As a musician who used to fiercely jump around the stage spraying a bottle of water over hyped audiences, Zico admitted that showing his vulnerability required quite a lot of courage.
The talented rapper, producer and member of K-pop boy band Block B, Zico, whose real name is Woo Ji-ho, explained that his real identity has always been shadowed by his externally confident demeanor and edgy style, or what the public expected from him. As his career progressed, through all the pressure that come with being a successful young act, the 27-year-old singer finally felt the need to pour his true emotions into an album.
“I guess I’ve been mistreating myself,” Woo told The Korea Herald during a recent interview for his new album “Thinking” in Seoul.
“In the course of feeding ‘Zico,’ I found out that human ‘Woo Ji-ho’ was worn out, unaware of how to live, how to feel when left alone. I wanted to talk about those feelings in my new album,” he added.
His first full-length album in eight years, the 10-track album is led by lead track “Being Left,” featuring rising musician DAWN. Straying from hard-hitting past singles like “Okey Dokey,” “Bermuda Triangle” and “Boys and Girls,” “Being Left” is a poignant breakup anthem that flourishes on Woo’s gentle rapping and soothing arpeggio. The musician said he intended to make things less complicated, from the white simple physical copy of the album to his outfits and makeup in the jacket photos. As if relaying his complications, the prevailing theme of the sentimental album is “contemplation.”
“I didn’t initially intend to make the album dark or gloomy, and I know what my fans expect from me, something more casual, fierce and stylish. But my mood wasn’t it. I couldn’t make such music. So I decided to just focus on what I’ve been thinking so far,” he said.
After his debut in 2011 as the frontman of Block B, the underground rapper-turned-K-pop star made himself a household name, regularly topping Korean music charts and garnering nominations at several award shows. In November last year, Woo left his agency Seven Seasons to establish his own label, KOZ Entertainment. It’s been a roller coaster of a year, but what really bugged him was not the flood of work nor his newfound responsibility as a CEO. It was an identity crisis -- a major one that nearly “suffocated” him.
“I always knew that I was struggling from my two distinct identities, but tried to ignore it and brush it off since I didn’t want to accept it. I didn’t want to ruin my character as ‘Zico.’ So I kept upping the tension, sometimes exaggerating my punky, wild image. I guess it was my way of confirming my self-esteem,” said the rapper. “But you know, the gap grew wider and my emotions piled up to the point where I couldn’t breathe. So I decided to be honest to myself, show my vulnerability for the first time in my career.”
Despite his rebellious image, Woo stressed that he’s always been conservative, trying to stay away from trouble. “My appearance, outfits and behavior on TV shows like ‘Show Me the Money’ may make me look like a bad boy, but my life isn’t like that. I don’t smoke, and I’m not a heavy drinker. I’m even not that talkative. I wanted to shed those images through the album,” he said.
For now, Woo plans to live a life stripped of heavy makeup, glaring eyes or the explosive hip-hop spirit. But that does not mean he has lost sight of himself. The contemplative musician, who kept his calm throughout the interview, said he was still in the process of healing himself. “I do feel much relieved now, but I haven’t found an answer to the puzzle yet. I’m still getting there,” said Woo with a carefree chuckle.
Wrapping up the conversation, Woo briefly shared that he’s been keeping in touch with his Block B bandmates and that he’s still open to the possibility of the group’s reunion. About his impending compulsory military service, the musician said he doesn’t have a concrete plan yet.
“Thinking” features new tracks like “Another Level,” “Dystopia,” “Balloon” and “The Language of Flowers.”
The first part of the album was released on Sept. 30 with double lead tracks “Daredevil” and “Human.”
By Hong Dam-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)