MAN ON TOP

Crest­ing on the in­domitable shock­wave of Big­bang’s ex­plo­sive suc­cess, lead rap­per Choi Se­ung- hyun, bet­ter known by his stage name T.O. P, courts fash­ion’s fancy with char­ac­ter­is­tic stylish swag­ger. Pho­tog­ra­phy Kim Hee­june Styling Gee Eun

Men's Folio (Singapore) - - Contents -

Choi Se­ung- hyun, bet­ter known as T.O. P from Big­bang, courts fash­ion’s fancy with char­ac­ter­is­tic stylish swag­ger

In the be­gin­ning was Big­bang, and it opened the world’s ears to the mu­sic phe­nom­e­non known as K- pop. Its re­cently con­cluded MADE World Tour is telling of Big­bang’s uni­ver­sal dom­i­nance – per­fectly de­scrib­ing the su­per­star quin­tet on the oc­ca­sion of its 10th an­niver­sary, af­ter a decade- long con­quest of not only Asia but also the West (a feat con­sid­er­ing its non- English reper­toire) marked by im­me­di­ately sold­out shows, nu­mer­ous in­dus­try records, and unadul­ter­ated ac­claim. Like the cos­mic sin­gu­lar­ity, Big­bang not so much pushed bound­aries as it tran­scended gen­res al­to­gether.

But one mem­ber al­ready saw this fu­ture; one could say it was his destiny. Go­ing by the moniker T.O. P, the group’s self-styled “rap Basquiat with a mic” is seem­ingly pre­scient about the whole thing as he flaunts su­per­sonic rhymes while dressed in Mon­drian- in­spired suits – a per­sonal style he de­scribes as “art- rap”. The 28-year- old cer­ti­fied sex sym­bol ( by Rolling Stone magazine in 2013) is now mak­ing in­roads into fash­ion’s con­scious­ness, as fel­low mem­bers G- Dragon and Taeyang have done be­fore, and like those run­way reg­u­lars, his de­but at­ten­dance at the Dior Homme Win­ter 2016 show has caused noth­ing short of a sen­sa­tional stir.

How do you like the Dior Homme show?

I’ve liked Dior Homme right from the start. Not long af­ter my de­but with Big­bang, I saved up money to buy a pair of Dior Homme jeans even though I couldn’t re­ally af­ford it. I’m such a huge fan.

You even got to talk to de­signer Kris Van Ass­che.

I met him af­ter the show. I love his sneak­ers and the sporty look he cre­ates. His col­lec­tion was quite as­ton­ish­ing; Dior Homme has got­ten much younger and cooler than I thought!

While you were as­ton­ished by the col­lec­tion, we’re sur­prised by the peo­ple sit­ting next to you: Ben Gorham from Byredo, de­signer Karl Lager­feld, LVMH chair­man and CEO Bernard Ar­nault, among oth­ers. Did you feel ner­vous at all?

I’m quite sim­ple when it comes to such mat­ters; I’m not very self­con­scious. On the con­trary, I still feel un­com­fort­able go­ing to places where there are too many peo­ple. Many have asked why they’ve never seen me in the front rows (of run­ways) be­fore, but frankly, I don’t like go­ing to crowded places ex­cept for when I per­form on stage. There, I do what I do, ex­press­ing my­self. As a kid, I suf­fered from panic at­tacks when­ever I’m at a packed place – I can say this now be­cause the symp­toms are gone.

This is the first time you’ve at­tended a fash­ion show. What a sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing your pas­sion for fash­ion.

It’s al­ways best to see it with your own eyes, but we’re now liv­ing in a world where you can eas­ily view en­tire col­lec­tions as dig­i­tal im­ages. It’s only with art pieces – paint­ing, sculp­ture or fur­ni­ture – that I have to see in per­son. Those you can never fully ap­pre­ci­ate with pho­tos. I’ve al­ways liked clothes since I was young, so my ex­pe­ri­ence with fash­ion al­lows me to pre­dict the ac­tual out­come – what kind of fab­ric is used, how it would feel when I wear it – from a photo with­out much er­ror.

You’ve reached the state of pic­tur­ing your­self in the clothes just by look­ing at im­ages.

Yes, and quite ac­cu­rately too. Vis­ual el­e­ments mat­ter in my job, so I know in­stinc­tu­ally if some­thing looks good on me. The looks from the Dior Homme Sum­mer 2016 col­lec­tion, which I wore to the show and for the shoot, were all very im­pres­sive from the mo­ment I saw them.

You have quite the eye. How did you de­velop your en­thu­si­asm for art?

All the women in my fam­ily are en­gaged in some form of art. Most of them are painters, so I grew up sur­rounded by pic­tures and paint­ings. I had some train­ing when I was young as well, but I was bet­ter suited at ap­pre­ci­at­ing art than draw­ing. Per­son­ally, I’m more at­tracted to mu­sic and film in­stead, prob­a­bly be­cause per­form­ing is the right way for me to un­leash my cre­ativ­ity. Art aims for the com­ple­tion of a work that con­tains the iden­tity or vision of the artist through var­i­ous forms; I just want to ex­press my­self. I was the rebel in the house, de­fy­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of my fam­ily who wanted me to fol­low in their foot­steps. It wasn’t easy for them to ac­cept my dream of be­com­ing a mu­si­cian, I un­der­stand that. They’re just nor­mal grownups who couldn’t per­ceive the changes to come.

Now, you’re the mu­si­cian and ac­tor you wished to be. Who saw your po­ten­tial when you were a kid?

My­self. Here’s a story I’ve never told be­fore: When I was in mid­dle and high school, I wasn’t good at be­ing in a group. So I skipped school a lot, and it was frus­trat­ing be­cause it wasn’t like I was protest­ing against any­thing. I just had trou­ble deal­ing with a sys­tem that forced me to sit with oth­ers and learn what I wasn’t in­ter­ested in. My old friends tell me that I was a kid with firm self-as­sur­ance, that they thought my self- es­teem was unusu­ally high, all be­cause I kept say­ing I was go­ing to be a big suc­cess in mu­sic. Some of them thought I was dreaming in vain! I don’t know if it sounds ar­ro­gant, but I had this con­fi­dence in my­self since I was 13 or 14 years old. I could clearly see the path that I would be walk­ing on in­side my head, and that be­lief has never been shaken.

You seem to spend a lot of time think­ing and that has helped you look to the fu­ture. Does it take long for you to con­tem­plate your work in mu­sic or film?

I ac­cept my mu­si­cal projects and film choices as destiny. I need to be faith­ful to the feel­ing of the mo­ment rather than plan my moves on stage be­fore­hand, so the spon­tane­ity of my ex­pres­sions can be taken as destiny, I think.

Big­bang was an atyp­i­cal K- pop group from the start, in that the mem­bers have grown with their in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties in­tact.

From the time as trainees, we ex­per­i­mented with the kinds of mu­sic we wanted to do, and when we au­di­tioned be­fore CEO Yang Hyun Suk (of YG En­ter­tain­ment) with 20 of our own songs, he was able to cu­rate them with a de­tached per­spec­tive. We’re a dif­fer­ent team that can­not be cat­e­gorised with other idol groups, and that has made us go far.

Your over­whelm­ing sta­tus in the global mar­ket is quite un­prece­dented in the Korean mu­sic in­dus­try.

No­body ex­pected this to hap­pen ( YG En­ter­tain­ment might dis­agree). I think it’s the power of pas­sion that’s led us all this way; also, the depth of our mu­si­cal en­deav­ours. We poured our heart and soul, and re­ceived credit for do­ing so. Big­bang has achieved a won­der­ful in­ter­com­mu­ni­ca­tion of mu­sic with the world be­yond our­selves.

You’ve reached the peak as a mu­si­cian. Do you still feel thirsty?

I’ve never felt thirsty. I’ve never thought that my team’s ac­com­plish­ments were short of ex­pec­ta­tions, even dur­ing the early years. I only thought of what I knew, tried to be cre­ative, and fo­cused on ex­press­ing things in new ways. I nar­rowed my view down and only paid at­ten­tion to what I was do­ing. Does it sound like a lie? Be­cause we weren’t cal­cu­lat­ing, we could save our en­ergy from be­ing con­sumed by greed. We put that en­ergy into our mu­sic in­stead, and that’s how we’ve come this far.

At the height of his ca­reer, T.O. P faces the im­pend­ing re­al­ity of com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion (much like our own Na­tional Ser­vice), but he ac­cepts it with philo­soph­i­cal calm­ness. Af­ter all, Big­bang’s magic is built to last; its phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess comes not only from its strength as a col­lec­tive, but also from a re­fresh­ing em­pha­sis on hav­ing the mem­bers’ in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties shine. While most in the group have cul­ti­vated solo ca­reers – G- Dragon is even fash­ion in­car­nate – T.O. P’s pen­chant for per­for­mance has led him to ven­ture into act­ing as an­other artis­tic out­let. His in­tense gaze and cool de­meanour on­screen have al­ready gar­nered him sev­eral new­comer awards (no­tably for 71: Into the Fire and Com­mit­ment), and he’s set to grow as op­por­tu­ni­ties con­tinue to present them­selves.

Is there a spe­cific role you want to play?

I def­i­nitely like the se­ri­ous ones. Se­ri­ous and in­tense char­ac­ters move my heart. And I can’t deny the re­bel­lious spirit in me, who won’t go for the easy things. I only wish there were more va­ri­ety of char­ac­ters in the Korean film in­dus­try for male ac­tors in their 20s or 30s.

We’ve heard that you get ab­sorbed into your char­ac­ters so deeply that you have a hard time get­ting out of it af­ter film­ing. Isn’t that painful?

Yes it is, but it’s worth it. When I was work­ing on the rap por­tion of Loser for the lat­est Big­bang al­bum, I rewrote the lyrics no less than 30 times. I was so madly into it that I felt ter­ri­bly de­pressed for the next cou­ple of months. Nev­er­the­less, I get the best in­spi­ra­tion when­ever I push my­self hard. I can’t help it.

Peo­ple usu­ally as­so­ciate artists with be­ing picky and dif­fi­cult. Af­ter watch­ing you work, we find that you’re not so.

I’m way too sen­si­tive a per­son, I’ve know that since young. I’ve tried hard to be more so­cia­ble – and I ac­tu­ally did change – but still, I am who I am. Know­ing how emo­tion­ally del­i­cate I can be, I play jokes and say silly things when there’re peo­ple around. If I don’t, my mind blows up with so many thoughts that it gets hard to con­trol. Mak­ing peo­ple laugh is a de­fence mech­a­nism to cast away the tan­gled thoughts in my head.

Your so­cial me­dia is full of artis­tic in­ter­est and knowl­edge. We feel that you might want to do some­thing re­lated to art.

I want to in­tro­duce promis­ing Korean and Ja­panese artists to the world. There are many young artists who pro­duce sub­stan­tial art­works, but they don’t get the at­ten­tion they de­serve due to a lack of proper mar­ket­ing man­age­ment. I think there’ll be sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to present those artists this year; it’s all a se­cret for now, but it’s go­ing to be a big project.

Your In­sta­gram feed is also re­ally fun; there are com­ments and pho­tos that fool ev­ery­one!

I never get se­ri­ous do­ing it. I just en­joy watch­ing peo­ple get speech­less. Don’t you have a mis­chievous friend around you? I’m one!

At the photo shoot, you made a joke say­ing crois­sant is a Ja­panese bread. It took us a while to un­der­stand that you meant the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “- ssant” (like the Ja­panese hon­orific “- san”). Any­way, when the model be­fore the cam­era doesn’t look happy, the rest of the crew feels un­easy. How­ever, thanks to you, the shoot went great with a nice at­mos­phere.

If there was a model who made peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able dur­ing a photo shoot, it could be that he doesn’t know how to re­lease the ten­sion by be­ing funny. If I don’t look happy, ev­ery­body will get edgy, and then I’ll start to feel down as well. So I’ll try to lead the mood in a fun and pleas­ant way. The next time you see a model who’s overly tense, ask him to tell you a joke. The ner­vous­ness will go away, I think. [ Laughs]

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Dior Homme Wool jacket, wool pants, wool sweater, cot­ton shirt, silk tie, leather shoes

Dior Homme Wool jacket, wool pants, cot­ton shirt, leather shoes Groom­ing Lim Heakyung Hair Kim Tae­hyun Co­or­di­na­tion Shin Changy­ong

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