From CHIJOONGJINDAM (In Vino Veritas) interview - Nov. 6, 2008
(these interviews are usually done late at night over soju for internet newspaper articles)
SS501's leader Kim Hyunjoong ran panting into the pojangmacha (roadside stalls where they sell side dishes and alcohol), 30 minutes late and said "Can you smell the burnt tire?" before I could scold him. After performing at the Hallyu festival at Chamsil, the time Kim Hyunjoong came to the Kangnamgu Shinsadon pojangmacha was 11 PM.
"Olympic road had an accident so I came with the emergency lights on," he said. And then he ordered seasoned butterfish as side dish, saying "I got to eat a few pieces of chicken in the waiting room but I'm really hungry." He said, "Soju is getting less and less alcoholic so nowadays I can't get drunk with even five bottles," and smiled.
I didn't have to worry that he would answer with single word answers or worry only about his image. This talk over alcohol with Kim Hyunjoong proved wrong the prejudices about idols.
Instead of the typical answers like "I love music and dancing," he confessed "Initially, I really hated SS501." And he said, "sometimes, I scold the fangirls waiting for me in front of the house." He said, "I don't want them to regret liking me when they become adults, so I nag them on purpose." And Kim Hyunjoong stated, "Although I dropped out of High school, I wish that my fans would be able to attend university."
-- Can you really drink five bottles of soju?
"Sometimes I drink more when I'm feeling well. (laughs) But nowadays, I'm unhappy that the soju has decreased to 19% alcohol. Since it's gotten weaker, even women are able to drink 1-2 bottles without a problem. This must be a marketing strategy by the Soju company to increase the sales. I miss the days of Dukkubi Jinro Soju with 25% alcohol.
--When did you start drinking?
"In first year of High school (about grade 10), I worked at the TGI Friday and the sunbaes who worked there ate out together after work often. There's a lot of stress in working in the service industry. The hyungs in their 30's would say "Today, we're the king," and de-stressed with alcohol. I worked there for 1 1/2 years and I still keep in contact with a few of the hyungs often.
--If you worked in a restaurant with that appearance, you must have been famous.
"I didn't know when I was working, but when I quit I found out that there were a few female fans. (laughs)"
--Did you have a lot of part time jobs?
"I delivered pizza, chicken and newspapers. I've worked in manual labor with daily wages. I lived a rougher life than I look. (laughs) I've never gotten allowances from my parents."
-What kind of work do your parents do?
"They work at the Dongdaemoon Market. They have their days and nights reversed so I almost never get to see them. (laughs) I was a very problem child but now I want to treat them well.
-Where do you go to drink often?
"I live near Shinchun and they have an old style market with a bar that I go to often. I like chicken feet and pig head meat and skin side dishes."
--You were casted in a drama. Will SS501 start individual work?
"Right. Following "We got married," I am going to be on "Hana Yori Dango" and Jungmin will be on a musical called "Grease." The other three will perform in a project group.
--In the drama, you'll be the top 0.1% luxurious youth.
"I get to learn horse riding and violin, and also go to film overseas. I heard that I get to be on a private jet and I'm already anticipating it. I've been diligently getting skin massages too. (laugh) Jun Kisang PD keep trying to scare me by saying, "Hyunjoong. Working hard is not the same as doing well."
-A lot of people remember you from "Can you get refills for love?" from debut times.
"The memory is somewhat embarrassing. (laughs) I was a newbie so I was on the show for two months to get people to know my face. I'm taking lessons for this drama and I want to break the prejudice that I'm a singer turned actor. I want to be able to hear, "I never knew such sides to Kim Hyunjoong existed."
-What will you do if your acting becomes an issue.
"That shouldn't happen but if it does, I'll just take the criticism. I'm against people blindly complimenting me even if that person is a fan. If that person really cares about me, I think they should tell me things even if it's painful. That way, I can improve. I'm really trying not to get bad reviews so I'm planning to take my acting teacher even when I go film overseas. (laughs) I'm even planning to pay for the teacher's trip with my pay from the drama."
For this drama, he has already filmed all the episodes for "We got married" for December. Following Alex and Shinae couple, the "Lettuce" couple will also leave the program at the end of the year. When asked "Is singing or acting more difficult?" Kim Hyunjoong answered, "they both require you to coordinate well so neither is easy. But acting is still a bit more unfamiliar."
-Do you like the nickname that you're "Fourth Dimensional?"
"I like it now but initially, I thought they meant that I'm like a "dol-I" (retard/crazy person) so I didn't feel good. I'm interpreting it now as something like "having unique charms." (laughs) In that way, I think everyone has some tendencies to be 4th dimensional.
--Do you have an actor or an actress you like? If you had to name just one?
"I like Yoo Haejin. I've probably watched "Tazza" about 12 times. He has a unique character of his own and acts so well."
--What do you consider important in daily life?
"Say hello or goodbye. Not because it's a form of respect but just to let the other person know that you know them. If you skip this, it's easy to start small troubles. So I always tell people that I'm going home before leaving, no matter how drunk I am. I'm never gone with the wind. (laughs)"
-Who is a friend celebrity that you can call even at 2 AM?
"Hero Jaejoong and Micky Yoochun, and TOP. These three are the best friends. When we meet, we don't let anyone else join us. (laughs) And the friends from Songpagu Chamshil who never left me for 23 years are also my family. Sukchon lake Shinchol eatery street was our stage. I hung out in such a small area that I the first time I had gone out of Seoul outside of my graduation trip was after I became a singer.
--I heard you invested in a chicken restaurant with your friends.
"It wasn't an investment for profit. There are about 10 close friends that promised to be together for life and one of them opened a chicken restaurant. We promised each other that we'd support each other if one of us become successful. These are friends who know me better than my mom. We made a secret hideout in the room attached to the restaurant. We even put TV, sofa and blankets there."
-What was the most embarrassing thing you had to do recently.
"I went to a nail care shop with a friend couple and it was really embarrassing. (laughs) I personally think that my life was "The time of unrefined person" (from political gang drama) but I found myself getting my nails done like from a girl comic so it was embarrassing. (laughs) I don't think I can go there again."
-If you could become invisible for one day?
"At one point, I wanted to visit the women's bath house or go to the bank but I've changed my mind. What's so good about going to the bank? They'll still be able to see the money floating by. Instead of being invisible, I wish I could move really fast. I want to do the schedules quickly so I can get another hour of sleep.
-Is it exhausting to live as an idol star in Korea?
"Everyone's different but I'm fairly free. I tend to not worry about what my fans think too much. Sometimes there are fans pacing in front of our dorm really late at night and I scold them and send them home. I don't want them to regret having liked me when they become adults so I intentionally treat them coldly. Of course, I'm thankful that they're my fans. My dream is to rent a small stage when I'm in my 40-50's and to perform for fans who have become parents. And to go have soju with them after the performance or to do charity events. Just thinking about it makes me happy."
--Do you ever regret having dropped out?
"There wasn't much I could do with just a middle school diploma. Wherever I went, the term "drop out" followed me. I realized that Korea is not a country based on abilities when I was seventeen. I think there's still a far way to go to become a developed nation."
-If you could go back to the Chamshil middle school days, what would you do?
"I think I would participate more with the school band "Aksus" (means to scream). When I was fourteen, I went to Nakwon stores to buy base guitar with 70 000 won (about 70 dollars) for the first time. It was actually 80 000 won but the owner saw my stack of 1000 won (~ $1) bills and gave me 10 000 discount.
-Were there no support from your parents?
"At the time, if you wanted to formally learn music with lessons, it cost about 3 000 000 won (~$3000) a month. My dad was having a hard time with his business so I couldn't ask him for money. There were times that I despaired that "music is really money." I remember practicing 8 hours a day until the speakers from the computer broke.
-What do you think you would be doing if you weren't a singer?
"I don't think I can be a salary man so I think I would have part time jobs. I don't think it's necessary to have formal work if you live for your own enjoyment. I think the people who work in firms despite complaining do that because they value money more. In a way, you trade time for money. Happiness doesn't come out of a bank account. Once, I made 100 000 000 won (almost 100 grand) but currently, the balance in my account is 2 600 won. (~ $26 ) But I still don't think I need anything.
"Why would I lie? There was a time I had part time jobs and sold things and made 100 000 000 won. The way to make money? It's simple. You just have to not spend it. There were times when I worried over 100 won. But now, I eat the meat I like and spend more but whenever I see my friends, it's still Dutch pay.
-What's the most valuable thing?
"My friends. Even if I become penniless, my friends will help me until I can stand on my own. Beautiful women are transient memories but friends are eternal.
-What kind of a son are you?
"I'm a cold son who doesn't talk much. I can never say "thank you" or "I love you." There were times when I got into gang fights and my parents had to get me from the police station. The settlement fee cost them several 10 000 000 won. I really want to do well for my mother who was treated like a criminal because of me. I want to repay them for all the bad things I've done. I have one older brother who is currently in them military and he used to do quite well in school.
-You get attention wherever you go. How is your satisfaction level?
"Popularity? It's not worth anything. They say I look good and cool now but someday, it'll all leave me. I'm really nothing and it's just a brief moment of spotlight."
-What's the scariest thing in your life?
"The people. Especially, the people who badmouth people behind their backs are the scariest. I don't want people to be hurt because of me but I don't want to be hurt either. "
-In your opinion, what kind of a person is Kim Hyunjoong?
"Someone who tries to have a humane feel to him. Last year, I wanted to go to TaeAn to clean the rocks but I couldn't go because I didn't want people to say I was just doing it for my own image. I want to be someone who can act and say what I want without worrying about what others say. There are people who even donate their kidneys and I always feel regretful that I seem to live my life without doing any good deeds."
-Is there a reason you came to love comics?
"After I dropped out and ran away from home, I lived with friends for almost one year. But when that was impossible, the best place to go was a comic shop that cost 1400 won per hour. There were also times I rode the subway at Ddooksum station without a ticket and had to pay 30 times the fee. And other times I got caught but I just ran away. I'd like to apologies to the metro association workers."
-Why didn't you go home?
"I couldn’t because of my pride. (laughs) One time, I had no money but I was so hungry, I ordered 8 servings of ddukbokki and sausages and fries and ate it and ran away. I ran whole 2 km and felt so sad that I almost cried. I told myself, "I'm never going to forget this day." I'd like to apologize to the Shinrimdong fast-food restaurant owner as well."
-How did you come to have your debut?
"I got scouted when I was working at TGI but it turned out to be a fraudulent company. They made me work really hard and told me it was a Hallyu project and then tried to sell me to China. It was supposed to be a 5 member group at that time as well and I almost ended up in China for just 5 000 000 won (~ $5000) contract fee. After that, someone introduced me to DSP and I became a trainee and trained really hard for 1 1/2 years. The CEO is famous for being scary but to me, he feels like a father."
At the question whether Kim Hyunjoong would re-sign a contract with them, he stated that "Unless the agency kicks me out, I want to stay at DSP."
-Did you learn dancing from he beginning?
"There is a bit of story to that. At the beginning, they were going to make me a band but somewhere along the way, they changed and told me to learn to dance. I was disappointed but when I saw the 8000 people in the fan club, I thought "This must be my path in life." For the fans, I decided to leave the guitar for a bit and learn to dance."
He has two cell phones. One of them has an image of the fans cheering with balloons. The first saved number is his home. The rest is empty. He said he likes to memorize numbers so he remembers the phone numbers of 30 of his friends.
-People must be sad when you stop "We Got Married" next month.
"I felt happy filming "We Got Married." Even the Dongdaemoon intestines restaurant ladies call me "Kid groom" and specially give me the side dishes for employees. I can feel the increased popularity.
-What kind of a woman are you attracted to in real life?
"I like a woman who seem like a real genuine human. Rather than someone who does what I want, I want someone like a friend who will put her arms around my shoulders when I'm drunk. I want to get married around thirty and I want to be a good father and a good husband."
-The last question. What do you want on your tombstone when you die?
"I hadn't thought about it. (thinks about it for a while) I think I'd like a cozy picture of my family engraved on it instead of words. I think that would be more valuable and happy than a hundred phrases."