2016 was a turning point for Kim Young Geun when he won the talent show Superstar K [an equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent and American Idol]. The singer impressed the judges with his cover of Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down, which later led to more exciting performances on the show. 

A year after winning the show, Young Geun, born and bred in South Korea, debuted with an EP called Under Wall Road, a stunning release that refers to a place he grew up in, with lyrics describing the artist’s own future. Following the release of the aforementioned EP, Young Geun recorded more music, including OST singles such as Word Up for Voice and Touch for Hi Bye Mama. Although his musical journey has been uphill, Young Geun has been working very hard on his own material while also uploading covers on his YouTube channel.

I recently spoke to Young Geun about Superstar K, Under Wall Road and music in general. The artist also shared his thoughts on the Korean music industry and plans for the future.

Photo © Courtesy of Kreaon & Kim Young Geun

2017 was the year when you officially debuted with the Under Wall Road EP. However, prior to your debut, you participate in Superstar K (2016), a South Korean talent show, which you also won. How did your journey of becoming a singer begin? 

I was always pursuing the singer dream, but I never imagined I’d achieve it while still in my 20s. I became a singer earlier than I thought I would, so it felt great when I debuted. But I’m still in the phase of experiencing a lot and learning a lot, even now.

Under Wall Road is a truly beautiful and personal release. The title itself refers to a place you grew up in with lyrics describing your own future. Could you tell us more about the EP? How much of your personal experiences influenced the Under Wall Road creative process?

Under Wall Road is a song telling my life story. It’s a song that holds the most meaning for me and tells the most of my real-life experiences. Actually, I rejected the song at first when I heard the melody and the lyrics because I was worried it would not suit me. Now, I tear up whenever I hear the song. I tear up because it makes me think, “Will I ever pour my whole life into one song like this again?”.

Even now, when I talk to the producer who was in charge of this song, I apologise for how I tried to reject the song back then. I even think I might have sung it better if I had the heart I have now. So, the first verse of the song is about Under Wall Road at Ok-dong. That’s where I was born and where I grew up. The second verse is about Gyeongui Line Forest Park, which was in front of our house in Seoul where we moved later in my life. The title is the name of the village I mentioned I grew up in, Under Wall Road. 

Also, there’s a crazy coincidence about this song that still amazes me. There are lyrics that go, “White snow is falling below the street lamp in front of my home” in the first verse. But that village was actually so deep in the countryside there weren’t that many street lamps there. But there was this one rare street lamp in front of our home. So, it always amazes me how the lyricist wrote those lyrics. I mean, the lyricist has obviously never been to my home. This song is my very first song as a singer.

Video © Courtesy of Kreaon & Kim Young Geun

What kind of approach do you use when writing your lyrics? 

All my life, I would go around being curious and wondering about things in my head. I often take notes on my cell phone even if it’s just one short line. I pull out these notes when I write lyrics and they do often become part of the lyrics. Also, I’m the type that gets inspired by what friends and other people say more than what I see in movies and books.

As mentioned before, you participated in Superstar K back in 2016. Your superb live performances were deeply appreciated by the audience and judges as well. Is there a difference between performing live on stage (obviously before Covid interrupted all live shows) and performing on TV? Do you ever get stage fright? 

Live performances are assessed on the spot and then it’s all over. But performances recorded for TV shows stay forever as videos. That’s the biggest difference. Back when I was going through auditions, I was never nervous because I had nothing to lose and if I didn’t pass, that would be the end of it. So, I wasn’t scared of anything. But after the audition phase was over, I felt like I was being assessed after every stage, so I got very nervous every time I sang.

After winning the competition many things happened. Although not everything went smoothly for you, you did not give up and continued to release music. You recorded various OST singles, including Word Up for Voice (2017) and Touch for Hi Bye Mama (2020). In addition, you released a few singles: Remember Me (2018), Not Happy (2019), Star (2019) and Memorable Snow (2021), just to name a few. Most songs are classified as K-pop ballads with Memorable Snow giving a different yet beautiful jazzy vibe. Is there a certain music style you would like to try out with your future releases?

I think I’m still at the start of my life, even now. So, I want to sing as many different genres as I can without being picky. I especially want to try a lot of Funk songs and Blues songs.

Video © Courtesy of Kim Young Geun

Back in 2018 you collaborated with Stella Jang on Star in the Sky. What was that experience like for you? Were there any artistic differences between you two during the recording process?

We recorded separately. I finished first and then visited Stella Jang at the studio when she was recording her part. I remember thinking her voice was truly beautiful. She also seemed super smart. It was a great experience and I learned a lot on-site.

You have been recording many covers and sharing them with your fans on your YouTube channel. Apart from that, are you working on new music? Can your fans expect a new EP or a full-length album at some point?

I’m only featuring, but there will be a new song coming out on May 13th. In general, I’m trying to make songs non-stop because I don’t want there to be any real pause between my releases. So, if there’s a song I believe is worth showing the world, I’ll always release it no matter how sudden.

Photo © Courtesy of Kim Young Geun

Looking at the Korean music industry, and since you became a singer, have you suffered any ‘resistance’ or scepticism from within the industry? What would you say are currently your main artistic challenges and has being an artist changed other aspects of your life?

I really understand how it must be difficult for everyone in this industry and how all artists must be working hard every single day. The biggest challenge/dream for me is to become a much bigger singer by the time I’m 30 years of age. But my personal life hasn’t changed much since I became a singer. Even people around me tell me my life seems pretty much the same.

On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?

Rather than remember which song I did well technically or emotionally, I remember singing Lay Me Down while on Superstar K 2016 the most. It’s a song that made me the most famous. To be honest, I don’t know if I could sing it as well if I did it now. Now that I think of it, maybe it was because I did well technically…

You recently returned with a heartful cover of the legendary singer Lee Seung Chul’s 2008 hit song Are You Listening. What inspired you to cover the song and why?

He was my role model growing up. I listened to his songs and sang along as a kid. I think that’s why I covered the song with much more care and heart. This song’s melody and lyrics are impossible for me to forget no matter how much time passes.

Photo © Courtesy of Kreaon & Kim Young Geun

You also recorded a live performance with Kreaon at the Mapo-Gu Oil Tank Culture Park. Filming inside the former oil tank sounds like an interesting experience, how was that for you? 

I was first surprised to learn such a pretty place exists! Then, I was surprised a second time to learn that it used to be an oil reserve. It was so beautiful, I want to visit it again and experience it more. It was a really fun, interesting experience.

Looking at the current situation, what’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next year or so?

I want to have my breakthrough soon. I do worry a lot about why it hasn’t happened for me yet. But I want to renew my resolve and view the present as my second beginning. I want to release a lot of good songs and be on a lot of stages. I want to become a singer widely recognised for my artistic merit.

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Translated by Esther Kim

Featured photo © Kim Young Geun

Video © Courtesy of Superstar K 2016

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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