Eric Nam: the outsider who became a K-Pop star

By AFP   March 17, 2024 | 02:12 am PT
Eric Nam: the outsider who became a K-Pop star
Eric Nam from the U.S. has risen as a prominent K-Pop star. Photo courtesy of Eric Nam's Instagram
Eric Nam barely spoke any Korean when he moved to South Korea to build a music career, but he somehow became one of the country's biggest K-Pop stars.

Nam grew up in Atlanta in the U.S., and travelled on a whim to South Korea in 2011 to take part in "Star Audition: Birth of a Great Star", a talent show similar to shows like "X Factor" and "The Voice."

Though he only came in fifth, he landed a record deal and chose to jack in his job as Deloitte management consultant to become a popstar.

"To be very blunt, when I started I couldn't really speak Korean, so I didn't really know much of what I was singing," Nam told AFP in Paris ahead of a pair of shows in the French capital.

It didn't stop him scoring a string of hit singles, hosting TV shows and being named a GQ Korea Man of the Year.

That forced him to learn Korean fast -- but his unlikely route to fame meant he missed out on the famously exacting training process for K-Pop idols.

"There was a steep learning curve. I felt very under-prepared when I debuted because I couldn't dance like everybody else, and I couldn't perform," he said.

"So it was a challenge -- how do I create something that is unique to me?" he added.

'More open and honest'

His answer was to play up his outsider status and start producing songs in English with a view to conquering international audiences.

His plan seems to have worked, with Nam now on his third world tour -- with around 80 dates, almost all sold out.

The polished, wholesome image of Korean pop has been rocked in recent years by scandals, including a 2018 date-rape scandal at Gangnam's Burning Sun nightclub, run by boy-band member Seungri.

Nam has deliberately avoided the polished image in favour of the more relatable and confessional approach of modern Western popstars.

"I wanted to tell my own stories... and I think I've been challenged to be more open and transparent and honest with my lyrics as time has gone on," he said.

Nam says his latest album, "House on a Hill", released last September, combines poppy beats with some searching questions about his life choices.

"It was written during very much of an existential crisis of sorts," he said. "You have all these metrics of success, and I realised that I hit a lot of those metrics very early on. And it's like this never-ending rat race."

'Maturity and beauty'

But a more frank and personal approach to music has been catching on in Korea in recent years, Nam said.

"There are a lot more artists who are being very forward and open and honest with their life experience, which is a good thing."

But Nam added: "There's also a world in which you don't have to be 100 percent open and honest about every aspect of your life. We have to keep things for ourselves because otherwise we're living for everybody else."

Now 35, Nam sometimes gets teased by fans that he is too old for the pop game, despite his incredibly youthful appearance.

"It's kind of an ongoing joke that I am forever 19," he said with a smile.

"There was this fear for a long time that once you hit a certain age you're not able to perform or be relevant.

"But I think times are changing and there is a great level of growth and maturity and beauty that comes with ageing."

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