It was exactly a year ago that Lena Park stunned millions of viewers of I am a Singer. The 36-year-old singer, who is also known as Park Jung-hyun, mesmerized the audience with the powerful but touching voice that emanated from her small frame. Her popularity soared and so did people’s interest in her background ― being a Korean-American and an Ivy League graduate.
After receiving much unexpected attention, she is back with her eighth full-length album “Parallax”, the first in three-and-a-half years. She could have taken the safer way, including a few R&B songs on the album. But this time, Park took the hard way.
On her new album, Park has expanded her musical range with indie artists including Mon9 from band Mongoose and eAeon from MOT and toned down her showy vocal technique. Her long-time musical partners, songwriters Chung Seok-won and Hwang Sung-jae, also participated in her much-anticipated album. However, she made a surprising choice of a lead song: “I’m sorry”, a remake of a Mexican pop song, “Mientes”.
“The TV program gave me a kind of confidence. And also ironically, by experimenting with myself on the stage every week, I realized that I shouldn’t take the easy way and ditched the old way,” Park told The Korea Herald in an interview.
Park even picked up the word “Parallax”, an astronomy term, for her album title. She wanted to talk about the different viewpoints of the audience and herself.
“So many people are expecting so many different things from me right now especially after I am a Singer. Some people are expecting a diva ballad, some people like it when I do rock or some want R&B again. But when I was making the album I realized that, that is why it is a parallax ― everyone is looking at me with a different image, label,” said Park at a cafe in Seoul.
“So if I am to make an album I would be proud of, I should be really true to where my musical journey is going. And if my musical journey is always to just do the music you feel right now, this one here is exactly what it is. I think I ended up with a diverse album that does actually offer all these different tastes,” she said.
Following is a Q&A with Lena Park on her new album and plans for the future.
KH: Why did you decide to work with indie musicians?
LP: I came to like the music by indie musicians. For a while, I was too focused on my academic career that I did not know how Korean music had changed in the years 2009 and 2010. When I came back in August 2010, I noticed that the views on indie music had changed greatly. Indie music had developed significantly as a genre and many started talking about it. I saw more indie music get public acceptance and saw many outstanding indie artists. I thought by working with younger (indie music) artists, that I could imagine making my music totally new and unique. I looked for new people to find my new “music color” and be inspired by them.
KH: Was it a satisfying experience?
LP: It was risky but very satisfying because it happened just the way I wanted. I knew that Mon9 and eAeon are two extremely opposite musicians in terms of their musical taste and color. And I was curious to see how they would look at me with new perspectives and views. We produced together, but the music the two created differed significantly and that was what I had hoped for. I wanted to express and portray my emotion without skills and high-tones, and the two made it possible by guiding me to a new direction.
KH: Were you afraid of being labeled an R&B diva?
LP: No, I am not afraid of labels. I don’t care what you label me. I think it is important to be labeled; I just take everything as a compliment. That’s a great name, thank you! But that can’t actually change what I’m doing. They have been calling me an R&B singer for the last 12 years when I haven’t done any R&B songs in around 10 years. But that is okay. That is how they interpret my music and my image. If I sing in front of people I have to let people interpret my music. It is parallax!
KH: It is unbelievable to see such a strong, powerful and glamorous voice coming out of you considering your frame. What is the source of your power and energy?
LP: I really like exercising though I usually don’t get enough time to exercise. I do a little bit of weights and really like Pilates.
KH: You are going to hold concerts in 10 major cities starting on June 23 in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province. What’s your concept for this year’s tour?
LP: If my past solo concerts had a certain color of music, my new one will be a story. I wrote the stories, times when I can really interact with people, and the songs that I really want to sing. I am doing a national tour and because I think that there will be many audiences who are attending a concert for the first time. I am going to keep my rule of just showing them my music and making memories of our own.
KH: Have you thought about debuting outside Korea?
LP: I cannot say I have not, but I do not think that I necessarily have to go to the United States for it. I came here all the way from the US and worked really hard. After putting in endless efforts I came to a point when I can finally sing freely and happily. I really love this moment and why should I give this up? I am willing to do a side-project if I have the time. Why can’t I release an English album here in Korea? I have no eagerness for a Billboard chart although if they are interested in my music, they are always welcome.
KH: What kind of artist do you hope to be?
LP: If, at the end of my life, someone were to judge what kind of singer I was, I hope that the person would remember me as an artiste who did not want to stay in one position, who always dared and who always tried to make new path to show new things.
Either I go somewhere else, or I will go even deeper in terms of my career. I really hope that my passion for music does not disappear. If it does, I do not think I can continue to be a singer.