Jackson Wang’s story feels ripe for a Hollywood biopic. In fact, if the 26-year-old singer/rapper/K-pop idol/entrepreneur and Fendi fashion muse continues on his current trajectory, that sort of pipe dream might just become a reality.
Wang’s father is Asian Games gold medalist Wang Ruiji, while his mother, Sophia Chow, was a world champion gymnast. Born in Hong Kong and with sport in his blood, Wang chose fencing, his prowess with the sabre eventually earning him a scholarship to Stanford University. He turned it down, choosing instead to venture to Seoul, South Korea, in 2011 to start training for K-pop superstardom.
For a while it looked like a grave mistake, with his two-and-a-half-year stint as a trainee at JYP Entertainment (also home to bands such as DAY6 and ITZY) constantly revolving around eliminations that would have seen him return home. But in the end, he was one of the seven people to make it into boyband GOT7, who have since established themselves as one of K-pop’s biggest acts thanks to 12 number-one albums on Korea’s Gaon chart and arena world tours.
But Wang isn’t here to talk K-pop. He’s here to talk about his burgeoning solo career, one that he fosters via his own company, Team Wang. After a handful of solo singles in China, 2019’s mainly English-language debut album Mirrors (160m streams worldwide and counting) showcased a fusion of hip-hop bravado, R&B balladry and, as hinted at with 2018’s Fendiman, a love for one specific luxury Italian brand. In March 2020, Wang shared the more dance-leaning 100 Ways, complete with a typically spectacular video involving medieval garb, a lot of dry ice and some ferocious dancing.
Like everyone else, Wang has been stuck inside during the COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike many of us, he’s been ignoring the urge to binge eat, watch old boxsets, or have an existential crisis. Instead, Wang’s isolation includes creating more music, being philosophical and spreading perhaps the world’s most-needed resource right now: love. We spoke to him from his home in Seoul about music, fashion and overcoming expectations.
How have you been spending your lockdown?
“Every single day, I’ve been in the studio. I’ve been almost living there for the past two weeks, just recording song after song. I’m married to the studio right now—working is my wife.”
Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
“I learned it’s important to do what we love every day. And to treasure it. You never know what could happen tomorrow, things could get worse. Do what you love and go after your dreams. Don’t regret it. Don’t hesitate. The best thing for me to do right now is to continue to make more music and hopefully it can bring some joy to people during this hard time. Music is an international language and it’s something that can connect people.”
What do you make of the narrative around the reporting of coronavirus? Have you had any negative experiences yourself?
“As you know, every country’s media is different, so I don’t have much to comment about that. I just hope Earth fights through it together—everyone on this planet is one race right now.”
Do you have a message for your fans during this difficult time?
“I hope I can at least give them a little bit of joy and give them a reason to smile through my new music.”
Does that mean you’re releasing new music soon?
“I’m preparing for my next album, which will be out this year. Every album I release I find out more about myself, my true colours and flavour in music. It’s a part of my evolution. I feel like the next album is probably going to be another stage in my life.”
Is your latest single, 100 Ways, the first taste of the album?
“Oh, that’s a little secret.”
Okay… So it might be part of the album, but also it might not be?
The video for 100 Ways is incredible. Are you involved in that side of things?
“Let me explain the whole concept: there are a lot of elements in life we can’t control, time and love are two of them. The reason I chose an ancient Chinese love story as the theme is because, first of all, I’m Chinese, and I love sharing my culture as much as I love learning about other cultures. Basically in the video, I’m this warrior and I come back to life to find my true love and bring her back to life so that I can tell her we should be together forever. We choose to be together and return to the afterlife after having conquered time. We only had two or three days to create everything from scratch, so it was very challenging. But in the end, we pulled off this masterpiece.”
Does your fencing background come in handy when it comes to choreography and training on video shoots?
“Fencing has helped me throughout my whole journey towards my dream. The reflexes, the mindset, the vision and me as an athlete. I never let stuff get in my way, or Team Wang’s way. There is going to be a lot of negativity along the journey, a lot of obstacles and people trying to pull us down, but nothing is easy. As long as I stay focused on sharpening my vision, I feel like we’re going to make it.”
100 Ways is part of a new collaboration with hugely influential music entertainment company 88Rising—why did you want to team up with them?
“We all started as friends. And we have the same vision. We were having conversations as friends and [us working together] just came up naturally. In some ways people will be like, ‘Oh you guys are partnering, blah blah blah.’ But at the end of the day, it’s 95 per cent about friendship.”
100 Ways is a little more dance-pop than the songs on Mirrors. Was it a conscious decision to move away from the hip-hop sound of that debut?
“No, it’s because I did a lot of hip-hop tracks and then I also did a lot of R&B stuff in China, but as I mentioned every time I release something new, I’m looking to evolve. I’m in the middle of trying to find my flavour still, and I’m trying to find my true self. I wouldn’t say I’m there yet, but I’m definitely on the path.”
My favourite song on Mirrors is Bad Back where you mention Fendi, and obviously you have a song from 2018 called Fendiman…
“Whoo! Wait! Not a lot of people mention Bad Back, honestly. It’s always Titanic, it’s always Bullet To the Heart, it’s always I Love You 3000, it’s always Dway!—it’s very rare. I just don’t hear a lot of people talking about Bad Back.”
Well, I’m ahead of the curve, clearly. Why were you so drawn to Fendi in particular?
“We became friends first through Fendi China. Then we talked. It just feels like our vision is very similar; we’re always trying to stay true to ourselves and not follow the trend. Personal style is important to me. It really defines someone’s character and their personality.”
What statement did you want to make with Mirrors?
“It’s eight different feelings over eight different tracks. It’s all about love. It can drive us crazy, it makes us happy, it messes with our emotions, but it’s so powerful. It can overcome everything. I feel that. It’s like magic—you can’t freaking stop it. Emotions are like a spell. Basically, we should love more.”
Are you more comfortable as a singer now than as a rapper?
“No, I wouldn’t say that. I’m a performer. I’m a dancer, singer, rapper, you name it. It doesn’t really matter. I do whatever I love. I feel like it’s important when I do music, or when I do anything, I have to love it. If I don’t love it, no one else will. I have to have that passion.”
You’ve broken so many records for Chinese artists, particularly in the US—do you see yourself as a figurehead in the global crossover for Chinese music?
“I would say no. I don’t think I’m this icon. I don’t think I’m anything. I’m just this Chinese kid, Asian kid, just going after my dream. I’m just trying to make history for me and my people.”
So what’s coming next for Jackson Wang?
“Within this year, my full album is coming out.”
What can people expect?
“Everyone can expect Jackson Wang.”
The full Wang?
Jackson Wang’s latest single, 100 Ways, is out now.