Success never comes easy and especially when the odds are stacked against you, but with an authentic voice it can shape a generation. Daniel Park knows this personally as he is most notably known for his work with Far East Movement and his production company Transparent Agency. Daniel Park has been pushing the boundary of Asian American media and music into the broader American culture for more than a decade. Now as we are starting to see more Asian and Asian American artists take center stage on the path he helped create, we got sit down and talk with him about his thoughts on representation, the music industry and producing the K-drama, IDOL: The COUP.
What inspired you to be part of Transparent Arts?
PARK: Transparent Arts was a company founded by myself, Kevin Nishimura, James Roh, and Virman Coquia (Far East Movement). At the time we had already struggled in the music industry for several years but it seemed like Far East Movement was finally going to get their first major-label deal. It’s like everything we’ve been hustling in entertainment was finally going to be given a chance to thrive on the big stage. With the possible opportunities in mind, we made the company and we were blessed to see that within the first year of the company. Far East Movement was able to have a #1 Billboard charting hit, “Like a G6.” This gave us the chance to see the world and make relationships in a way that we never would have been able to before. Also, it gave us the reassurance that yes, Asians can succeed in entertainment on a global scale.
How has your experience been like working with both Western and Eastern Arts, how do they differ and how are they similar?
I can’t speak for all Eastern and Western Arts, mostly from my experiences in Korean pop culture and US pop culture. I guess from my experiences I’d say that the US takes a lot more risks in their creative endeavors and as a result are responsible for a lot of original ideas. Koreans tend to focus on refining these original ideas or possibly innovating off of these ideas. I think a lot of this has to do with risk. Korea is still a small country (~52 million) so from a business standpoint they need to go for ideas that are safe and they feel confident will resonate domestically. I’d say now with global platforms and those global budgets we’ll begin to see a lot more risk in Korean creative endeavors.
You developed IDOL with Charles Chu and Transparent Arts is a producer on the K-drama, can you tell us more about the inspiration for this project?
We were beginning to do a lot of work with K-pop and Korean talent and I noticed that for a country that is so into music and dance, there was barely any content about that. The couple examples that I saw seemed to be very bright and poppy, more like High School Musical. The K-pop industry that I knew was nothing like that though if anything it was pretty brutal. Years of hard work and determination to maybe get a shot. That got me thinking about developing a show that was more realistic in tone, something that went into topics that were a bit taboo. When I first started talking to people in Korea about this direction they told me that the networks wouldn’t green-light such a show. Then I heard Netflix was going to launch in Korea. I knew with a platform like Netflix coming into Korea, could potentially open the doors to having more taboo content being developed. A couple of years later and now it feels like there’s not enough.
Have you always been wanting to tell stories or was there an event in your life that brought that drive to your life?
I’ve been creative my whole life. I grew up making graphic novels, writing music, etc. My biggest source of entertainment however has always been stories. I’m a total book nerd. I tried to be a rockstar for many years and when that lead to nowhere I plunged myself into a creative direction. Somehow I ended up directing a web series as a personal project in 2010 and that lead to a new career in production. Trying my best now to do some good work in this industry!
With your own journey being filled with hard work and determination, when you were creating IDOL did you feel a lot of yourself relating to these characters?
Definitely. I think any dreamer can relate to the themes of the show. I was writing music myself since 10th grade and playing in bands for several years. Once I jumped into it, I went all out without a backup plan. It was always a bit scary to think about what would happen if these dreams didn’t play out. As I got older, friends the same age as me were started to make a lot more money, find security, etc. Meanwhile I was still struggling to stay afloat. Those things start catching up to you mentally and as you get older you realize that they might never work out. When do you bail on your dreams? Was it safer to have a backup plan? Or would having a backup plan take away from your focus? It’s a hard journey.
It’s been shortly over a decade since “Like a G6” was released and we have seen such a shift in music since then that has allowed more diverse Asian and Asian American artists to find success in the US as well. Have you seen this diversity grow on the business side as well?
Absolutely. Our company, Transparent Arts, has always always supported Asian/Asian Americans in the entertainment space. Yes we had the benefits of Far East Movement help launch the company, but afterwards it was still a struggle with the other artists on our roster. In fact, we had to take those demos to Asia to get any record offers that made sense to us. After years of fitting in where we could, the Asian pop industry really started going more global and now we’re finally seeing a lot more business come our way.
What do you think makes K-pop so appealing in the US now?
Many different reasons. One I’ll mention here is dance. The US hasn’t really focused on pop group choreography for awhile. Most of the artists here are solo artists who will have some dance moves with backup dancers. Seeing a cohesive unit do a synced choreographed dance brings another type of excitement to fans. K-pop has really gone all-in with that. It’s the norm for groups to release one take rehearsals of their choreography and legions of fans will upload their covers as well.
What are some of the issues you feel still affect the music industry for Asian artists?
There’s still years of conditioning to get past. A lot of people in the industry will still wonder if an Asian face can really be marketed to the general population in the West. There’s also the confusion about the Asian races in general. An Asian American versus a Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese person can represent entirely different cultures and behaviors However, these differences will probably still be lumped into one huge “Asian” category. I also think there’s a big discussion about appropriation that needs to be had. Most modern contemporary pop genres of music come from the US, so music lovers will argue over the authenticity of artists, who “owns” a genre, etc. When societies admire and emulate other movements, can they take ownership as well? If an ethnically Chinese person is a hip hop artist and dresses like a Bronx ’90s era rapper, is it appropriation? Would a Brazilian martial artist acting as a Judo sensei for a show be considered appropriation? I don’t know the answers yet but I’m sure the commenters on YouTube will know.
What is something you would like to tell other up and coming Asian/Asian American Artists finding themselves in similar struggles you have dealt with and overcome?
Don’t preach to the choir. I meet many Asian Americans that are passionate about underrepresentation but seem to only operate in their comfortable circles. Also — persevere.
What do you want the audience to take away when they watch IDOL?
Most importantly I want them to be entertained. Some might be entertained by the whole “idol” aspect of it all, others might find the character developments to hit home, and some might just enjoy the chemistry of the cast. Whichever way gets you there!
Also, don’t forget to stream IDOL:The Coup now available on IQ.com.