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It was either take a break or break himself. Jackson Wang speaks about mental health and phases of recovery. Fragmented across different worlds: fire, water, and subsidence Magic Man, the new album, is its own multiverse. Like the protagonist Evelyn in Everything Everywhere All at Once Jackson’s album seems to unpack living parallel lives, across cultures and being pushed to the edge. Magic Man out in full in September takes us on a journey with the character from being a hedonistic human fire to icy dejected water man and someone living in an abstract peaceful void.

The chaos of living across multiple cultures and relentless schedules can get too much. Magic Man is him processing burnout. Jackson Wang advocates living for the moment and doing what makes us happy, no matter what universe we find ourselves in. It’s something his music has always stood for, averse to being asked what does it mean? He sticks by, “Entertainment is entertainment, it’s supposed to make people happy.”  Jackson Wang is proud of his Chinese roots, and lives in Korea, but also effortlessly assimilates into local cultural norms in the West, speaking the language expertly. In London with James Corden, he was willing to try a stargazy pie of fish heads, quickly picked up some Spanish in an LA interview and adopted the American teasing attitude towards parents on The Kelly Clarkson show last month. Iconic music videos like Pretty Please, his multilingual songs and private respectful disposition are never tied to just one culture creating a persona that ensures he is never stuck in one box. A hard worker, to maybe excessive extremes, the Magic Man album is Jackson Wang’s metaphorical pot boiling over. An emotional release. A realisation: “Words mean a lot” and having positive friends around you is everything, on set and after work.

Having posed for Fendi, his striking high cheekbones and melancholic evasive tendency give him a supermodel quality. In this interview, dressed in a powerful black suit he sometimes shyly avoids eye contact or stutters on his points, despite being articulate. Exceptionally slick in front of the screaming crowds at Coachella, his athletic elegance comes from his disciplined youth growing up with Olympian parents. But this June he’s stepping away from his k-pop rap identity into a rock infused theatrical character: Magic Man. Blow his first single off the album introduces us to a Dorian Grey-esque character: a perfectly handsome man and dark hedonist. This Magic Man persona is the fire element. The first of three subsequent personas the album explores. All gritty and on the darker side of the spectrum. Blow seems to revel in excess and succumbing to temptations. Meanwhile the next elements water and void explore emotional turbulence, solitude and acceptance. His career and this album show there is always a new world to explore and the only category that can confine Jackson Wang is entertainer.

Hi Jackson, it’s lovely to meet you. Thank you for talking to us today. Where are you calling from?
I’m in Seoul, Korea.
And you’ve just finished the photoshoot for METAL? Did you have a good time?
An amazing time. And I love the concept. It’s in the same zone and direction creatively as my album that's about to come out in September.
Amazing. Magic Man is the album that you’re referring to, right? It’s been a big transformation for you. We know it’s new, it’s raw, it’s you. You’re not interested in following trends. You want to be authentic. But was there something specific that you found inspiring whilst writing the songs or preparing the project? Were there any specific artists or moments?
Well, honestly, this album that is about to drop, it’s not just about the music itself. It’s the whole tone, the attitude, the colour. It’s just the vibe of everything and music is just one of the elements that makes the album, the album. The reason why Magic Man is Magic Man is, long story short, for the past year I was really lost, being in this industry for over 8 years everything just felt like a loop. Also, for me always travelling, schedules after schedules, I was uninspired. I was lost. I felt like there were too many negativities around me and I couldn’t function. My personality, when I’m running into difficult stuff, especially when I’m stressed or when I’m feeling down. I’m not a person who communicates with people or even talks to people. Because I felt like just living as a workaholic. I would think it’s such a waste of time to talk. What are you going to do with my problems? I thought I was the only one that could solve them. And I never believed in talking, being connected with people deeply. Although I’m an outgoing guy, I'm a friendly guy, I would always avoid having very deep conversations with people because it just wasn't me.
Do you think you were always like that? Or did celebrity change the way you can speak to people?
No, I think I was always like that. I was raised that way: from being an athlete to joining this industry. My parents raised me with this vision of focus on your shit. Don’t make other people’s lives harder. So, that’s why I kept my stuff to myself only. I was really lost, honestly, for the past year I was drinking every single day, because I was so lost. I was always by myself. I was not talking; I was being emotional. I couldn't function properly in or out of work. I didn't know what to do.
There was one day that I was in a session with my producer. And we were recording, I was being efficient. I just wanted to get things done, to make quality work and then he stopped. He was like, we have to talk. We’re not doing this today. He saw me in that zone for a couple of months, and he just wanted it to stop. He said, you’ve got to sit down and let’s talk about it. Let’s not talk about music, let’s not talk about work, let’s not talk about anything but life. Right? And I couldn’t believe it. At first, I rejected it and I thought, let’s not waste time, let's be efficient, let’s just record and get this thing done. It needs to be fire. But he insisted. That was four weeks before the deadline. I felt like we didn’t have time, but we sat down, he told me we had to do this right now. He asked, what is going on? And then honestly, for the first time I actually felt like words mean a lot from friends. And I realised, how important it is to have positive people around you, that inspire you.

It’s essential.
Over a period of time, after having that conversation, it started to get better. It takes more than a day or two, you know. I was in the process of changing myself because I was inspired by our conversation. First, I slowly started to take baby steps. Should I talk to a lot of people? Should I talk to this person? Maybe I should open up myself in conversation. Sometimes it’s okay to say, I’m fucked, on a microphone in a song. So, I took this step to open myself up and to start having deep conversations with people. I was on a shoot the other day, with one of my friends the stylist and art director. Then we went for a drink afterwards, and they told me the same thing. It’s so important to have positive people around you and a positive vibe. That gets you inspired, it gives you a healthy mindset. Second, I realised it’s okay to say you’re not okay, you’re not alone. Everyone goes through that. Third, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So why not just live the way I want? So, for this album especially, whatever I did, whoever I was, I just decided, you know what? Screw that. Let’s start a fresh. People might say I’m not perfect, but that’s what makes me human. Let’s just be raw, I am me. I should just be honest. And that’s what I did for the album.
That’s wonderful to hear. What’s the name of the producer who started that conversation with you out of interest?
It’s Isaac Han. In conclusion, because all this stuff I wanted to call our album Magic Man, because everything felt like magic. It was crazy. We were joking at first but then I talked to the crew, and everybody thought that’s cool, why not?
Lovely. From my research, you took a very well-deserved break before creating Magic Man. I wanted to know if you went on holiday, where did you go? What did you see? Did you go into nature in China or abroad?
I hadn’t been on a break for nine years, I think. I used to be a person that if you gave me three days holiday probably by the end of the first two days, I’d start to feel insecure. I have anxiety, like, what am I doing here? Everyone’s working so hard, and I’m stopping. I’m not being productive, efficient. I start to worry. Also, the other worry is what if I can’t get back? I jumped from a channel, from working so hard. What if I get lazy? What if I can’t get back to my original zone? I was worried. I know that a lot of people say you need to recharge, you need to refresh. In the end, I tried and it’s not bad. I got a lot of sleep, I had a lot of fun. My brain needed it. I didn't know.
Okay, cool.
I was drinking and eating whatever I want. I cut down on carbs for a long time, even for Coachella. The last two days in Coachella I had only one banana. So, I made a promise to myself that maybe next time I have work I’ll probably start prepping myself for a week before to be all set, but for the rest of the time, I’ll just enjoy myself.
Congratulations on your performance at Coachella by the way, it was amazing. I want to know who did you go and see there? Did you make the most of the festival?
Yeah, I went to watch Rich Brian and Joji. I left the next day, or day after, I was doing some press for Blow.


Do you think that you’ve got a better work life balance now? I read that you went through a phase of sleeping for three hours a night when you were training in Korea and six hours when you were in multiple bands. For me, the expectation of workload in Europe is that you rest a lot more. We really chill on our weekends.
The thing that I’ve realised along this process is everyone is different. Everybody has a different personality, vision, standard of happiness, dream. Sometimes you can’t expect people to be in the same zone as you. Another thing is you can’t have everything. So, be sure to be very specific on what you need and what you want in life. I understand this lifestyle in LA or in the UK, it’s maybe more relaxed. In Europe, everything closes at seven, I understand it's a different culture and I respect that. Maybe that’s what is kind of screwing me up too, travelling around Europe, America, Asia, all these different countries they have different cultures.
So, what does your day look like now? Do you have more time to relax? What time do you start? What time do you finish?
I don’t know these days honestly. I’m working, but I’m not working. I am prepping all my album visual assets. I’m not really busy these days and very unemployed.
You are the CEO of your own company, right? You’re not unemployed, if you’re self-employed.
It’s not that easy.
I see, what do you enjoy doing to relax?
I think I’m trying to let myself relax physically. But I realised, it still takes some time to get to a point where my brain accepts that too. My brain is going 24/7, it’s really a process.

I think that’s just being an artist, right? Because life is inspiration. Whether you’re out with some friends or at someone else’s concert and you like a riff. It’s all inspiration.
Anything. It could be me staying at home or being drunk or not, being with or without friends. It’s all different inspiration.
Do you spend time on social media? Do you feel like it’s a parallel world where we share the best versions of ourselves?
It’s a gift and a curse. It is so good that everyone in this generation has access to everything. Then again, it could be good or bad, it depends on how you use it. Every day I spend two to three hours on social media. Not on one media but across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, a lot of different networks.
Back to the release, Blow and Cruel seem quite dark and rock infused. Can you tell me more about that? Is this your goth phase?
Cruel is probably going to drop in late July. I’m going to LA to shoot the video. I’ve spent the last week or two working on the scenes, the performance, the set, everything. It’s not easy when you’re trying to create something that doesn’t have any references. It’s hard if you’re trying to shoot something that’s just different. You’ve got to guide people through it, but I’m not good at translating it.
Okay, do you think it’s going to be similar to Blow?
Definitely not. I mean, yes, in the way that it’s still in the universe of Magic Man. In Magic Man, there’s so many different regions and areas in its one universe. There are different sides that show the character’s emotions. Some could be super dark, lonely or just doing nothing, very abstract, standing or sitting still. It’s about the inside me trying to come out, in the dirt. There’s a lot of darkness. But even Blow is still the leader of the whole crew [set] in an early era in Europe. There's a lot of different elements, but everything will be like a musical.

I read we’re going to be sort of transported to various realities, each bound by their set of rules. Each song has its own region or its own world. Can you tell me more about that at all?
Yes, every song is going to have their zone and there are three different zones. One is the fierce aggressive dark devil that has always been deep inside me. And the others are Blow the concept of the leader in a crew. Then one is super lonely and soulless. Imagine the whole album is the process of digesting emotions.
My album breaks down into three main categories of fire, water, and subsidence. Red is the fire region: aggression, temptation, and craziness. The second section is blue, that’s me in the ice world cooling down. Then grey loneliness, soulless, just silence. The process is from fire to ice and then subsidence. That's the whole emotional narrative.
Amazing. Is the grey section or the silence associated with an element also, for example air?
Grey just means almost invisible, silence, no emotion, no nothing, soulless.
Void, that’s interesting. In Blow your fire character is very powerful. Is he a hero or a villain? He makes me think of a book is an old English book, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. I don’t know if you reference that story specifically.
It’s definitely a mysterious character. But the thing about it is he’s still human. He has emotions. He’s fighting with himself on a lot of things.
You’ve spoken about how the East and West mostly learn about each other over the internet. As an artist, you want to bridge the gap and show that there are a lot of layers underneath that people don’t know. Can you tell me more? What misconceptions have you come across?
There’s no misconception. It's more about when you open up social media you see the stuff that's only around your region.

It depends, I feel like I see things that are international personally.
That yeah, but there is a difference. Because when I travel from certain places, versus when I’m in Korea, I get stuff that’s Korean, you know what I mean? What I’m trying to say is as a Chinese artist, as Asian artists, being present within music or entertainment is important. First is being visible to new audiences and second is getting into my music, my performance; next when you go deep down, wonder where I’m from. That’s an opportunity for people to learn more. About all this culture, this person’s background. In the majority of my work, you can always find that cultural element in it. Something that people aren’t aware of.
Yes, could you give me an example?
Yes, it’s in a lot of my work. It could be the food, the places, the sets or even me as a person, my tattoos, my content. When people see me they are curious. What is that tattoo? It’s a lantern. Why a lantern? For the moon festival in Asia. Then, they might research the Moon Festival. People pick up little bits and pieces of stuff that they might and might not know.
When I see your work, I feel there are a lot of western influences. Your song Jackie Chan is about an Asian man who’s successful in a Western context. How does your home’s culture influence your work in a more specific way?
It’s more than an influence on the way I work, it’s in my blood and it’s where I’m from. Whatever I’m doing, I could be singing in Spanish today, performing anywhere in the world. The fact is, it’s me doing it and I have that hometown, that’s it. Entertainment is entertainment and it’s just my hometown I’m proud of. I want to share that.
For example, the different elements in Magic Man water, fire and void, are these Buddhist concepts?
Blow is one of the elements in my album and there is so much more to come. My purpose is not to force, it’s something that’s natural when I direct videos. I had a song called Pretty Please that took place in this restaurant where I grew up in Hong Kong. A lot of people don’t know the food that I order, the dialect I’m speaking, Cantonese. People search what Horlicks is. It’s not something obvious, it’s natural and what you might not know about. It could be about food or culture, what I was eating when I was a kid. It doesn’t need to be the big scale stuff.
Thank you for speaking to us, your work does transcend context.
Thank you.
 

Headquarter project director
Esther Lin
Photography
Gowontae
Video
CZ Entertainment
Styling
Kim Seong Deok
Hair
LEEHAN
Makeup
Cho Hansera
Words
Bella Spratley
Production
Xu Ye & Cara

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