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Late bloomer sings for wounded souls

Korean American singer-songwriter Yang Joon-il returns to the stage after a two-decade's hiatus after he disappeared from the public eye in the late 1990s. / Courtesy of MOBIDIC Books
Korean American singer-songwriter Yang Joon-il returns to the stage after a two-decade's hiatus after he disappeared from the public eye in the late 1990s. / Courtesy of MOBIDIC Books

Singer Yang Joon-il unveils memoir, shares life lessons

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Korean American singer-songwriter Yang Joon-il's song lyrics are cryptic, leaving music fans scratching their heads about their meaning.

His song "Fantasy," for example, has a line that reads "(She) left me on a train, saying she has to collect washed laundry on the clothes line."

Yang, 50, said "collecting washed laundry" are code words he intentionally embedded in his lyrics.

"When men and women break up, most people have no idea about why their counterparts are leaving," he said in his book "Yang Joon-Il MAYBE: Our Code Words" published by MOBIDIC Books on Friday. "This is because people make an unconvincing excuse or justify their break up… I think all people are using code words in their dialogue."

His memoir is a collection of 90 short essays he wrote about his brief thoughts on given topics and wisdom he has accumulated.

Yang returned to the stage after a two-decade's hiatus. Debuting in 1991 with "Rebecca," he didn't gain much attention from music fans. After years of activity, he disappeared from the public eye in the late 1990s and went back to the United States to seek a career other than singing.

Yang was brought back into the spotlight last year after he appeared in the hit JTBC show "Two Yoo Project Sugar Man," designed to discover forgotten singers. His stories touched the viewers. The episode went viral on the internet. He was "called upon" by fans to return to the stage.

Those who watched videos featuring his performance in the 1990s commented that he lived ahead of his time. Some called him the "G-Dragon of the 1990s" for his fashion back then was as stylish as that of the Big Bang member.

Yang's life in the United States after quitting his career as a singer in Korea was rugged. He once worked as a waiter in a restaurant and a janitor to make ends meet and support his wife and son. However, he treasured such tough times, saying the hardships made him stronger and wiser.

Yang appeared in several TV shows after the hit JTBC show, sharing his tougher post-singer life with the viewers. His humility and maturity moved them.

His memoir
His memoir "Yang Joon-Il MAYBE: Our Code Words" published by MOBIDIC Books / Courtesy of MOBIDIC Books

Yang's career has now taken off late in life and he has become one of the most in-demand artists.

His MBC radio show interview on Jan. 30 showed that he received the overdue spotlight owing to his humility and wisdom.

In the interactive interview, the singer answered questions from the two hosts of the show ― singer Yang Hee-eun and comedian Seo Kyung-seok ― randomly chosen from text messages from fans or the internet message board of its website.

The questions showed that Yang is popular with all age groups. Both men and women like him and his fan base is broad ― some are music fans and some are not music lovers but like him because of his shared life lessons.

One of the questions the radio show hosts picked was from a female high school student who was rejected in the college admissions. She said she was in despair, asking him to tell her what to do to overcome the tough reality she was facing.

Yang paused a moment and said there are things people can control and things that they can't. "The situation that you are facing is not one that you can fix. But you can choose how to react to it," he said. "Albeit the situation you are facing sounds desperate and frustrating, I want to tell you that failure is a precious thing because an opportunity lurks in it. I hope you can find what it is."

Outside the MBC studio was crowded with fans. They camped outside from the day before the interview hoping to see him in person, showing his popularity is real.

Yang was like a life coach, wise enough to provide valuable life lessons to heal wounded souls.

The singer encouraged the audiences to learn from their failures. "Stand firm. Don't be disturbed by the situation you are faced with."

Some of his quotes began to circulate online. One of them is on having "the right to fail."

"When I was young, I remember I learned piano and was able to play it well after making numerous mistakes. We all learn from failure," he said. "Suppose that there is a restaurant owner whose seollungtang has become enormously successful from the get-go. I think success in your first business is not a good thing, because that person would misunderstand what success is all about."

He went on to say that hard work is just one of many factors that make success and there are other conditions that need to be met to be successful.

Yang is a Vietnam War baby. Born in 1969 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, he was raised in California before he came to Seoul to seek a singing career in the early 1990s. His father was a tour coordinator for U.S. soldiers dispatched to the Vietnam War.

The late Korean American actor Soon-tek Oh (1932-2018), best known for the voice of Fa Zhou in Disney movie "Mulan," discovered Yang's talent as a singer when he was young. Oh and Yang's family went to the same church in California.

"At that time, I was just a young guy with no prospects. I liked song and dance but hated studying. One day Mr. Oh invited me and my parents for dinner and told my parents that I was talented in song and dance and thus should seek a career in entertainment," said Yang. "I didn't believe what he said but he repeatedly encouraged me to seek a career… I regret he passed away before my career took off."


Korean American singer-songwriter Yang Joon-il returns to the stage after a two-decade's hiatus after he disappeared from the public eye in the late 1990s. / Courtesy of MOBIDIC Books
Korean American singer-songwriter Yang Joon-il returns to the stage after a two-decade's hiatus after he disappeared from the public eye in the late 1990s. / Courtesy of MOBIDIC Books

Singer Yang Joon-il unveils memoir, shares life lessons

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Korean American singer-songwriter Yang Joon-il's song lyrics are cryptic, leaving music fans scratching their heads about their meaning.

His song "Fantasy," for example, has a line that reads "(She) left me on a train, saying she has to collect washed laundry on the clothes line."

Yang, 50, said "collecting washed laundry" are code words he intentionally embedded in his lyrics.

"When men and women break up, most people have no idea about why their counterparts are leaving," he said in his book "Yang Joon-Il MAYBE: Our Code Words" published by MOBIDIC Books on Friday. "This is because people make an unconvincing excuse or justify their break up… I think all people are using code words in their dialogue."

His memoir is a collection of 90 short essays he wrote about his brief thoughts on given topics and wisdom he has accumulated.

Yang returned to the stage after a two-decade's hiatus. Debuting in 1991 with "Rebecca," he didn't gain much attention from music fans. After years of activity, he disappeared from the public eye in the late 1990s and went back to the United States to seek a career other than singing.

Yang was brought back into the spotlight last year after he appeared in the hit JTBC show "Two Yoo Project Sugar Man," designed to discover forgotten singers. His stories touched the viewers. The episode went viral on the internet. He was "called upon" by fans to return to the stage.

Those who watched videos featuring his performance in the 1990s commented that he lived ahead of his time. Some called him the "G-Dragon of the 1990s" for his fashion back then was as stylish as that of the Big Bang member.

Yang's life in the United States after quitting his career as a singer in Korea was rugged. He once worked as a waiter in a restaurant and a janitor to make ends meet and support his wife and son. However, he treasured such tough times, saying the hardships made him stronger and wiser.

Yang appeared in several TV shows after the hit JTBC show, sharing his tougher post-singer life with the viewers. His humility and maturity moved them.

His memoir
His memoir "Yang Joon-Il MAYBE: Our Code Words" published by MOBIDIC Books / Courtesy of MOBIDIC Books

Yang's career has now taken off late in life and he has become one of the most in-demand artists.

His MBC radio show interview on Jan. 30 showed that he received the overdue spotlight owing to his humility and wisdom.

In the interactive interview, the singer answered questions from the two hosts of the show ― singer Yang Hee-eun and comedian Seo Kyung-seok ― randomly chosen from text messages from fans or the internet message board of its website.

The questions showed that Yang is popular with all age groups. Both men and women like him and his fan base is broad ― some are music fans and some are not music lovers but like him because of his shared life lessons.

One of the questions the radio show hosts picked was from a female high school student who was rejected in the college admissions. She said she was in despair, asking him to tell her what to do to overcome the tough reality she was facing.

Yang paused a moment and said there are things people can control and things that they can't. "The situation that you are facing is not one that you can fix. But you can choose how to react to it," he said. "Albeit the situation you are facing sounds desperate and frustrating, I want to tell you that failure is a precious thing because an opportunity lurks in it. I hope you can find what it is."

Outside the MBC studio was crowded with fans. They camped outside from the day before the interview hoping to see him in person, showing his popularity is real.

Yang was like a life coach, wise enough to provide valuable life lessons to heal wounded souls.

The singer encouraged the audiences to learn from their failures. "Stand firm. Don't be disturbed by the situation you are faced with."

Some of his quotes began to circulate online. One of them is on having "the right to fail."

"When I was young, I remember I learned piano and was able to play it well after making numerous mistakes. We all learn from failure," he said. "Suppose that there is a restaurant owner whose seollungtang has become enormously successful from the get-go. I think success in your first business is not a good thing, because that person would misunderstand what success is all about."

He went on to say that hard work is just one of many factors that make success and there are other conditions that need to be met to be successful.

Yang is a Vietnam War baby. Born in 1969 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, he was raised in California before he came to Seoul to seek a singing career in the early 1990s. His father was a tour coordinator for U.S. soldiers dispatched to the Vietnam War.

The late Korean American actor Soon-tek Oh (1932-2018), best known for the voice of Fa Zhou in Disney movie "Mulan," discovered Yang's talent as a singer when he was young. Oh and Yang's family went to the same church in California.

"At that time, I was just a young guy with no prospects. I liked song and dance but hated studying. One day Mr. Oh invited me and my parents for dinner and told my parents that I was talented in song and dance and thus should seek a career in entertainment," said Yang. "I didn't believe what he said but he repeatedly encouraged me to seek a career… I regret he passed away before my career took off."


Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@koreatimes.co.kr

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