Ahead of G-Dragon’s Hong Kong show, we talk to him about new album, touring solo, and who Kwon Ji-yong really is
Following the success of his two performances in Macau, Korean superstar G-Dragon’s third world tour is coming to AsiaWorld-Expo – and as he tells the Post, there’s a lot hanging on things for him
The 28-year-old South Korean megastar is, naturally, extraordinarily busy, with his Kwon Ji Yong solo album released last month and a massive four-month, 36-date, 29-city, four-continent world tour on the go. Confusingly named G-Dragon 2017 World Tour: Act III, MOTTE (“Moment of Truth The End”), his third world tour is the largest ever undertaken by a Korean solo artist. It has already taken in two dates in Macau (both in June) and, following their huge popularity, will call in at AsiaWorld-Expo for two performances on August 25 and 26.
Born Kwon Ji-yong, the rapper, singer, songwriter, producer and fashion designer shot to fame a decade ago with the hugely popular boy band Big Bang before embarking on an equally stellar solo career in 2009. He says there is a lot hanging on the new album, and the tour, for him personally.
“People who have been watching me working on the new EP say that they felt very relieved after it was released,” he tells the Post. “However, I strongly feel that I’ve just started. It’s also the beginning of the world tour, which is an extension of the EP. Everything has meaning, especially as the aim of this solo album is to show the real Kwon Ji-yong, not G-Dragon.
“G-Dragon is a fancy person. People don’t expect upright images of G-Dragon and so I’ve been feeling some pressure about how I present myself. On the other hand, Kwon Ji-yong is an introvert, and has lots of things going on in his head. I have been hearing about how I am different onstage from offstage. This tour has been my first time to show Kwon Ji-yong himself to the public.”
The G-Dragon persona, of course, is inseparable from Big Bang. The five-member boy band took K-pop mainstream around the world – although they dislike the “K-pop” term themselves, pointing out its gratuitous ethnic categorisation, as if all Korean music is somehow the same. Probably the biggest act in Asia and the world’s most popular boy band, Big Bang have sold more than 140 million albums worldwide, with music based on hip hop that also incorporates elements of R&B, electronic music and rock.
G-Dragon is the band’s main songwriter: he’s written 22 No 1 hits, including Big Bang’s signature hit Lies, while his solo output takes in everything from glisteningly packaged pop to experimental electronic dance music and even folk – especially on the bold 2013 album Coup d’Etat.
His success has spread virally: first South Korea, then Japan, then the rest of Asia; then, unusually for an Asian pop star, the West started to take note. He was only the second Korean solo artist to undertake a world tour; has collaborated with Western musicians including Missy Elliott, Diplo, Boys Noize, Skrillex, MIA and Justin Bieber, as well as a who’s who of Korean artists; and describes Pharrell Williams as his musical hero. However, G-Dragon says he had little idea how popular he was around the world before he saw it for himself.
“I have to say I really was surprised on my first world tour. It was amazing to see what we’ve always dreamed of, right before our eyes. It was an amazing experience overall to realise we have fans supporting us in places that we were visiting for the first time. No words can describe how thankful I am for their support.”
Touring solo, he says, adds an extra level of physical exertion to the experience. “The biggest difference is stamina. Instead of having five people performing for two hours, one person is performing the whole time. I feel a bit lonely but it also becomes a way of concentrating on the show.
“I’m the type of person who commits to the fullest to whatever I’m doing. I’m not too sure if I’m keeping a good balance, though. I haven’t been getting much sleep and have lost a lot of weight preparing for this.”
Adding to the demands on his time, G-Dragon is also a cultural promoter, putting on contemporary art exhibitions in Seoul. Of course he’s also a fashion icon, the recipient of numerous style awards, known for his massively eclectic, boundary-pushing, androgynous taste. As well as working with the likes of Jeremy Scott, Hedi Slimane, Giuseppe Zanotti, Karl Lagerfeld and Raf Simons, and designing his own jewellery collection in partnership with Chow Tai Fook, he also has his own fashion brand, PeaceMinusOne; unlike his own frequently experimental fashion choices, its clothes are largely simple and practical.
G-Dragon had been training for the hard-working life of a pop star since early in his life. His road to fame started at the tender age of five, when he released a Christmas album as part of the band Little Roo’ra. He signed to entertainment conglomerate SM Entertainment (in which Post owner Alibaba Group owns a stake) aged eight, became interested in hip hop after a friend played him Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and contributed to the annual South Korean rap compilation album Flex in 2001 aged 13. He then moved to entertainment behemoth YG Entertainment, where he spent the first year cleaning the studio.
Despite serving such a long apprenticeship on the monolithic treadmill of the Korean entertainment industry, he has consistently managed to assert artistic control over his career, writing and producing his own music throughout.
There have been a few bumps along the way: an accusation of plagiarism from Sony Music, a failed drug test, a supposed onstage profanity – the reactions to the second and third of those were like he’d murdered someone – but they probably haven’t hurt, marking him out as a bit edgier than most Korean pop stars. When dealing with both the highs and the lows, it helps to maintain a good attitude, he says.
“I am usually positive and optimistic. If I get stressed or some results are not so good, I let it go by thinking ‘Oh well, it can be better next time.’ I don’t worry a lot and I’m not too serious about anything. I want to have freedom with everything I do.”
G-Dragon, Aug 25-26, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Expo, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau, HK$1,388-HK$2,588, HK Ticketing