Only “relevant” parts of the interview were uploaded. Highly opinionated comments are welcome. Let us all just refrain from posting unwarranted and bashing comments.
To satisfy both the public and die-hard fans, don’t you have to control the artists’ output? Isn’t that the way to get support from the mainstream and stay creative at the same time?
Yang: I think I am qualified enough to make comments to my artists about dancing because I trained as a dancer. After Seo Taiji and Boys disbanded, I studied harmony and midi for six months and that’s how I came to compose Jinusean’s “Gasoline”. I soon realized, though, that I’m not so gifted in writing music, so I decided to stop doing that. I’m knowledgeable enough about it to have discussions with my artists thanks to the experience. I can coach them about performing on the stage as I have a lot of experience from my days of Seo Taiji and Boys.
It is true that I dropped many other things, but I could never give up communicating with artists and creating music itself. On top of those, I’m very hands-on about the entire process of managing trainee artists. It’s not just what I love doing, but I know I can do it better than anyone else.
I heard you still take part in sound work. You also played a role as a mixing engineer on every YG album, including PSY’s “Gangnam style”.
Yang: A few months ago I was in charge of Epik High’s latest album and modified it three times (Laugh). The most important job I do in the company is judging what sounds good. I keep going until I am 100% satisfied.
It is your role to decide the color of the YG sound. Tell me about your criteria in judging what’s good and what’s not?
Yang: I have listened to music and made music since I was little, so I know what makes good music. I can’t describe it with words or come up with a formula but there are certainly some criteria. My kind of sound is what the public likes and those tracks that don’t match my taste also failed to be well-received by the public. That’s why I always try to keep up with current global trends.
There is also a change in the pop music scene, where implicit standards that have never changed. You are currently producing a new girl group when the scene is full of idols. What criteria did you have in mind as you set about creating the group?
Yang: There is no right answer such as “I prefer idols or artists”. I like them both, actually. I like talented idols and I can also proudly introduce artists to the public. However, there is not much demand for idols these days and it’s only natural for generic idols to start disappearing from the scene. Some have said I should make a second Big Bang but I that would be suicidal. How could there be another Big Bang?
So there was only one reason to create this new girl group. It’s because people say YG never consider their trainee’s looks. (laugh) I thought, “Alright then, I’ll make a team with both looks and talent”. I know people would love a group of girls who are gorgeous like other girl groups and also good at rapping and singing. There of course is a certain wave that comes and goes in pop culture and if a wave is strong, it’s hard to make it turn around. We can make the good wave last longer by making good contents thereby gaining our credibility.
Then the trainees should have something that makes them survive in any kind of situation. Like when you judge contestants on SBS “I Like Sundays – KPOP STAR,” do you have some criteria for picking out trainees?
Yang: I didn’t choose them only based on their looks. Amongst good-looking trainees, I picked ones with talent and skills. There is always one aspect I like in all of them. I also have expectations on what they will show me next time I see them. You know, there are some handsome guys but they don’t touch your heart whereas there are some guys who may not be so gorgeous to look at but you find yourself being drawn to them. I guess that’s what people call “charm” or “charisma”. You either have it or you don’t. What’s important is help these charismatic, charming guys improve their skills through effort. That’s where I come into it.
Your role is to make YG artists reach their full potential but isn’t there a considerable business pressure after being a listed corporation? The market demands stable profits all the time.
Yang: Of course we need that aspect for the company as a whole. But the company believes in me and follows me regarding point. We have an absolute criterion, namely we release what we like and what our artists like in any given situation. Most YG artists have been successful because we only did what we did when we were sure about each step. That will never change.
So that must mean you turn down projects which you feel you can’t do.
Yang: I never get involved in the writing part of the music. I create the environment for them to work in, find out about what bothers them and just have a word with them if I feel they are being lazy at work. So everyone at YG turn to me as I’m the only one who controls the artists. When things go wrong, they all call me. I get tired to death in those situations. (laugh)
YG tends to release albums much later than your initial plans.
Yang: Many people misunderstand that aspect. I may set the overall schedule for albums but it’s the artists who write the music. I inform the artist of the plan and urge him or her to follow it. But it makes no sense to force artists to hurry. For example, when G-Dragon is racking his brain to write music what is the point of forcing him to finish by July 1 just because that is the company’s plan? That’s not how YG does it. We only release the album when the artist says “It’s done.”
Of course I feel anxious when an album is delayed. After we got listed on the stock exchange, we set up an annual plan so we do have a schedule but I don’t see how I can push them when the producer is in agony. That’s why 2NE1 is doing the world tour with only one new song. I’d like to give them enough time to prepare but sometimes things don’t go as you planned. G-Dragon’s new album was also put off for two months so he had only one and a half month’s activities because of the world tour schedule. And I do understand his fans’ disappointment since he only appeared on “Inkigayo.”
It looks like artists have their own complaints whereas fans have their own concerns. And it’s your job to listen to both sides.
Yang: It’s very stressful. But I know it’s more stressful for the artists. I don’t grill them every day. They may feel the pressure just by my presence. (laugh) It’s my job to stay up all night with them. And if something big happens, I figure it out. I humor and comfort them.
You’re going to release another record?
Yang: We are also recording 2NE1’s new song after begging the producer Teddy (laugh) and the new song will be dropped as a single record first. I really feel bad that they’re doing the world tour with only one new song but that’s beyond my control. It’s the artists, not me who write the music and my job is to create the right environment.