Lee An: Home is where the heart is
Dian Kuswandini , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA Sat, 04/18/2009 2:10 PM People
When Korean singer Lee An explains why he relocated to Singapore, he talks up the business logic of the move. But it soon becomes clear that what really tipped the scales is that he fell in love.
It wasn’t some enchanting Singaporean girl that captured the heart of the tall, 29-year-old Seoul-born heartthrob, but rather the enchanting mood of the Lion City itself.
“The first time I came to Singapore in 2006 for a show, I suddenly felt comfortable. I felt good about it,” Lee An reveals.
It was an unusual move – most Korean stars look to China, Japan or Taiwan to get their international break – and a brave decision, but ultimately a smart pick.
“When the recording company came to me for the first time [in 2006], they said: ‘We know most singers start in Japan and Taiwan. But why not try another Asian country like Singapore?’” Lee An says.
And because he felt good about Singapore, Lee An agreed to build his base there and make the country his second home.
“I know that most Korean singers go to China because it has a bigger market,” he says during a recent visit to Jakarta. “But I see Singapore as a promising Asian market for the future; it can expand.”
Of course, the business math is only part of it; he speaks enthusiastically of the charms of his adopted country.
“When you’re in China and Japan, you only get to know Chinese and Japanese culture. But in Singapore, it’s multicultural: Malay, Indian and Chinese. It’s very interesting!”
So off he went, setting up his international base in Singapore, far from his home in Seoul, where he left everything he had: his parents and sister, (now ex) girlfriend and thriving career.
“It was hard at the beginning. Everything I did [in Singapore] was the first time for me,” says Lee An, who admits he still can’t forget the girl he left back in Seoul.
Back in Korea, he says, he had already built a solid career in the entertainment industry. He had appeared in several dramas and movies, including Lovely Rivals, The Guy Was Cool and Mr. Hong – all produced in 2004. He had hosted a radio program and was spokesman for French cosmetic brand Thalgo in Korea.
Singing, surprisingly enough, came later down the track.
“Yes, I started my career as a producer, not a singer,” Lee An says.
It was always a producer job that he wanted, even though he studied singing in the United States for about 18 months.
“At that time, my dream was to become a producer, not a singer,” he says. “So when I returned to Korea, I started to produce songs [for other musicians].”
Before long, though, his heart was yearning to sing and, with support from many people, Lee An shifted his focus.
At least, he says, he can now be his own producer.
“I got the chance to produce my second album,” Lee An says, referring to his album US (2008), released a year after his debut The Birth.
But whereas many Korean artists leave their fans lost in translation by singing in their mother tongue only, Lee An has tried a different approach.
“I thought if I can reach people through many languages, maybe we can be closer.”
On his second album, he sings in Korean and Mandarin. On the third, currently underway, he will try singing in English and Indonesian.
“You know, I also love to listen to Japanese songs, but I can’t understand the meaning,” he says.
Even though he says his Indonesian is not good, Lee An is willing to learn – and his loyal fans are making it easier for him.
“I have some fans in Indonesia who teach me Bahasa sometimes when we chat [online]. One of them also gave me an Indonesian–Korean dictionary,” he adds, smiling.
It’s easy to understand, then, why Lee An respects his fans so much. For him, fans are more than just people who buy his albums and cheer.
“You know, I’m a foreigner, but they’re very kind to me. They even prepare food for me sometimes,” he says.
“I’m alone, far away from home, but I have my fans taking care of me. So I don’t feel like a singer with some fans [around me]. I feel like we’re all friends and family.”
Nevertheless, Lee An’s homeland is still in his heart.
And because of his international popularity, Lee An was chosen as an ambassador by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) to promote his home country to the world.
“I had my video clips filmed in Jeju to promote Korea,” Lee An says, referring to the famously beautiful island.
The scenery in the videos is so beautiful that Lee An jokes that people are more interested in watching them than in seeing him onstage.
He has also introduced the Korean wave or Hallyu to the international public. The Hallyu has been infecting Asia recently, including Indonesia, thanks to popular Korean dramas and music.
The new envoy job will make Lee An even busier this year, but he works it in alongside his music, as he did in Jakarta, promoting both his country and his songs.
“Now I’m still looking for some Indonesian musicians to collaborate with me,” he says, naming local band Mocca as among those he adores.
In paving his way to Indonesia, Lee An hopes to reach out to more individuals in sharing his music. And because Singapore and Indonesia are only not that far away (and less than one hour by plane), surely it’s possible Lee An might come to consider Indonesia his third home?