eaJ (a.k.a. Jae Park from K-pop group Day6) claims the mantle of “no filter.” It’s a title he wears like a badge of honor: In an industry like K-pop, where appearances are primped and perfected, it’s rare for idols to get away with saying what they’re thinking, whenever they’re thinking it. But eaJ says he worked very hard to reach this level of transparency. It’s something that’s became especially important during the last year, when artists have had to get creative in their ways of connecting with fans.
Since 2020, eaJ and his candor have gone mostly virtual. He’s released solo singles, had a stint on Twitch, and started a DIVE Studios podcast called How Did I Get Here with fellow K-pop idol, AleXa, each of these endeavors allowing him to reveal an additional side of himself.
Next on the list was his first solo performance at Head In The Clouds festival. Ahead of his set, eaJ sat down with The A.V. Club. and discussed his experiences as a K-pop idol, his plans for new music, his current status in Day6—and how he navigates the more complicated aspects of being transparent both as member of a group and a solo act.
The A.V. Club: When I saw Day6 perform in New York in November 2019, the first thing I noticed was the way you handled the crowd. It reminded me of hometown pop punk shows. What kind of stuff did you grow up listening to?
eaJ: I grew up listening to “Check Yes, Juliet” in middle school.
AVC: Nice. We The Kings!
eaJ: Dude, that album was fucking crazy. I loved that album. You know there was also Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, etc., etc. All of those bands were just phenomenal. I got introduced to them in middle school. I got an iPod for the first time and I was stoked. I downloaded the first song after [searching] “popular songs to listen to.” The first song that popped up was 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop.” So… I have that memorized for life.
AVC: How did that influence the way you perform?
eaJ: Well, I think like hip-hop, because the first song I listened to was hip hop. That’s why I wanted to perform. That’s why I was so stoked to be on [fellow Head In The Clouds performer] DPR Live’s set. I’ve always done K-pop band stuff, and that’s cool too, but I think hip-hop artists are so cool.
AVC: One of my favorite quotes from you was when you were on Eric [Nam]’s Daebak podcast and you immediately told him, “I’m not a rapper. I’m a rap enthusiast.”
eaJ: Yeah! Dude, I hate it when people rap and call themselves “rappers.” Bro, to be a rapper is a lot deeper than just being able to spit bars. You have to understand the culture. And you have to have a cosign. Like, where’d you get your co-sign, bro? You can’t just call yourself a rapper. That’s not how it works.
AVC: A lot of K-pop artists, during quarantine, have had big livestream concerts, but you haven’t really gotten a chance to do that. So, what’s the single thing you miss most about performing?
eaJ: Definitely the crowd. Man, Day6 performances… well, you were there. The fans are just different.
AVC: That was the first time I ever saw you perform. It really reminded me of a small, intimate local show.
eaJ: I’m so happy you said this. A lot of my idol friends in other groups will be like, “We’re so jealous. Like, your fans are different.” And I didn’t know that. But I went to my friend’s shows and I saw the culture that’s set in stone for most idol groups, and I was like, “Damn, we’re blessed.” My Days [Day6 fans—Ed.] are really different, and I didn’t understand that back then.
AVC: In terms of Day6 right now, how would you describe your current status?
eaJ: Oh, I’m currently in Day6! [Sometimes my transparency means] I constantly have to keep being sorry. It’s fucked up though, because it’s like, “Why do I have to make you guys [the other members] apologize with me?” Like having them say “Hey, I’m sorry.” When they didn’t do shit! It was me! I don’t want to be that guy anymore.
If I had started as a solo performer—well, other than probably being booted out of everywhere [Laughs.]—maybe I would have been a lot different. But I was young. I was dumb. I was very misinformed, uneducated about things, and I’ve caused a lot of harm to my teammates. And I’m very, very, very sorry. That’s where I’m at. But yes currently, I am in Day6!
AVC: Another recent quote from you was “For the first time in my life, I get to be real Jae no more PG Disney filter bullshit. Just actual Jae.” So who is Jae? What don’t we know about him?
eaJ: Jae’s you. People think, “Oh, shit, he’s Jae [from Day6], he has to be this role model.” I’m stupid as fuck, man. I don’t know what you expect from me. My IQ is literally probably two digits. I’m dumb. Like, guys, I’m uneducated. I definitely will say that I try. I tried to be [the role model] but after having attempted it for six years, I realized that I’m not smart enough to be that guy. I’m just here finally telling you: I’m a dumbass. Please accept me as a dumbass. Understand that I’m stupid and I’m gonna make mistakes.
AVC: When you’re an idol you have a very filtered persona. Now that you have this new “freedom,” how do you navigate that? How do you decide what stuff you want to share and what stuff you don’t want to share?
eaJ: Before I used to filter and now I don’t. That’s the only way I’m gonna have my sanity. I think it’s a coping mechanism a lot of idols go through: “Oh, no this is fine. This is how you should be. This is how you want to be as a human being. This is normal.” That’s what really fucked me up mentally. [I would] start questioning like “Wait, am I not supposed to think this way? Am I fucked up? Am I wrong for questioning authority or for having an opinion on anything?” As stupid as it sounds, you start really thinking, “Dude, I’m so bad. I’m having an opinion about this.” That’s crazy to hear though, now that I’ve taken a step back and looked at it from a third-person perspective.
AVC: In the last year or two, idols like Amber Liu from f(x), Mark Tuan from GOT7, Ashely Choi from Ladies Code, and even Eric Nam with DIVE Studios, have been trying other stuff. They have shown that there’s no one correct way to be an idol. Does that make it easier for you?
eaJ: Yeah, for sure. You have allies. Let’s say there are 500 of the same android. And then one android raises their hand, and they’re like, “I think something’s wrong.” That android is malfunctioning. But let’s say 30 of them raised their hand… then something is wrong. Obviously, idols aren’t android though—that’s a metaphor.
AVC: What do you think is the most nerve-wracking part of “raising your hand?”
eaJ: Having been one of those people, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. You will be surprised at how many people in your company agree with you. [Not many] people are willing to raise their hand because [they] are scared of repercussions. And I get that. I’ve had a lot of repercussions. But is it worth it? Is it worth your literal sanity as a human being?
AVC: Do you think that the fact that you didn’t start training at JYP until pretty late and even went to college affected your experience? Did having that background and being a Korean-American diaspora kid make it harder to assimilate?
eaJ: 100%. Cultures in Korea and America are very different. For example, in Korea asking “why,” that’s seen as fighting your authority or talking back. But in America, you’re encouraged to ask why. Neither side is right nor wrong. I feel like there’s pros and cons to both, but it’s different. I didn’t understand that there was a difference. But I learned about the culture and I slowly started to assimilate into it. Now, it makes complete sense to me. Because it’s Korea and that’s not a bad thing. Any American hearing this would be like, “That’s fucked up.” But it’s not. It’s really, really not. It’s literally just because it’s Korea. It’s a different culture.
AVC: What’s next for you? We’ve seen you on YouTube, you’ve had a podcast, you’ve been in the band, you have solo stuff. What else is left for you to do?
eaJ: Okay let’s talk about solo stuff. I haven’t ever released anything officially. I don’t have any songs under my name.
AVC: It’s so weird to think about it like that.
eaJ: I haven’t done anything.
AVC: I mean you have…
eaJ: But I haven’t at the same time. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are you planning to do a full-length?
eaJ: I want to. I’m working on some music. I’m always working on music. I think that’s just a Day6 habit, though. When you’re in Day6, you’re always working on music. It’s built into us. It feels weird not working and being in the studio every other day. Now, [my question to myself is] what’s your genre? I’ve been a soda dispenser; I’ve learned how to do other genres and basic structures. But because of that I don’t know what I like. That’s what I started eaJ for. Because I didn’t know what I liked. I was like, “Maybe at the end of this, I’ll figure out what I like…” but it got me more confused.
What I’ve realized is that I genuinely like music. That’s important for me. I started questioning, “Do I even like music anymore? Why am I doing this?” It’s because I genuinely enjoy it. I love performing. I love people. I was bullied in middle school and high school. So having people just fuck with me in general is such a good feeling. I love performing because people come out just to vibe. They don’t come to be [judgmental] and be like, “Hmm, I wonder if he’s any good.” That’s for me to do in my bedroom after the show! I judge myself! I realized [I’m doing this because] I love music and that’s okay.