Mark Tuan embarks on a new creative chapter
Creative Direction & Styling
Ten years is a long time. It can be even longer when you are in a different world, unable to understand the language, with 12 hour-days filled with martial arts, gymnastics, singing lessons, and Korean language classes. But, that was Mark Tuan’s life as a member of GOT7.
Mark landed in Seoul as a teen not knowing an ounce of Korean, but he did have a promise from a talent scout that he would be given a chance. That was enough for Mark to consult with his family and make a commitment to fulfil a dream. He made the journey to another world and spent long days honing his craft and even longer nights reflecting on his decision. Even as his role in GOT7 was solidified, his career was never secure. They played paltry shows before headlining major stadiums, and this journey to stardom is what he treasures most.
GOT7 eventually found success, but along the way, there were new obstacles and challenges. Mark’s music as a solo artist is a testament and a revelation of the highs and lows of his creative career. As Mark embarks on this new trek, he speaks candidly with a soft voice and a clear heart.
The K-Pop industry is well known to have very crazy stories about how idols get scouted. Can you elaborate on how your career began with JYP Entertainment?
I was just having a regular day during my sophomore year when I suddenly got scouted at my school during lunch time. I remember standing on the tables trying to talk to some friends, and I guess it caught their attention because I was up above everybody else. They dragged me to the side and told me that they were from JYP, which I didn’t really know anything about since I wasn’t into K-Pop back then. They told me they wanted me to do a private audition for casting, and I pretty much only went to the audition because one of my friends told me, “Why not give it a shot? It’s a good opportunity and you never know what is going to happen.” So, I decided to go give it a shot. That’s my audition story. It was just me standing on the table that caught their attention!
Making the decision to travel to Korea must have been a difficult one. What were the factors that led to your decision, and is there anything you would have done differently?
Back then, the biggest thing was that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I grew up. In high school, a lot of people have an idea of what they want to do or they know what kind of field they want to get into, but to be honest, I never really liked studying! Because I never liked studying, that was one of the biggest decision-makers for me. I thought, maybe I could go see what this is all about, give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work out, I can always come back and finish school. My parents were pretty supportive of it too, because they knew that studying wasn’t one of my… biggest interests. I don’t think there is anything I would have done differently, other than training harder. I feel that I could have done a little bit more training and worked a little harder.
Being a trainee is quite intense and rigorous. What are some parts of training that you enjoyed, and were there any programs you did not enjoy?
I actually really enjoyed dancing and learning Korean. I was never a dancer and never got into dancing, but I was always interested and enjoyed watching dance videos and break dancing videos on YouTube. So, I really enjoyed learning how to dance. All the other lessons that we had were pretty intense and there was a lot of practice on your own time, but for Korean, we would just go in and watch Korean dramas or Korean shows, so it was more chill. I think that’s why learning Korean and the dance lessons were definitely my favorites.
Debuting in 2014, GOT7 has enjoyed nearly a decade of world wide fame. What are some moments you look back on with fondness?
Just all the times we spent together as a group. I feel like we were pretty successful and we did pretty big shows, so going back and thinking about how small the venues were when we first did shows or fan meetings and comparing that to our last concert and seeing the venue and all the fans growing with us, just… I don’t know… I really enjoy thinking back on those times. It’s nice that GOT7 didn’t blow up right away and that we got to take it step by step with the fans. I feel like that grew the group and made us more mature.
K-Pop runs the gamut when it comes to music and every member in a K-Pop group is assigned a specific role (ex. main vocalist, main dancer, main rapper, etc.) What made you want to focus on rapping in GOT7?
We all had to do vocal lessons back then as a requirement from the company, but I guess I didn’t do TOO well with singing as they threw me into rapping lessons! That’s how I got started. The K-Pop industry has a lot of vocalists but they also have rappers in the group, so it kind of worked out for the best! These days though, a lot of rap is more melodic, so I feel like my position in GOT7 is like “yes, he’s a rapper” but since a lot of things are more melodic now, am I still considered a rapper? But, that is how I initially got into rapping.
Since rapping is often very fast paced, did you ever find it difficult rapping in a language that wasn’t your first?
Yes, but I also thought it wasn’t too hard. I think trying to memorize the lyrics was a bit harder and sometimes they would just throw in words that I had never seen before, so trying to pronounce those words was sometimes very difficult. I would go into the recording sessions and think my pronunciation and everything was on point, but then they were like, “oh no, it’s pronounced this way!” For some songs, it would take multiple takes just to get one syllable or one word correct, but other than that it wasn’t that difficult for me, and I thought I did pretty well!
When you announced your YouTube channel, you received 1,000,000 followers within a day without releasing a single video. Talk me through what was going on in your mind when you saw this?
I actually didn’t know how the fans figured out I had a YouTube channel! I made it, they started following and it got shared online. I think we were at around 200k subscribers when I started seeing people questioning if it was really me, so I posted online that I made a YouTube channel and the next day was when we hit one million. I thought it was crazy how fast it grew, even without a video! There was nothing to attract people to subscribe to the channel or anything, but I am REALLY thankful for the fans because that was around the time when people were wondering if GOT7 was going to stay with the company and what was going to happen. The fans were super supportive of our decisions and they were showing a lot of love, so I felt touched by that, just because it shows how crazy they can get when they are super supportive of us.
Besides being a part of GOT7 you have also enjoyed a solo career. What aspects of being a solo artist have been most rewarding to you?
I wouldn’t say that I have started my solo career yet! I think I dabbled into it a little bit, but I am officially going to release my single on the 12th of November. There is still a lot of room to grow for sure, but I feel like after I came back from Korea and started going to the studio more often to record, my sound has been getting a lot better than it was back then. There is still a lot more for me to grow in terms of music writing and producing and all that, but I kind of like where I am right now. I am not too mad about it, and I hope the fans enjoy the upcoming music that I am going to be releasing.
Speaking of your new single “Last Breath,” how did this departure come about, and what was the motivation behind it?
It’s a pretty emotional song and in general, I feel like the album and project that I am working on right now are all super emotional songs to me. They are very personal, and a lot of it is about the experiences that I have gone through in Korea, whether it is sad times, or if I am homesick, or stuff like that. The reason why we picked this song as the first single was because of what the story behind it meant to me. I felt like I had to release this first before I can release anything else. But, I don’t want to give away too much on what it is about, as I want to let the fans take it in and have their own thoughts on it!
If you had to pick one line out of “Last Breath” as your favorite or the lyric that resonates most with you, which would it be?
It would probably be in the second verse. “Can’t hold it back, I’m suffocating. You’re controlling me and I can’t escape. Oh no.” This song is super personal to me and the lyrics mean a lot to me, so I pretty much like every single lyric!
Besides music you are also known for your fashion sense. What are some brands that you like?
I feel like right now, I don’t really look for which brands I like anymore, it’s more of just shopping around and seeing what looks good. Back then, I think I went to certain brands just because I like that brand, but now, I don’t really worry much about that and just look for what I want to wear and what I would feel comfortable wearing!
Are there any current trends that you are following?
Ooo some trends… That’s a good question! We recently got into painting our nails! I don’t know if that is a trend, but I feel like it is becoming one. I went to get my nails painted at the nail salon once with one of my friends, and we had A LOT of fun choosing what designs and what colors we wanted for each finger, and you know, you get to be creative with it! I had a lot of fun, and so I got into doing my nails a lot recently. You come out with fresh, clean nails and you just feel good!
Sussy Campos/Art Department using Tom Ford Beauty
Charlene Young, Will Chan, Peter C. Yeh
Thrift Shop Studios, Los Angeles, California
Music and fashion are what you are best known for, however you have a lot of social projects too. What motivated you to donate to the George Floyd Foundation?
Before George Floyd, in general in GOT7, we’ve tried to help out a lot and tried to give when we can, where we can. When the George Floyd incident happened, it was a very big deal in America. I just wanted to help raise awareness and thought that by donating and helping the cause, it could help spread the word and stop the hate. Racial discrimination is something that we’ve been struggling with for a long time in America, so I wanted to raise awareness and help out.
Are there any other social projects that you would like to bring awareness to?
Right now, because of COVID-19, the Stop Asian Hate movement comes to mind. I have been seeing a lot of videos on social media where Asians are getting a lot of hate, and I actually saw a video not too long ago where there was an incident that occured at a bowling alley that me and my friends go to almost every week. I thought this is somewhere close to where I am living and I wouldn’t want my parents to ever be put in that type of situation. I think it is getting a lot better than it was back then, but it is still something that is happening a lot because of COVID-19. I want to try and help in any way that I can.
Being a native of SoCal, what are some sports teams you follow?
Back then, I used to watch a lot of basketball, so Lakers for sure! I was happy that the Lakers and the Dodgers won the year before I came back, because it was a pretty big year for LA. Recently, all my friends are into watching baseball and football, and I was never into that, but they would always come over to my house and throw on the games. We are always pretty much rooting for the home team, you know, the Dodgers, Lakers, and stuff like that, but other than that, I don’t really watch too much football or soccer.
In Early January, you returned to your hometown in Los Angeles. How did it feel to come back home after so long?
To be honest, up until the past two months, it felt like I still had to go back to Korea. For some reason, it didn’t feel like I officially moved back here, even though I did. It felt like I’m here, but it didn’t feel like I’m back home. It was a really weird feeling for me, just because I spent ten years in Korea, which is about the same amount of time I have been in the States. So it just kind of felt… really weird coming back home. But, now I am used to it, and I am having fun and enjoying life!
Watch Mark Tuan’s latest single—’Last Breath’ below: