On March 15, 2010, a cover of American rapper B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You” appeared on Youtube, the first video uploaded by a user who identified himself as “Jay Park”. The video was unremarkably recorded with a laptop in a bathroom and lacked both special effects and fancy editing. Nonetheless, Mr. Park’s earnest and raw display of his singing and self-written rap and lyrics attracted a flood of viewers within minutes. Over the next 24 hours, the video reached 1.5 million views, and B.o.B’s original song featuring Bruno Mars unexpectedly shot up to claim the #1 spot on the real-time charts of top South Korean music sites including Melon, Mnet, Bugs, Soribada, Cyworld, and Dosirak. On iTunes the song jumped from #4 to #2, and Mr. Park’s Youtube username “#jayparkaom” appeared on Twitter’s top trending topics that day.
Of course, Mr. Park was not your standard artist hopeful armed with a Youtube channel. He was the former leader of an immensely popular Korean band who had been abruptly cast aside by his company after controversy and months of disappearance from the public eye. With this video, he had finally returned to waiting, overjoyed fans with confidence, love, and overwhelming gratitude. With this video, he marked a new beginning for himself and those who supported him.
Jay Park, also known as Park Jaebeom (박재범), was born on April 25, 1987, and raised in Edmonds, Washington, U.S.A. As a young Korean American, he showed great interest in hip hop music and breakdancing in particular. He joined Seattle-based b-boy crew Art of Movement (AOM) during his early high school years. He auditioned in Seattle for Korea-based JYP Entertainment (JYPE) in 2004 as a rapper and dancer. Hand-picked by the company’s founder, Mr. Park migrated to South Korea in January of 2005 to receive further training in dancing, rapping, singing, and the Korean language.
Park Jaebeom was first introduced to the Korean public in February of 2008 through Mnet’s reality television series “Hot-Blooded Men”. This program portrayed the hardships of 13 male trainees as they competed for the chance to debut in JYPE’s upcoming performance groups, 2AM and 2PM. After successful completion of the show, Mr. Park was chosen as the new leader of the 7-membered 2PM.
On September 4, 2008, 2PM debuted with their song “10 Point Out of 10 Points” (10점 만점에 10점) on music program M! Countdown after the release of their first single Hottest Time of the Day a few days prior. Mr. Park and the others garnered further popularity as featured participants in the third season of MBC’s variety show “Idol Army”. However, it was their promotions for “Again and Again” which catapulted the group’s status in Korean music and earned them first place awards for a capped 3 successive weeks on music programs SBS’s Inkigayo and Mnet’s M! Countdown in May of 2009. Similar success continued for their follow-up single “I Hate You” (니가 밉다).
However, Mr. Park’s individual talents did not go unnoticed. Even before debuting, he collaborated with Shorty Jang-goon and Ye-eun of the Wonder Girls for the song “Jeong” (正) featured on the soundtrack for the 2007 KBS miniseries Conspiracy in the Court (한성별곡). He wrote rap lyrics for and featured on the track “To Luv…” on group V.O.S.’s 2009 album Routine Free. Mr. Park also contributed self-written raps for a series of special live performances of “One Drop Per Second” (1초에한방울) with male soloist K.will and “Heart Damage” (마음이다쳐서) with female soloist Navi. Furthermore, his well-known humor and playfulness made him popular with television hosts and audiences alike, allowing him to make regular appearances on programs like SBS’s Star King, MBC’s Introducing Star’s Friend and be chosen as a regular cast member of the Korean cultural variety show MBC’s Nodaji (노다지).
On September 4, 2009, unfavorable comments towards Korea were found on Mr. Park’s personal Myspace account from 2005. The comments, written in English to a friend, were misinterpreted and mistranslated by Korean media, quickly spreading across hundreds of news articles. In what has been termed a show of “explosive nationalism”, netizens displayed overwhelming rage over the posts with many demanding for his expulsion from Korea and a petition signed by three thousand calling for his suicide. Mr. Park expressed deep remorse and shame over his past, forgotten words issued in an official apology. In this letter, he explained the unhappiness that he experienced during his early days as a trainee in an unfamiliar country where he lacked family, the ability to easily communicate, and an understanding of the culture. He later reaffirmed his true feelings towards the country in June of 2010, stating, “I am proud to be Korean, I love Korea … and where ever I go, whatever I do, I will try to the best of my ability to represent Korea well.” Nonetheless, it was announced that 2PM would temporarily continue as 6 members. Mr. Park departed Korea on September 8th and promised, “I will come back a better person.”
Mr. Park kept silent on his future with 2PM at home in Seattle, despite persistent attempts to contact him by South Korean media. However, he did not remain idle. In his last interview before leaving Korea, he discussed his plans to reflect and continue his musical training. Beginning in November of 2009, eagle-eyed fans found and spread footage of b-boying battles that he had attended and participated in uploaded on Youtube, despite his initial efforts to cover his face from the view of cameras. While unable to communicate with his fans during this time, he wore different Art of Movement shirts sent to him as gifts at many of his competitions in a show of gratitude and appreciation to those who supported him.
In a response to the Myspace controversy, fans from Korea and all over the world organized various projects to voice their support for Mr. Park and his return to 2PM. A petition titled “Please Forgive Our Jaebeom Just This Once” was launched in the days after the scandal surfaced, gathering 6 thousand signatures in two days. Shortly following his departure to the U.S., it was revealed that the comments in question had been mistranslated and taken out of context, which further incited large-scale support campaigns. Many fans within South Korea and abroad partook in a boycott of all 2PM-endorsed products and organized silent protests and flash dance mobs. International fans raised money for a sky banner with the message “J, WHAT TIME IS IT NOW?” which was flown across Seattle at 2:00 p.m. on September 29th.
Multiple charity projects were and continue to be carried out under Mr. Park’s name. Major Korean fansite Underground reported in May 2010 that it had donated near $64,000 USD through ten donations which supported the Children’s Foundation and international adoptees. International fan community 2ONEDAY raised $1,000 USD to give towards books for international Korean adoptees and had its members donate stuffed animals to the Seattle Children’s Hospital in honor of Mr. Park’s birthday in April of 2010. Fan entity Love&Respect4Life continues to support various causes in his honor by contributing towards the clean-up efforts of the Gulf oil spill through donations and sponsoring two African children, one to which Mr. Park himself wrote a personal letter to in June of 2010.
On February 25, 2010, JYPE announced that they had permanently terminated Mr. Park’s contract with unanimous agreement among the other 6 members of 2PM. The company cited a moral, but not illegal, personal “mistake” that he had admitted to in December of the previous year. No other explanation was offered, despite multiple reassurances given by JYPE on his status in 2PM during the period between December and this announcement, including the publicity for the group’s first full-length album 1:59PM which asserted to the public and their fans that a 2PM without Mr. Park was incomplete. A conference that JYPE held two days after the announcement later for 87 representatives from major 2PM fan communities reaffirmed the company and members’ collective decision to continue 2PM with six members but failed to provide any further justification behind the dismissal of the group’s leader.
Fans and several journalists have expressed widespread skepticism in JYPE’s reasoning behind Mr. Park’s contract termination. JYPE has not offered any further clarification towards its stance to date. Regarding this matter, Mr. Park wrote in a June 2010 statement to his fans, “In front of God, in front of my family, and in front all my fans, if I can be considered an honorable person, it is sufficient.”
In the aftermath of the February conference, many clamored to show support in the midst of Mr. Park’s suddenly unclear future. Seattle area fans were in attendance for his next b-boy competition Breakin’ For Haiti. The proceeds from the sold out March 6th show went towards earthquake disaster relief in Haiti.
His explosive reappearance on March 15th with his cover of “Nothin’ On You” signified his return to waiting fans. In a short message left on his Youtube channel, Mr. Park thanked fans, family, and AOM for their love and support and expressed good will towards the other members of 2PM. The hot response to his video did not go unnoticed. On March 18th, American online entertainment channel stirfrytv.com briefly covered the success of his video in a segment called “But What Do I Know?” which drew the interest of international viewers and the Korean media. The same day, Digital Media Wire published an article discussing Mr. Park’s widespread support through social media and his potential for success as an Asian American artist in the U.S. market.
On April 3rd, he participated in Rutgers University’s Project Korea III: KSA Cinderella Story on April 3rd with fellow AOM members ChaCha, Dialtone, and Junior. Live Twitter updates by fans were provided for those who could not attend. Footage of the sold-out show appeared online soon after, proving he could still entertain a crowd through his MCing, a dance with a fan to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, and a b-boying showcase with his crew members.
On April 14th, a representative of the upcoming American dance film Hype Nation announced that Mr. Park had been cast in the movie’s lead role. Mr. Park later confirmed he and his fellow AOM members would be participating in the project during his April 24th interview on stirfrytv.com’s “Youtube Spotlight” segment. Filming is to begin in late June 2010 in South Korea, where the majority of the movie will shot. Additionally, AllHipHop.com announced on April 20th that Hype Nation’s musical director Teddy Riley, a veteran hip-hop/R&B producer had completed tracks with Mr. Park in which he collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dogg and T-Pain. The movie’s original soundtrack will feature him in four songs with the first single “Demon” to be released in July of 2010. Mr. Park will also be participating in a Hype Nation American and Asian tour with fellow actors B2K in December.
On April 23rd, Korean American independent rapper Dumbfoundead released a collaborative track entitled “Clouds” featuring Clara Chung and Mr. Park. The song was met with enthusiastic fan response and positive reviews from non-fans.
On May 19th, a Los Angeles-based attorney and founder and CEO of Digital Media Wire, Inc. Ned Sherman commented via Twitter that he was in Taipei, Taiwan, working on a soon-to-be announced project. Photos of Mr. Park with fans in Taipei posted the same day fueled speculation of a possible team-up between the two. A press release by PR Newswire on May 29th confirmed these rumors, announcing that Mr. Sherman would be serving as Mr. Park’s legal representation with regards to his “global entertainment career” and that several projects are in the works.
May 30th marked his second major public appearance, participating in a sold-out Seattle concert featuring AOM, San Francisco-based producer Kero One, and Dumbfoundead as well as respected Korean hip-hop artists MYK and Dok2. In addition to a dance showcase with AOM crewmates Hiep, Junior, and StepRoc, Mr. Park performed “Clouds” live with Dumbfoundead for the first time.
In a surprise move, Warner Music Korea digitally released a special version of B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” featuring Mr. Park’s vocals on June 15, 2010. The song immediately leapt to take the #1 spot on the real-time charts of Korean music sites like Cyworld and Bugs, despite the long passed release date of the original featuring Bruno Mars. The repackaged album of B.o.B’s B.o.B Presents the Adventures of Bobby Ray which includes the track featuring Mr. Park was made available for limited Korean release on June 19th, moving an impressive 1,500 units on its first day.
On the heels of his musical return to Korea, Mr. Park re-entered South Korea on June 18th, prior to the start of filming for Hype Nation. His arrival at Incheon was met with much fanfare, as over 2,000 fans of all ages and media gathered at the airport to greet him while fans from all over the world watched for real-time Twitter and photo updates of the event and celebrated by Twitter trending “JayIsBack”. In the following days, supporters from Korean fansite Tastes Like Jaebeom launched a series of Seoul bus advertisements to commemorate his return with signs that declared, “Park Jaebeom, to sing again.”
In the hours before his departure from Seattle, Mr. Park released a statement through his official website in order to “put [his] past to rest.” He apologized to the fans and the other members of 2PM over what had transpired following his departure from the group, expressing good will towards his former bandmates. He further expressed his love and gratitude to the fans for the opportunities they had allowed him and his desire to make them proud as he moved on to a “new chapter in [his] life.”