The star opens up ahead of his upcoming debut London concerts.
With Blackpink performing on one of the outdoor main stages at Coachella and BTS’s two-night stint at London’s iconic Wembley Stadium imminent, there’s no doubt about it, K-pop has permeated into mainstream music culture and it looks like it’s here to stay.
One person with a unique perspective on K-pop’s explosion in popularity is Eric Nam, the American Korean K-pop musician who’s now set his sights on becoming a global pop superstar.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia to Korean parents, Nam became obsessed with K-Pop as a teen whilst it was still fairly niche in the western world.
After uploading cover songs to YouTube, the singer was spotted by hit Korean TV show Star Audition: Birth of a Great Star 2 and invited to join the show, launching Nam’s career in the country.
Finishing in the top five on the programme, Nam’s career blossomed in his new home and the performer’s infectious personality and ability to communicate in English and Korean earned the musician a TV presenting job, interviewing western celebrities promoting their latest films, television shows and music.
Although a household name in Korea, the singer had his sights on becoming a performer back home and released his first English language single Into You in 2016. The track created a huge buzz online, topping the charts on the new music aggregator service Hype Machine, and the rising artist was championed by Beats 1 tastemaker Zane Lowe.
Nam’s latest EP Honestly dropped in 2018. Featuring the tracks Honestly and Potion, the release further cemented Eric as an upcoming artist to watch. The performer followed the EP’s release with a 15 date sold out tour of the US.
Although no stranger to London, Eric Nam will be performing in the UK’s capital for the first time ever this June, with two shows at the O2 Academy Islington booked in.
Ahead of the concerts, we caught up with Eric to discuss his favourite things to do whilst in town, his love of touring and his thoughts on the popularity of K-pop.
How would you describe your music to people who may never have heard you before?
I think it’s just feel good pop. That’s the way I like to think of it, even though some of the lyrics might be a bit down. I’ve always wanted to try making more edgy and darker music, but I think my personality is just not that edgy!
What made you want to follow a career in music?
Music has always been a dream. It’s always been a passion but I never really thought I’d have the opportunity to pursue it. So when the opportunity did come, I just thought, hell, you only live once, man. I could have the normal 9 to 5 and be perfectly happy with it, but I knew that if I didn’t take this risk I would regret it for the rest of my life. I didn’t wanna think about what could have been.
I’m glad I did it, I’ve been incredibly blessed and I’ve been able to do things that a lot of people would love to try and do, on both the music and TV side.
How much are you looking forward to coming to London to perform?
I’m incredibly excited. London is one of my favourite cities in the world, so to be able to do two shows there – which I think are almost sold out – is incredibly exciting. I’ve never met my fans in London and I’ve never done a show there so it’s going to be a blast.
What can fans expect?
A lot of my shows have this really good high energy. It’s a good mix. There’s a few ballads, a few more upbeat songs and then there’s like the EDM throw water in your face, let’s get lit songs as well.
I think the other thing that makes my show a little bit different is that they feel a lot more intimate because I talk a lot. I feel like I need to figure out when I should shut up! For a lot of K-pop artists they tour and aren’t able to connect with their fans outside of a few very simple phrases in English, which is fine, but I think because outside of music I do a lot of TV and hosting, that’s just part of my personality to put on a show on top of the music show. It should be fun!
Apart from playing shows, what else do you like to do in London?
I just like walking around the city. I think it’s a really cool beautiful city. I shot a music video the last time I was there. The first time or second time I went I had an interview with the cast from Justice League, and then I ended up going to see Tottenham to watch Sonny (Son Heung-min) play. He scored the winning goal which was awesome!
I think this time when I go I’m going to try and link up with a lot of local singer-songwriters and try and organise some collaborations.
London is this incredibly metropolitan, cosmopolitan, global city that has everything you ever need. Just being in that kind of energy makes me really come alive so I’m super stoked for it.
You’ve recently been in the studio with London’s own MNEK. What was working with him like?
He is super cool. He creates these melody lines and lyrics that I’ve always just really loved. Working with him was a lot of fun, we were just vibing off of each other and it just felt very natural.
I feel like I can usually hold my own when it comes to writing, but just as a fan of MNEK, I just kinda walked in and said: “you’re so good and it’s so cool to be able to work with you”. It was fun to be able to work with him.
You were born and grew up in the US before starting your career in Korea. What’s it been like to see Korean culture become so popular around the world?
I think especially the past two years it has really taken me off guard. Korea’s always been great at creating cultural exports, but I did not imagine it catching on to the point where BTS are selling out Wembley Stadium. That’s insane to me.
It’s really opened the door for a lot of other artists like myself to try interesting things. I hope this is just the start and it hopes to break down barriers and boundaries. I’m excited about the future, it’s been really cool to see this happen.
You incorporate both American and Korean influences into your music. Does that come naturally to you?
Korea’s where I’m based and that’s where I do most of my work, but the funny thing is I write most of my songs in English. Often there are times where I want to keep the song in English, but it’s just a matter of where I’m working that it has to be in Korean.
I often find myself really liking the English version more than the Korean version, so that’s always the struggle and a challenge to balance that out. The goal for me at some point is to put out a full-on EP in English, allowing it to stay as true to its original form as possible.
What’s one moment in your career so far that’s made you think, wow I can’t believe I get to do this?
Just being on tour is such a cool concept to me. You have thousands of people around the world who are literally paying their hard earned money to watch you sing and talk s**t for like an hour and a half.
When I was growing up and I really wanted to go see someone I’d have to get a job and save up for a few months and now I’m on the receiving end of all that love and effort.
Every time I put together a show, it’s an emotional process and it puts a lot of things in perspective for me. I’ve been lucky to do some amazing things, but I think touring is the coolest thing in the world.
Eric Nam comes to London for two shows this June. Here are the dates:
21 June 2019 – O2 Academy Islington, London
22 June 2019 – O2 Academy Islington, London
Very limited tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk