During the performance of their new song “Knockout,” T.O.P, during most of the time, either stood still or moved slowly when he rapped while his partner G-Dragon (GD) moved wildly around the stage. But no one would dare say he moves less for their performance of “Knockout” only becomes complete when GD’s swiftness is combined with T.O.P’s heaviness along with the presence of their unique characters that are as different as their hairstyles. Furthermore, T.O.P has the ability to ‘eat up’ the audience with the most unexpected movements. He once used to be one of the five members of Big Bang who worried over his lack of dancing skills but he can now capture people’s attention without so much as moving a muscle. Here is T.O.P’s remarks about performing on stage, his thoughts and his confidence.
10: Of all the days, I’m interviewing you on Christmas (Laugh). You must already be exhausted from yesterday’s concert and here I am bothering you with this.
T.O.P: It’s alright (Laugh). What did you think of our performance?
10: I posted few photos from your concert on my Twitter account and was hated by a few followers. They called me selfish for having fun by myself (Laugh).
T.O.P: I guess I’ll have to say I’m thankful if they think of our concert that way. (Laugh) When doing concerts something can always go wrong such as problem with sounds but it is our duty to make the best out of even the worst situations. I’m also grateful to everyone who was there with us and how they put in much effort to help us enjoy ourselves. It’s been a while since we’ve performed on televised shows as well but I feel heartened and happy performing thanks to their consideration and great stage preparations.
10: Your performance seems to have changed from the past. For example, at your YG Family Concert, you suddenly approached a fan in the standing area of the stage, stuck your face right in front of hers, and started rapping.
T.O.P: It wasn’t anything calculated beforehand or anything. While performing together with Ji-yong [G-Dragon] we already have a picture of what to do but all the small things are improvised. I think that’s the kind of power we came to gain while being in show business for past few years. Just like with acting, the emotions we deliver are feelings that we get from our music, not something that’s pre-arranged. I believe it comes from our confidence.
10: You seem to exude more confidence in both the music in your newest album and stage manner. There is also a different kind of ease we get from your smoky makeup with the song “Knockout” which is quite interesting. Any special reason for such change?
T.O.P: It’s more about how I questioned myself over the past year. In the past I used to wonder what am I really doing this. There were some parts that burdened me greatly, leaving me to wonder whether I’m doing something that may be too much for me. But as I grew older I changed the question. “What do people want from me?”
10: The answer was your confidence?
T.O.P: Won’t people wish to gain vicarious satisfaction from me and confidence to go on with their lives? I think that was part of the reason my raps started to include lyrics like “Turn it up,” and same for the album. It’s not just to do something fancy or to bluff. Even if I show off a bit I wish those listening to my music have confidence for themselves just like I have for my career. I’m not sure how listeners will take it but I put a lot into that lyrics.
10: Is that the reason you started to share your name with a well-known brand, thus making a brand out your name as well? It seems like you were saying toward those who observe you “You can take me as you like. So I am.”
TOP: I became a bit bold. Actually my real self if more of a thinker, worrying about lots of things and careful about things like that. But when thinking about what people want from me and what could be the right thing to do, I decided that carrying on like this would be much more refreshing. I wish people who are feeling down to feel better as they listen to this music. Whether this is just a showing off for me or not, I wish the music to reach to them with ease, hopefully not too bossy (Laugh). I wanted to express my sincerity at least once and I believe that one way of expressing for me.
10: You used to give off impression of delving deeper into your inner self but now you’ve started to think about your influence toward others as well. How was such switch in thoughts possible?
T.O.P: I think I began to think more widely about the world I live in. World is such a bustling place yet lots of people today go through hard times, unable to gain energy from that vigor. And those are the people who are so good to me, to Big Bang or at least those listening to our songs. I thought I would like them to feel vicarious happiness by listening to our music. It got me wanting to express the way of feeling vicarious happiness in several roundabout ways.
10: Are such thoughts from perceiving your position as a singer? If you wish to do something for others you have to prepare yourself to take that much more responsibility.
TOP: I used to hate and feel burdened by such love and interest from other people in the past. I couldn’t enjoy any of it. But after letting go of my greed, I became more relaxed toward it. My ambition for music, the thoughts that I got to do something with my music which used to haunt me melted away. In the past I remember frequently saying “Hope you like it,” whenever I release a new song but now it doesn’t matter if people don’t expect much. Instead I came to think that I shall be the person who can amplify other’s expectations. I want to return as much as I receive, urge myself to work harder to study music. There is so much I wanted to show.
10: Is this linked to your present situation? You’ve been involved in acting but then return to pour out your music all at once with the latest album.
T.O.P: When I returned back from the film “Into The Fire (2010) GD was already in the middle of doing his music and I resumed my place in Big Bang. So much has changed in music world, great people out in the stage and everything. Since I’d been away from that flow for quite some time that gave me a moment to step back and re-organize my thoughts.
10: The way you express yourself seems to have changed. Before, you said you act out a virtual character but in recent album you likened yourself to “someone you meet only through speaker or ear phone.” Did you create a character out of yourself?
T.O.P: Yes. We get to stand before a great many people compared to our age. Of course we gained praise as well as criticism but after going through that process repeatedly I became tired of it too. I wanted to maintain a certain level of distance from people and to show myself only at stage or in the music. But since satisfying the listeners comes as priority much of the thinking was about how to best harmonize the two needs in making of the new album.
10: You are in a sense, unrealistic, aren’t you? Big Bang members aren’t exactly the ordinary lot.
T.O.P: I do think that. Sometimes when I have a drink with GD we do feel great about how everything is going in our daily lives but lonely at the same time. Although there are things hard to handle at our age and things that we have missed out on, we also achieved just as much, which makes us think that we live in a dream world. Sometimes even we have trouble identifying whether we live in dream or reality.
10: It must be tough, continuing to get judged by others, always forced to think in business mind-set while doing things your way.
T.O.P: I think about that all the time. But I think I’ve reached close to the answer. In case of music, rather than thinking “what kind of music do people want and which trend should we follow,” I believe I should just do what I want to do and try something I’ve never done before but not going too far with it. I have wonderful experts who can correct me if that happens so placing my faith on them, I would like to pursue new and if not bold, at least a bold direction in doing my music.
10: Korea is not the best place for celebrity to live so you seemed to have somehow reached your own nirvana just like GD.
T.O.P: Yup, my nirvana (Laugh). Just kidding. I just boldly let myself go (Laugh). I know there are people who regard me and other Big Bang members with some prejudice. But it doesn’t matter. Those are the perceptions that drive us to keep improving. I don’t mean I enjoy rude comments online but we try to do even harder because of such misunderstanding. Personally I think the best part of our Big Bang members is that we enjoy efforts of that kind. Not because they we want something but simply enjoying the process, which becomes our biggest strength.
10: The lyrics by TOP in the latest album seem to be in that much more unique. Rapper is an artificial character yet it tells things that one wanted to say for oneself with the most confidence.
When I decided to become partner with GD the first thing we discussed was to write lyrics that only we can write. After all we went through much expectations and criticism since young age. Amid all that we wanted to write story lyrics about ourselves. Some can simply view it as we’re just full of ourselves. But we really wanted to write lyrics that can defy denounce such thought when analyzing it phrase by phrase. Something like “This is what we are made of. Who are you to snub?”
10: That’s what “Intro” part felt like. The sound was closer to old school hip hop, so it was like returning back to rap of back in middle school.
T.O.P: That’s right. By giving a sample of old school hip hop I wanted to show the basis of GD and my music. At the same time I also wanted to ask which rap should be considered seriously as I’ve laid out my story and my present in my own way.
10: Is “Oh mom” a reverse expression of that thought? Unlike other songs you did with GD that piece expressed one’s inner self instead of how one I viewed outside.
T.O.P: “Oh mom” is based on an actual episode. I can’t exactly detail on that but basically it’s my letter to one friend who is very, very sick. It’s a very meaningful piece for me which wasn’t planned in the track list but got included because I wanted it to be there badly.
10: “Oh mom” was arranged as rock music and the drum was made to sound loud as if a real performance. Is there special reason to making such choice? You could’ve taken the rhythm part differently.
T.O.P: I wanted it to go in a bit more analogue style. In other words, something warmer. These days the trend in music industry changes in crazy speed and quite a few songs get forgotten within the span of two or three weeks. At the same time it seems people are getting tired of music. Electronica music is good to enjoy but if one leans toward that too much it also wears people out too. So if not me, than for the sake of fans, I wanted to try something that sounds more analogue. And besides, GD and I are both starting to get interested in rock. Our rap style changed quite a bit too. In the past I tried to give off a thicker and huskier sound but now I try to come up with more relaxed sound. Something like a hardwood of its original form (Laugh).
10: I was quite impressed by a rap from “Baby Good Night.” If the rap of your past was the kind that tried to stand out of the sound to take over the whole song, that particular rap was closer to melting into the sound as much as it can. Then there were lyrics that matched the sound of vocabularies like “whipping cream.”
T.O.P: It may be because we wished to express our inner sentiment. As for “Baby Good Night” we took extra care to leave out provocative elements so the listeners can without worrying about their ears. These days people say the song sounds too long if it goes over three minutes and same for the song that doesn’t come to you in a snap. But I believe there are lots of music that are not boring without extra stimulation. So I wanted to tell people – those who like Big Bang, or GD and I – especially those in teens and in 20s that there are music of this style as well. Even if it’s long and out of trend, music is just music.
10: I think that’s the point where your personal goal and thoughts for public meet.
T.O.P: The songs are something that came out by voluntarily by instinct rather than through complicated thoughts but then we became extremely successful at young age. At the same time we are still a sensitive young people who want to do music. In between our work we go through lots of emotions which we try to express and also seek our goals. But as we distance ourselves to give a thought about our lives, it seems like I’m starting to see a big picture and seeing my goals more clearly. That’s why I wanted to help those listening to my music to be confident and become a source of that strength to me and to those people.
10: Your confidence seems to truly “knockout” the odds (Laugh). There may be people that will be sharpening their blades, ready to attack what you do, whenever you and GD go on stage. What’s your plan?
T.O.P: Our blades are sharper. (Laugh)