Korean singer Choi Whee-Sung, better known as Wheesung, made his Middle East debut when he performed in Abu Dhabi for the Korea Festival last week. We caught up with the 36-year-old R&B singer, songwriter and producer to hear his thoughts about the ever-growing success of K-pop and how he was able to find his own voice as a solo artist.
Growing up, Wheesung admits to being a fan of Korean pop music. However, it was the intricate choreography that many of the artists displayed that caught his eye.
“At first, I just liked Korean pop music as any other friends in my class, just listening and singing along, but at some point I started to look more closely at all the small gestures and choreography on TV music shows,” he says. “As I paid more attention, later I could be able to copy the choreography, from slow beats to faster beats, by myself and developed my talent in dancing. It naturally led me to seek a career as a dancer.”
On finding his own path as a solo artist
Wheesung was a backup dancer and a member of the back dancing team for popular K-pop girl group SES. But he eventually found his way into singing after a promoter discovered him and put him in a four-piece boy band called A4. After releasing one album, he departed from the group in 2000 finding that it wasn’t for him. “The result was not very great as I was not fully prepared when I started performing in a boy band,” he says.
After departing from A4, he was faced with making a career decision. "During that time, I was lost. I made the biggest decision in my life. It was the decision whether to continue the path in music or not, and I chose to continue without expecting any kind of results."
He spent two years working on his vocals and in 2002 put out his debut solo album Like A Movie which was well-received and praised by some big acts in the K-pop world including Seo Taiji (of Seo Taiji and the Boys).
“I just poured everything that I could do into that album, and I still work today as I did for my debut album. I could only assume that the timing was right, and my voice and expression worked well with the music industry at that time,” he says.
It was also during this journey Wheesung discovered that he wasn't really a big fan of so-called "Korean style ballads" mostly because he wasn't too confident with them.
"Many of my fans love my ballad songs, but I prefer R&B songs that are more rhythmical or moody with slow tempo. I’ve been trying different genres as I had an aspiration to produce music not only for myself but also for other artists," he says.
Advice for aspiring K-pop artists
While he knows how rigorous it can be to be in the spotlight as a K-pop, he knows that there are those who still aspire to be the next BTS or Exo. His one piece of advice is to make sure they can stand out.
“I would be worried that it will be very difficult to survive in the industry if they don’t have an answer to ‘How can I be differentiated from others?’,” he says. “K-pop idol groups these days hear a lot of comments saying that it’s hard to find out who’s who, and I also feel a little sad that there are so many groups with similar concepts are spilled out.”
Wheesung hopes the genre will expand in the next few years to see more original and differentiated groups in Korean music. “Korean music these days is not vastly different from existing pop, and I believe it will evolve to a different level soon,” he says. “The K-pop industry is now too enormous; beyond I could say something about."