The K-pop star found career inspiration in Justin Bieber and Kanye West.
In Elite Daily's series Early Influences, musicians reflect on the songs and albums that left a lasting impression on them in their formative teen years. Here, rapper and singer Mark Tuan, who rose to fame as a member of the K-pop group GOT7, shares the artists who inspired him growing up, as well as those who currently influence his solo career.
Who is Mark Tuan outside of the highly-successful K-pop group GOT7? That’s the question the singer is pondering when I speak to him through Zoom on July 26. Exactly a month later, on Aug. 26, he dropped his debut solo album, the other side, where he wrestled with this and other introspective questions.
Namely, Tuan, who has spent the past decade in the spotlight, is still trying to figure out what parts of his life he wants to share with his longtime fans. “They know all the happy side [sic] of things throughout the past 10 years,” he says, referencing his time with GOT7. “But we’re so limited to what we’re allowed to do and express [as K-pop idols] that I kind of put all that in this album.”
If the other side sounds like a reintroduction, it’s because it is. In January 2021, Tuan and the rest of GOT7 entered a new chapter of their careers when they left their longtime agency JYP Entertainment — one of the “big three” entertainment companies in South Korea — following the expiration of their contracts. Despite their departure, GOT7 chose to remain together while also pursuing solo careers, making them one of the rare groups to overcome K-pop’s “seven-year curse.”
With this new sense of freedom, Tuan is getting honest about the ups and downs of riding high for so many years. He co-wrote each song on the other side, addressing external expectations (“The pedestal feels way too high,” he sings on “only human”) and internal criticism (“How could somebody look at me and think that I'm happy?,” he ponders on the piano ballad “my life.”)
“It was really hard for [me to work on] this project because it took some time to get it [to a place where] people can relate to it while still telling my story,” he says. “I like listening to songs that I can relate to, and I do want my listeners to be able to relate to [to my album] in certain ways.”
To get to this place of unflinching self-reflection, Tuan found inspiration in other male soloists who’ve publicly dealt with scrutiny and a watchful critical eye. Below, Tuan tells me more about these artists, as well as what fans can expect from him after the other side. (Hint: His tour is almost here.)
In addition to being a singer, Tuan has also seriously forayed into fashion. He’s worked on three collaborations with the luxury streetwear brand Represent, modeled for countless magazines like Vogue Korea and GQ Thailand, and even attended Milan Fashion Week in 2019. His latest collaboration is with Spark Clear Aligners, an orthodontic treatment company. So Tuan finding a major influence in fellow music and fashion titan A$AP Rocky just makes sense.
“I started listening to him, I think, when I first moved to Korea [in] probably early 2010,” he says. Tuan gravitated toward Rocky’s music videos and fashion sense. “[They] had like a dark look to it and very trippy aesthetic,” he said.
Traces of this “dark” and “trippy” aesthetic can now be seen in Tuan’s music videos. “Save me” shows his silhouette performing against a psychedelic purple background as lights flash around him. Meanwhile, “far away” plays with the saturation to give the video an overall cloudy effect. “My life” also shows Tuan literally engulfed in darkness. It works — these artistic choices align with his album’s darker themes.
As for singer Blackbear, who has also written for artists like Avril Lavigne and Machine Gun Kelly, Tuan admires the star’s confidence and ability to experiment. “I really love the way he kind of raps and sings at the same time,” Tuan says. “It’s just like he doesn’t give a f*ck. He’s really laidback and chill, and I think that’s something that I also want to incorporate into my songs.”
Tuan admits confidence is something he struggled with when recording his debut solo album. “Coming from a group with six other members, we play off each other if we’re lacking on some traits, and we have somebody else to fill in the spot,” he says. “So for me, having to try and sing a full complete song by myself, it was very hard for me and I didn’t think I could do it.”
However, once he got into the flow of things, Tuan felt better about himself and his work. “I think there was a time where every day for three months I was just in the studio,” he says. “I think it was just singing in the recording booth and hearing all the feedback from people saying they really like the song [that] kind of boosted my confidence.”
With his debut solo album out and a tour on the horizon, Tuan is looking to further improve his singing voice and find inspiration in Justin Bieber. “I think the way he sings, it’s easy for people to listen to,” Tuan says.
For his next album, Tuan says he would love to create music similar to Bieber’s aesthetic. “I feel like lyrically, all the songs [on my album] are kind of dark,” Tuan says. “I’m really still experimenting and trying to figure out what I like the most.”
Tuan describes the other side as “pop-based with different genres” mixed in, and even has an idea of what genre he’d like to foray into next. “This mixture kind of works in terms of telling my story,” he says of the more brooding elements on the album. “But in the future, I do want to do something that’s more upbeat and dance.”
With the other side now out, Tuan will soon get IRL feedback on his music when he goes on tour in October and November. He’ll perform in 15 different cities across North America, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto.
While Tuan is a bit nervous to go on his first solo tour, he’s mostly really excited to get things started. “It’s a lot of mixed emotions, but it’s going to be fun,” he says.
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