“The rapper with a wolf’s facade and a sheep’s nature” This paradoxical sentence written by a fan, may be the most exact description of Top. He may be a rapper with a sharp look and a tough voice, but he also holds a rather emotional sensibility that enjoys music by Damien Rice and Labelle.
And he may be a member of one of Korea’s most renown idol groups, but during his past teenage years, he spent a long time wandering and fighting battles within himself. Therefore asking him what he wants to achieve as an actor, or asking what kind of projects he is planning as a popular rapper, would be useless to say the least. This is because from his youth until now, he has spent all of his time in front of his desk writing lyrics to express himself, which he will continue to do. He says that he chose because he “saw himself” within his character. How did he contain his 24-year old persona, into the 17-year old Oh Jang-Bum. We spoke with Top about acting, rapping, and the self..
Q: How do you feel being in an interview by yourself, not as a member of Big Bang?
T.O.P: In Big Bang, there are many members who are good at talking, so I never really had to speak out. But I am speaking much more now. When I return to Big Bang, they might make me talk more, so I should do badly.(laugh)
“Filming , I’ve become more liberated”
Q: As an actor, this is your third work. As you film more you may become happier or more pressured. How do you feel about acting now?
T.O.P: Before, in whatever I do, I never charged into it easily or at once. I always enjoyed the work, but I also always had worries, and did it with great care and consideration. I feel I was like that because I always had something to fear, but now, that fear seems to be gone. I think was good for me.
Q: Before I came to you, I also interviewed Cha Seung-Won, and Kim Seung-Woo. They both spoke of you as “Woo-ri Seung-hyun-ee” (meaning “Our Seung-hyun”, a very friendly and adoring expression) You must be loved by your sun-baes.
T.O.P: I’m very thankful to the sunbaes and director of . Whenever I meet superiors and adults, it’s a bit difficult for me, and I’m very careful and keep my manners, so it may be difficult for them to approach me. But the sunbaes approached me first in order to make me become closer, act normally, and work better with them. When filming, they are sunbaes and director, but off shooting they are like close hyungs to me.
Q: Was this film not only influential to your acting, but also to your life and sensibilities?
T.O.P: I felt a lot in observing my sunbaes. I like plastic figurines, and I think it’s because there is a sense of stability in them. I think the hard, structured forms of the figures.. this perfect, unaffected shape is what interests me. I believe this stability is what I saw in my hyungs as well. Whenever hyungs were not filming, they were calling their homes, and seeing this I felt a lot of that. I realized I never had that kind of stability in my life. I would have thoughts like: ‘What will happen tomorrow’, ‘would tomorrow even come’. But with I’ve become more liberated.
Q: Is that why you chose to play Oh Jang-bum in ? Jang-bum was 17 and he had to give his young life to war. He really had to deal with that question of tomorrow and its uncertainties.
T.O.P: That is what drew me in. Because he was a boy of 17 with uncertainties. Therefore, I thought, wouldn’t Oh Jang-bum, as well as me, want to become a man of stability? I also thought Oh Jang-bum had similar personalities as myself. I thought we were especially alike in how we act or think when we are alone.
Q: When you were acting as Vic from KBS , you imagined your character as someone from the movie . In that way, you imagined Vic to be a very unreal, imaginary character. But in you have based your character on a very real person: you.
T.O.P: I tried to show my bare self as much as possible. I felt he wasn’t a character but that I was acting as myself. I can’t say I’ve matured fully, but I have spent my 20’s maturing through many works, and I believe I have grown little by little. I wanted to express this experience of growth in Oh Jang-bum’s character. He was forced to give his life to war at the age of 17, and as a leader of these student-soldiers, he was forced to hold great burdens. He was forced to grow and mature within a very short time. I feel, if I was also never given any time to mature, I might have feared acting as this character, Oh Jang-bum.
“There was a period when I packaged myself”
Q: How was it expressing the emotions of a 17 year old?
T.O.P: I think there is still a part of me that’s young. One of the reasons I like figurines is because I want to remain young. And because Oh Jang-bum’s character in essence is very pure and humane, so I wanted to find a very different version of myself that I’ve never shown before.
Q: A different version?
T.O.P: Until now, I think I was showing this person that is completely different from my real self in order to glamorize it. But it’s not that I was lying to myself and showing an untruthful version of me. I am always a person who does music, and I must always present myself to the public. But as I became closer and closer to the public, I began to worry that the public would become sick of it. There was a point when I worried whether a musician should appear so often on TV. So to hide this anxious part of me, there was a period when I hid and packaged myself. I wished to keep a distance from other people. But in , I ended up showing my truest self.
Q: In an interview, you said in order to create your character in you asked yourself questions. What questions did you ask yourself this time?
T.O.P: Actually, there ended up being too many questions to ask, so I tried to erase them instead. Before when I was acting I’d be like “Is this right?” and I had far too many thoughts. This time, oppositely I threw away any complicated thoughts on the set, and I acted just as I had acted on the stage as a musician. I don’t have any know-hows on how to form a character like my sunbaes. However I tried to create the character with the experience I gained from 5 years on the stage. I couldn’t have done this without these experiences.
Q: In Big Bang’s essay you said that when filming you didn’t attend acting school because you were afraid your acting will become standardized. What do you think now?
T.O.P: Perceptions on acting may be different to everyone, but personally, I feel that fits me. Instead of learning acting and making it into a fixed form, I’d like to act with the premises of my past experiences, and preserve these sensibilities while acting. For example, the voice I rap with is a voice I created myself as a result of over 10 years of consideration. It’s not my real voice, and it’s deliberate. This is why, sajangnim(YG) also tells me, that my rap vocals are unique from others. Like this, I think I must build my own way in acting. After that, perhaps I will be able to learn the techniques.
Q: You have to immerse yourself to such great extent into your role for you to act. Wasn’t it difficult to do that among Big Bang’s busy schedule in Japan?
T.O.P: On the set, I listened to music to immerse myself emotionally. I have no idea how to fall into a role like sunbaes who have decades of experience, so I decided to concentrate on falling into it musically.
T/N: “TOP is so eloquent.. he says some difficult words.. 으윽..어려워…ㅋㅋ”
Q: What’s the difference between rap and acting?
T.O.P: Within Big Bang, I think I’m showing myself as T.O.P. but when I’m acting I’m showing the 24-year-old Choi Seung-hyun. Of course they are both me, and they both love music. But T.O.P is someone, an imaginary being, I have been drawing, designing in my head. It’s me that isn’t me. On the other hand the person doing this interview is my self, and in my acting as well, my self is expressed.
Q: Thinking about it, there were a lot of times when an imaginary character is played on stage. Especially when doing featurings for artists like Gummy or Uhm Jung-Hwa.
T.O.P: I’m a rapper, and I believe a rapper is someone who delivers a message. Therefore it’s important that my rap is remembered by many people, so I try to deliver the message through the intended emotion and visions on stage. When performing “Sorry” I performed it as a wounded boy, in “D.I.S.C.O.” I tried to create an image kind of like Jude Law and his acting as the robot in one of his movies. Like this I try to show an imaginary being on stage.
Q: To such extent, you change your rap according to the situation. Also comparing Japanese songs and Korean songs, as much as the style changes, you seem to change your voice. Especially the recently released “Tell me Goodbye” was very impressive. That song was adaptive to the Japanese style and your rap was more melodical, and in the music video, you rapped while crying. The actor TOP seems to have influenced the TOP in Japan.
T.O.P: Originally that part didn’t require any acting and I simply needed to lip-sync. But that filming was not even a week after the end of
Q: It looks like acting is affecting music, and music is affecting acting.
T.O.P: It feels like it. The 24-year old self is learning acting, but also writhing in order to develop its own color. Doing this, in order not to waste time, I think I’m merging my rapping self and acting self together. Instead of something other people can do, I think I’m searching for something only I can do.
“It’s crucial to make the rap feel like it was written honestly”
Q: Are your raps reflective of your current thoughts at the time? When you performed with Kim Hyun-Joong on MBC<대학가요제> the lyrics: “the given homework, is a subject called Time, you can’t lose your focus for a moment, it’s arrogant. Scarlet youth is braver than anything, Originality is the flower, renovation is the weed” seemed like something personal.
T.O.P: As a rapper, I felt that even in acting, unless there was some sort of meaning to relate to I was not willing to do it. As a rapper, or as an actor, I want to become someone who delivers a message. Whether i’m filming
Q: To that extent you end up exposing your inner self when writing lyrics. In ‘Hallelujah’ from
T.O.P: Initially, there was a track for
Q: When you look at the lyrics, you speak about how although worries and burdens continue, you must think about overcoming the current self.
T.O.P: Always throw questions at oneself. In my 10s, I think my head was very complicated. I spent a lot of time at my desk writing lyrics. So even now when I write raps, I don’t like to become this story teller trying to explain in detail, illustrating the exact picture of the situation. For example.. I’m like this right now. My love is going to this place. (laugh) Instead, in order to let the listener relate and sympathize, I try to simplify and omit details so that each person can have different thoughts on it. And above all, It’s crucial to make the rap feel like it was written honestly.
Q: It seems important to find oneself. Your grandfather has told you about the importance of meditation. Within such a busy schedule do you have time for meditation?
T.O.P: I’m unable to do so these days. So I feel a little bit of myself has gone away, in honesty. I feel I haven’t detached myself fully from Oh Jang-bum after
“I do think that sometimes my own world clashes with the traffic of the public”
Q: It seems like you will be able to find yourself again by creating music. What style of music do you want to make these days?
T.O.P: I wrote lyrics since I was 11, and I loved hip-hop. Honestly, because I loved it since then, I’m getting sick of it (laugh) Because I have heard it for that long. So doing just plain hiphop seems like a matter of conscience now(laugh) I’m thinking of doing the most fresh, new music with a lot of fusion.
Q: Although you are very busy with intense schedule, it seems like your music may come out quite speculative.
T.O.P: Yeah, it seems like a very.. difficult brand of music may come out. One time, sajangnim (YG) texted me saying my music seemed too fast for the public’s taste (laugh) It’s a worry. People working in this kind of field has so much sensibility, when they fall into a different world, it becomes endless. Someone who can differentiate between my world and a place where you can communicate with others, I feel is a wise person. Music is for sharing with the public, so one must not just fall in to their own world. I do think that sometimes my own world clashes with the traffic of the public
Q: So in what direction will your solo album go?
T.O.P: I’m going to extend my view, and I want each and every song to be like a different album. I hope it is able to communicate with the public and I want to write unique lyrics. As I grow attachment to the album, I feel like my responsibility to it is growing as well. Sajangnim(YG) has told me that “you don’t need to do what’s popular. What you do is popular.” I don’t think that’s a good thing or a bad thing (laugh) If that was true, couldn’t I do whatever I want, and release it whenever I want? (laugh)
Q: Last question. If you had write a rap about yourself right now, what kind of lyrics would you write?
T.O.P: A very sweet melody with sugared lyrics. (laugh) I think, in order to find myself, those lyrics will help guide me.
Original articles: 1 & 2.
Translations by 1 & 2.