It’s a Wednesday night at 88Rising’s offices in West Hollywood, Calif., and Jackson Wang has just returned from boxing. It’s only his third day in the United States, and Los Angeles is particularly sunny amid the spring heat. But the Chinese star, who splits his time between China and South Korea, isn’t here to soak up some rays, he’s very focused on work – especially his upcoming appearance at the Coachella music festival. as part of 88Rising’s “Head in the Clouds”. Saturday night set. He’s been rehearsing and rehearsing nonstop, all the while watching the number of views soar — 15 million and counting — for his new single and visual, “Blow.”
Wang has a massive fan base – 27.4 million followers on Instagram and 5.4 million on Twitter alone – and he shares with these devotees one of the darkest moments of his life: the nervous breakdown that led to “Magic Man”, his future future album released. Wang reveals that the project was born after constantly feeling pressure to not do enough – or be enough – ironically, given that in the eight years since he started making music, he hasn’t taken a vacation yet.
Mental health is a priority for Wang, and the K-Pop star wears his heart on his sleeve when talking about what led to the breakdown and how he coped, as he details in an interview with Variety.
Will this be your first time at Coachella?
It’s my first time. It’s once in a lifetime. I am very honored and at the same time, I am nervous. … He’s not a negative nervous. I’m excited.
What is it like working with 88Rising?
We have been working together for more than four or five years. Now it’s totally family-friendly. We talk about work, yes, but we talk more about personal things. Especially when it comes to creations: what is the strategy? What is our next step? What kind of music do we want to broadcast? Develop a strategy together. Not just at work, like families. Because working in this industry, honestly, you have different emotions. Mental health is so important in this industry, in all industries, but especially in this industry.
For me, as an artist who travels from Korea to China in all these different places, also working as a member of a K-Pop group and now I’m solo, everything is different. Last year I was in depression, with depression and huge anxiety because everything around me changed. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been in this industry for eight, nine years: it’s always traveling; show after show; programs; advertising; to visit; it’s almost a loop. I started to feel lost. I don’t know what else to do and what should I do? I don’t even know who I was. I started drinking every day, but I was still working.
Growing up, I grew up in this family full of athletes. My parents were both athletes, national team athletes. I was an athlete, my brother was an athlete. So I always said that if I had obstacles in my life or stress, the way I deal with them is that I will overcome them. I will find a solution, or I will always tell myself that I have to work harder. Maybe I’m not good enough, or I’m not working hard enough. The reason there was a breakdown is that it got to a point where it was above that. I felt like maybe I was scared.
What triggered it?
Just everything. I was completely lost. I thought, “You know what? Maybe it’s time for me…” By the way, I never believed in talking to other people or friends. I solve always my own problems when I’m stressed about myself, because what’s the point? It’s my problem. It’s nobody else’s problem.
My producers, my crew, my friends around me, they insisted on sitting down with me. People have always said to me, “You need a break. You work too hard, you need to relax a bit. You need to recharge your batteries, to refresh yourself, so that you can come back inspired. I was afraid that if I take this break, I’ll be lazy forever. What if I can’t come back? I was worried about this.
We sat down and I didn’t know there was power in those words they shared. It’s so magical to me. It is magic. I never believed in it in my whole life, then I accepted it. Whoever I was in the past, whatever I had with all my music or whatever – me, Jackson Wang as a character, as an artist, as a person – I wanted to leave that behind me and start fresh. Then we created the album, and it’s called “Magic Man”.
How did you and Daniel “Cloud” Campos come together on the music video for “Blow?” What was the inspiration behind the look and costumes?
“Blow” is the intro to Magic Man, the various worlds that are about to be exposed. Cloud is such an amazing director, and an amazing performer and dancer himself. He has this world in his mind, and I had my world when I listened to the song. We had different thoughts, but it was such a good mix – because when you see that, it all looks like a musical. It’s a very strong color that Cloud has in his world. I am the leader of this world, I control everything. It’s a party and I lead everyone, that’s the whole concept.
What happens after 48 seconds when everyone starts convulsing?
Oh yeah, do you want me to ruin this? That’s the thing: every time I put stuff out, people ask, “What does that mean?” What is interesting is that a video or a product, a hundred people are going to have different emotions and different feelings towards it. There’s no point in me saying, “Hey, that’s the way it is.” Everything you think is not what it is. so I decided not to talk about it.
Now more than ever, audiences react to songs that aren’t in their native language. Do you feel the pressure to sing in English?
No not at all. That’s the thing, art is art. Music is music. What does this have to do with nationality? There are so many elements. People also ask me this question: as an Asian, how does it feel to be at the top of this leaderboard or leaderboard? What are you even asking? Music is music, a product is a product. This water comes from Japan. [Points to Fiji water bottle]. Damn man, water is water. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, it’s bad. It’s very personal.
Why do you think the American public has embraced K-Pop so enthusiastically?
Please emphasize this: K-Pop is not good because it is K-Pop. K-Pop is good because it’s good music — it’s good quality. American artists do not exist. Yes, there are, but at the end of the day, music is music. The thing that matters is how many people can relate to this? It proves that many people can identify with K-Pop. That’s the answer, that’s what I think.
What does BTS and their success mean for South Korea?
Damn, what pride. One of the RM members, the leader, despite the fact that we grew up together, it’s such a pride. It’s not even about music anymore. Artists like BTS, like Blackpink, I respect them in art. The direction in which they are going, me as a spectator watching, I am proud.
There is an arena being built in Seoul especially for K-Pop music. The popularity of genres is constantly changing. Will K-Pop last forever?
K-Pop will definitely last forever. J-Pop will last forever. You never know what will happen tomorrow, do you? For me, I personally think it will continue to evolve. I just wish entertainment had nothing to do with other things, because entertainment is entertainment and is supposed to make people happy.
“Blow” is a new sound direction for you. What inspired the sound?
I’ve been making music for eight years and I’m still in a position that I explore even on a daily basis. I was not singing. I did not take singing lessons. I have no experience in singing lessons until this year. back in [Korean entertainment company] JYP, I was trained in dance. I was trained in rap. I was trained in martial arts. I was not a singer.
But during the process of a journey where I explored, explored, tried and tried – with the help of the people around me, with 88, Team Wang, producers – they kept inspiring me, inspiring me. inspire, to inspire me and also to encourage me to try new things. I surprised myself too. Oh shit, that could be my sound. Or even hit notes. I continued to train. It’s about sharpening my weapons and absorbing all those energies around me, knowledge and information. How can I turn all of these things into mine? This is my current status: “Blow” and this album.
Do you like fashion. How do you choose your outfits for a big moment like Coachella?
Anything comfortable. We make art; we are artists; we’re supposed to have fun with it. Because art itself is very personal. Fashion is the same, it’s art. So I rest and have fun with it. If tomorrow I want to go out in pajamas, I will.
Since you’ve talked so much about mental health, do you have any advice for others who are struggling?
I can share my own experience, but this is not a lecture or anything. I can say that being serious in the process of creating art is a good thing, but don’t lose the fun of it. When you have fun with it, you are happy. The second thing is that it’s important to have a circle of positive people around you. No matter how amazing you are as a person, as an artist, if you have all these negative people around you, it’s going to break you.
What are your personal goals and what do you consider a success?
I hope one day I can make all my supporters or fans really proud, and for my people in the East.
I feel like you already do that…
Not yet, I’m so far from it. Does everyone know my music on the street, in Beverly Hills or whatever? No right? It means I’m so far from it. Second, what do I want to be? I hope that one day I want to be the bridge that connects East and West. People in the West know the East, the East knows the West through the Internet, or even by traveling or working. But there are a lot of layers underneath that people don’t know about. I hope one day I can do my best to make it happen.