My CNNGo piece about K-pop star Nichkhun has been up a few days now, but I thought it might be fun — even if only for me — to recount the second interview I’ve done with a genuine star in my time here in Korea (the first, with actress Kim Suna, is unfortunately no longer online).
Though I was vaguely aware of his band 2PM from their saturation coverage on TV, Nichkhun himself didn’t register with me until I saw him on the Korean programme We Got Married. This reality-type show brings together two young singers or actors, and then has them go on a series of “dates” while also exercising, making rice balls, having housewarming parties, and other such humdrum activities supposedly typical to married life in Korea.
The edition of the show with Nichkhun (in which he paired off with Chinese singer Victoria Song) was a big hit with audiences, but what really struck me was his apparently flawless English. On further inquiry, I found out that not only was Korean not his first language (it’s Thai), he wasn’t even of Korean descent (he’s Thai-American). He would be, I thought, the perfect subject for one of the occasional pieces I contribute to CNNGo.com. The editor agreed, and so, after various to-ing and fro-ing with his friendly but harried PA, I managed to secure 40 minutes of his time.
The interview took place at the new MNet offices, which are part of the CJ Building in Sangam-dong. In a manner befitting pop royalty, a downstairs restaurant opened up a back section for us, and the man himself entered with his manager.
I have to say, the first thing that struck me about him was just how young he looked. Carefully sculpted into a faux-rugged, safely sexy persona on video, in person he could have passed for 15. However, as I quickly discovered, he was also open, modest and genuinely funny, all of which made him a great interview. It certainly helped that his story — of an awkward, rather reluctant teenager suddenly thrust into the spotlight — was such a compelling one too.
The story’s been up for about five days, and it’s caused by far the biggest stir of anything I’ve ever written. Within hours of its going online, a bunch of K-pop fan sites had seized on it and swarms of his followers were poring over his words.
Thankfully, given the fans’ enormous fervour, most of the feedback for the piece was pretty positive. There were (a bit prissily, I thought) a few eyebrows raised over his use of the terms “black people and lots of whites” to describe the audience on 2PM’s US tour. There were also a few claims that I had plagiarised the story, or that the interview hadn’t even taken place because the real Nichkhun is too well educated to litter his speech with “likes.” (This last claim was scotched by another commenter who swore she had seen a recording of this actual interview on CNN. In fact, no cameras were present.)
I can’t claim to be a fan of 2PM’s music — I am surely not, to be fair, the demographic the band’s songwriters have in mind when penning ditties like this. But, as a fellow furrner living in Korea, it is heartening to see just how much Koreans have taken to this young Thai-American. And, as his legions of fans would no doubt agree, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer fellow.