Generation Y is an age where one is defined by what one does or has achieved. Those who make up the generation are also referred to as millennials or Gen Ys or Y-ny (whiny), and they are often seen as commitment-phobic, lazy, self-involved individuals who are incapable of functioning without a smartphone. Meet the 29-year-old man who will put all those tags to rest.
The fearless, jaunty Korean star Taeyang (which means ‘sun’ in Korean) who you see on stage and on screen is the alter ego of passionate, tireless Youngbae (his birth name). But beyond those two names and personas (which he distinguishes by whether he has makeup on or not) is another ‘life’, one that he chooses to share on social media.
Unlike most Instagram users who curate and fabricate their life on this medium, Taeyang’s account (@_youngbae_) is a beautiful collage of his life, shown in all its unfiltered glory — an aspirational one no less, that makes him a relatable figure to any of us; certainly to 7.3 million followers (more than the population of Singapore!) recorded at press time.
One gets to see his humorous, witty side, as he shares his daily anecdotes. In January, he shared an embarrassing episode as a victim of Europe’s infamous friendship bracelet scam in Milan, where he was invited to attend Fendi’s menswear show. He documented them in five Instagram posts, ending it with the picture of an unravelled bracelet a with caption that reads, “It was too weak... Our friendship is over... Maybe I need another 5 euros to get back my friend.. #sad”. Later, he also posted a series of self-declared “art” photography of his manager, asleep on a flight, against a setting sun seen through the window and captioned thus, “This piece is a masterpiece from this series. I’d like to thank the man who passed out and made this art possible and I’d also like to thank the sunset.”
His strong, determined character paired with a fun, #yolo attitude makes it easy to see how these traits have helped him get to where he is today, earning him respect from his peers and more.
He oozes confidence at almost every turn, and when I asked if he had thought he’ll be such an influential figure to this generation. He gave an enthusiastic “Yes!”. And when asked what scares him in our ‘Illustrated Interview’ series, he drew an ‘X’ and added the words, “Nothing”. That being said, he revealed that he never fails to say a prayer before going on stage; to clear his mind of any bad thoughts or feelings.
We take a closer look at what else makes him tick.
We are at an age where we are defined by who we are, what we do. How do you feel about where you are now?
I am at a place that I used to dream about and [have been working] towards since I was younger. I’m not exactly sure when I got to this point, but I feel very fortunate to be here though this requires a lot of responsibility and sacrifice.
How do you define yourself?
I define myself as Youngbae.
Realistically speaking, what kind of influence do you feel you have, being where you are right now?
I think I do have a lot of influence over the young people who follow me [on social media]. They learn from the way I talk, the way I act, the way I think and the way I am. And through my music, interviews or performance, I always want to relay a positive message.
How do you define success? What does being in the limelight meant to you?
Success is about knowing your role in this world and realising the purpose of your existence. Being in the limelight is great but it can be a challenge too.
Please share more about the challenges that you face.
Every new album is a new challenge. To me, a new album is about how myself, as an artist connects to and sympathise with the public. I think this creative process is always the most difficult but at the same time the most fun.
How do you overcome the challenges in a project?
There’s really only one way to get through this process and that is to approach each project as if it was my first time making music, when everything is new, fresh and exciting.
Were there moments when you felt like giving up?
There were probably a few times, but I don’t remember them now so I don’t think there was any time [that] crossed my mind seriously [about giving up].
Did you ever think you will be such an influential figure to those in your generation?
Yes, I did. I always have the passion for music and since I decided to become a singer when I was 12, I always imagined performing in front of thousands, even millions of people.
Who are the artists whom you look up to?
I look up to Michael Jackson, Prince and Freddie Mercury.
What is the difference between Taeyang (the one in the limelight) and Youngbae (the person away from the camera)?
It depends on whether I’m wearing makeup or not, or when I am holding a mic.
What do you do in your free time?
When I get some free time, most of the time I’m just home.
In what way is Youngbae just like anyone of his age in his generation? What kind of ‘real’ people’s problems do you have?
I think there are a lot of similarities. Before I was Taeyang, I was still someone’s son, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend and as I live through those relationships, I notice all the things that I lack. I think like everybody else, I get older too, and I haven’t seen a lot of people who age well. So I want to make sure to age gracefully.
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