In the world of South Korean music, the idea of a “comeback” usually refers to the latest release from a musical act. But in March, singer Park Bom made her long-awaited return as a soloist eight years since her prior most-recent single, 2011’s “Don’t Cry.” With the release of “Spring,” the title track of a three-song EP, the star made an epic comeback to the scene, landing at No. 1 on several of South Korea’s real time charts and at No. 3 on Gaon Chart’s weekly digital singles ranking for the week of March 17 through March 23. Landing on top of charts is always impressive for a singer but was even more so in the case of Park, who had spent much of the last half of the decade absent from the world of K-pop after coming under scrutiny in 2014 for bringing in prescription Adderall from the U.S., where she attended middle and high school, to South Korea, where the drug is illegal.
Once a member of the iconic K-pop quartet 2NE1, which disbanded formally in 2016, Park’s return heralded a new era for the singer but she has no plans of forgetting her roots. The title track “Spring” not only expresses her hopes for a new beginning, but leans into her past; it was written for Park by South Korean producer Brave Brothers (Kang Dong-chul), who has said that the song was born out of song elements he had come up with working on music for 2NE1 back in 2007.
Park recently sat down to discuss what “Spring” and this new era of her career means to her.
Tamar Herman: How is it being back with new music?
Park Bom: I’m having a great time. I’m happy to be back. I didn’t know that people will like my new music this much and I’m really thankful for it. I’m thinking about what I should do to give back to my fans out there.
Herman: What does “Spring” mean to you?
Park: Spring means a new starts. My mom made my name like that. My name is “Bom,” which is “spring” in Korean. New flowers grow up in the spring. It’s a new start, a new beginning.
Herman: Was it important for you to acknowledge through the title of this single that it marks a new start for you?
Park: I thought it was a short period of time, but it’s been eight years since I came back [with solo music]. Spring is always about new starts and new beginnings, and I thought it was important to highlight this.
Herman: Sandara Park, who was in 2NE1 with you, featured on the song. What was it like working with her after a few years of not putting out any music together?
Park: She’s always helpful. She’s always cheerful. She’s always confident. She’s always trying to help, and she’s always excited. She has this positive mindset, so I’m really happy to work with her and I’m really thankful for her. When I came back [to the music world], I felt kind of vulnerable because it’s been a while. But she was helpful. It was feeling like 2NE1’s working together. I didn’t feel that anything was wrong, or anything was different. It felt like 2NE1 was working together again. I’m really thankful for her help with that.
Herman: Was there any symbolism hidden in the music video?
Park: I was putting on a dark veil, and also white outfits that represent marriage. I thought it was kind of like good girl gone bad.
Herman: Do you feel like you’re a good girl gone bad?
Park: I hope so. They always put me into pure images because I talk and act like a child sometimes. But I got older and grew up.
Herman: So along with “Spring” symbolizing a new beginning for your career, is it also meant to symbolize a new, more mature side to yourself that you’d like people to see?
Park: I guess it could come off that way but it wasn’t really intentional.
Herman: Are there any other singers or songwriters you want to work with in the future?
Park: Ariana Grande. I love her songs.
Herman: What sort of music do you want to pursue in the future? You typically do ballads but will we see some dance music?
Park: I don’t think about things like, “this is R&B” or “this is hip-hop” or “this is dance.” I don’t really care. I just love to sing songs.
Herman: During your hiatus, what did you do to keep inspired?
Park: I watched a lot of [Korean television] dramas and movies. I didn’t try to listen to a lot of music. It’s been eight years so of course I’ve listened to music but I spent a lot of time watching dramas.
Herman: Did you get inspired by the K-dramas?
Park: By the charming guys. [Laughs] I’ve become happier. I’ve focused on that. I’ve been recommended a lot of new songs from America. I really like “i hate u, i luv u” by Gnash featuring Olivia O’Brien. I think I mostly just rested, and tried to feel that I wanted to come back.
Herman: 2019 marks the 10th year since 2NE1 got its start back in 2009 so, although you featured on a few songs before that, this year actually marks the anniversary of your decade in the K-pop world. What do you think has changed in the industry over that period?
Park: What I see right now… There are a lot of groups. Boy groups, girl groups. They pretty much look more professional from afar, though I don’t really know their songs aside from a couple groups.
Herman: Did the industry seem less professional or structured to you when you debuted versus now?
Park: It was still structured regarding training, but not quite as professionally coordinated and organized as it is now. I did a music video when I was in YG [Entertainment] for the last [2NE1] song [2017’s “Goodbye”]. For the last song with a music video, things had really, really changed since earlier ones. The preparations were really different. Faster, more professional. Generally, people nowadays, they’re taking dramas, acting. They’re pursuing a lot of different career paths. They focus on multiple things.
Herman: Your song “Spring” did really well in Korea. Before its release, what were your expectations? Did you have any?
Park: I was a little bit worried about if people would love me like before, but I have to admit I was expecting it a bit. I was really looking forward to it, and the song was great. It was a song and performance that went really well together, and it raised my anticipation so I hoped to hit number one.
Herman: What was it like to interact with your fans for the first time in a while?
Park: I never felt as close with them before. I cried when I saw them, because of what I went through.
Herman: It's a new era for you and now you're signed to a new label, D Nation. Does it feel differently releasing music nowadays, following the break-up of 2NE1, than it did when the group was still extant?
Park: I don’t see a lot of differences. Probably because of Dara. If I felt kind of differently, maybe there was a little bit of fear. But I had worked solo when I was in 2NE1 also. And the writer [Brave Brothers] had been at YG before. He had made us songs before, when we were really little, and it made me feel kind of similar to 2NE1.
Herman: How do you hope to evolve as an artist and performer in the future?
Park: I still want to sing my hardest and communicate with a lot of people in the future.
Herman: What are you working on next?
Park: I’m working on my new album. I’m hoping to release about three more albums this year. I’m happy.
A repackage album with a new single "4:44" and a ballad version of "Spring" featuring her big sister, cellist Park Go Eun, will be out next week.