean and English too so that amounts to double pleasure because I am not a Korean. I read all write ups about him and watched videos just to know him better. I’m impressed with his views and perspectives as a singer. I always love ballads but never get tired of love songs since there’s no life without love. Go,go,go Sung Si-Kyung and do what makes people happy.

  6. Franlie J.Bautista

    March 14, 2017 at 1:55 PM

    I’m new to Korean entertainment but when I heard SSK versions of when you come into my heart…I’m hooked& listens to all his music Korean& English….readings on himself,he’s ideals & simplicity of his dreams ,him being happy in his own capacity,his love songs….love life…I can relate…….living life that makes you happy…in a simplest way….I would love to be the woman he’ll fall in love…..he’s love songs make him look & made one feel …he is so capable of sharing that wonderful feeling called love…..I loveyou Sung Si Kyung…..your demeanor speaks volumes…of why you want that love & respect from your future partner… can I meet SSK in person…concert….be in Korea late this year…!stay healthy & keep singing what you love to sing….we’re happy to listen to your beautiful voice….God Bless!