It’s Wednesday evening at Rookie’s 88 in West Hollywood, California, and Jackson Wang has just returned from boxing. It’s only his third day in the US, and Los Angeles is especially sunny in 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 focused heavily on work — specifically his upcoming appearance at the Coachella Music Festival as part of 88 Rising’s “Head in the Clouds” group Saturday night. He’s been preparing and rehearsing nonstop, all the while watching the views soar – 15 million and more – for his new visual single, “Blow.”
Wang boasts a huge fan base – 27.4 million followers on Instagram and 5.4 million on Twitter alone – and he shares with these worshipers one of the darkest moments of his life: the nervous breakdown that led to the soon-to-be-released “Magic Man” album. Wang reveals that the project was born after constantly feeling the pressure of not doing enough – or being enough – due to the irony that, in the eight years since he started playing music, he hasn’t taken time off yet.
Mental health is Wang’s biggest concern, and the K-Pop star has his heart on his sleeve when he talks about what led to his breakup, and how he coped, as he explained in an interview with diverse.
Will this be your first time at Coachella?
It’s my first time. It is once in a lifetime. I am very proud and at the same time nervous. … He is not a negative neurotic. I’m excited.
What’s it like working with 88Rising?
We’ve worked together for over four or five years. Now it’s totally family friendly. We’re talking about work, yes, but we’re talking more about personal stuff. Especially when it comes to creative stuff: What’s the strategy? What is our next step? What kind of music do we want to put out? Planning together. Not only at work, like families. Because working in this industry, frankly, you have different feelings. Mental health is very important in this industry, in every industry but especially in this industry.
For me, as an artist who travels from Korea to China to all these different places, and I also work as a K-Pop member and now I’m solo, everything is different. In the past year, I’ve had a mental breakdown, with depression and severe anxiety because everything around me has changed. It got to the point where I’ve worked in this industry for eight or nine years: she’s always traveling; Show after show programs; Commercials; a tour; It’s almost in a loop. I started to feel lost. I don’t know what more I can do and what to do? I don’t even know who you are. I started drinking every day, but I was still working out.
Growing up, I grew up in this family full of athletes. My parents were athletes, national team athletes. I was an athlete, and my brother was an athlete. So I’ve always said that if I have obstacles in my life or stresses, 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 a little harder. Maybe I’m not good enough, or I’m not working hard enough. The reason the crash happened is because it got to the point that it’s even higher. I felt like I might just suck.
What triggered it?
Just everything. I have completely lost. I thought, “You know what? Maybe it’s time for me…” By the way, I never believed in talking to others or friends. I always solve my problems when I’m overburdened by myself, because what’s the point? It’s my problem. It’s not anyone else’s problem.
The producers, my team, and my friends around me insisted on sitting with me. People have always been telling me: “You need a break. You work hard, you need to relax a bit. You need to recharge and refresh, so you can come back with inspiration.” I was worried that if I took that break, I’d be lazy forever. What if I can’t go back? I was worried about that.
We sat down and I didn’t know there was power in those words they share. It feels so magical to me. this is magic. I had never believed in this in my whole life, and then accepted it. Whatever I was in the past, whatever I had with all my music or whatever—I, Jackson Wang as a character, as an artist, as a person—I wanted to leave that behind and start over. Then we created the album, and it was called “Magic Man”.
How did you and Danielle “Cloud” Campos get together in the music video for “Blow”? What is the inspiration for the look and fashion?
“Blow” is a prequel to Magic Man, about different worlds about to unfold. Claude is an amazing director, and an amazing artist and dancer himself. He has this world on his mind, and I had my world when I listened to the song. We had different ideas, but it was a good mix – because when you see this, the whole thing is like music. This is 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’m leading everyone, that’s the whole concept.
What happens at the 48-second mark when everyone starts cramping?
Oh yeah, you want me to spoil that? Here’s the thing: Every time I release some stuff, people will ask, “What does that mean?” The interesting thing is, one video or one product, a hundred people will have different feelings and different feelings for it. There’s no point in saying, “Hey, that’s what it is.” Whatever you guys think is not what it is. So I decided not to talk about it.
Now, more than ever, audiences are responding to songs that are not in their native language. Do you feel pressure to sing in English?
not at all. That’s the thing, art is art. Music is music. What does that have to do with nationality? There are a lot of items. People also ask me this question: As an Asian, how do you feel when I’m at the top of this or that chart? What do you even ask? Music is music, product is product. This water is from Japan. [Points to Fiji water bottle]. Damn man, water is water. If it is good, it is good. If it’s bad, it’s bad. It is very personal.
Why do you think the American public embraced K-pop with such enthusiasm?
Definitely put this in: K-Pop is not good because it is K-Pop. K-Pop is good because it’s good music – it’s good quality. There is no such thing as American artists. Yes, but at the end of the day music is music. What matters is how many people can relate to it? This proves that a lot of people can relate to K-Pop. That’s the answer, that’s what I think.
What does BTS’ success mean for South Korea?
Damn, that’s pride. One of the members RM, the leader, despite the fact that we grew up together, that’s a lot of pride. It’s not all about music anymore. Artists like BTS, like Blackpink, I respect in art. The direction they’re going, I’m proud of being an audience.
There is an arena that is being built in Seoul specifically for K-pop music. The popularity of genres is always changing. Will kpop last forever?
K-Pop will definitely last forever. J-Pop will last forever. You never know what will happen tomorrow, right? For me, personally, I think it will continue to evolve. I wish entertainment had nothing to do with anything else, because entertainment is entertainment and people are supposed to be happy.
“Blow” is a new vocal direction for you. What inspired the sound?
I’ve been playing music for eight years and am always in a position to explore daily. You don’t sing. I wasn’t in an audio lesson. I don’t have any experience with vocal lessons until this year. back in [Korean entertainment company] JYP Agency, I have been practicing dancing. I trained in rap. I trained in martial arts. I was not a singer.
But throughout my journey of exploration, of exploring, of trying and trying – with the help of the people around me, with 88, Wang’s team, the producers – they kept inspiring me, inspiring me, inspiring me and also encouraging me to try new things. I also surprised myself. Oh shit, that could be my voice. Or even hit notes. I continued training. It’s all about sharpening my weapons and absorbing all these energies, knowledge, and information around me. How can I turn all this stuff into my own? This is my current status: “Blow” and this album.
You are big on fashion. How do you choose your outfit for a big moment like Coachella?
anything comfortable. We do art. We are artists that we are meant to enjoy. Because art itself is very personal. Fashion is the same, it’s art. So I take it easy and enjoy it. If tomorrow I feel like going out in my pajamas, I will.
Since you are so vocal about mental health, do you have any advice for others who are struggling?
I can share my own experience, but it’s not a lecture or anything. I can say that getting serious in the art-making process is a good thing, but don’t lose the fun of it. When you enjoy it, you are happy. The second thing is that it is important to have a circle of positive people around you. No matter how great you are as a person, as an artist, if you have all these negative people around you, it will break you.
What are your personal goals and what do you consider success?
I hope that one day I can make all my supporters or fans truly proud, and of my people in the East.
I feel like you’re already doing it…
Not yet, I’m very far from it. Does everyone know my street music or in Beverly Hills or whatever? No is not it? This means that I am very far from it. Second, what do I want to be? I hope one day to be the bridge between East and West. People in the West know about the East and the East knows the West through the Internet, or even through travel or work. But there are a lot of lower layers that people don’t know about. I hope to do my best someday to make it happen.