Eight Questions with Lydia Paek

Judge my music, not my looks

Lydia Paek wants to be remembered as a kind person more than for her music.
Lydia Paek wants to be remembered as a kind person more than for her music.PHOTO: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

Lydia Paek sings and writes songs for top Korean acts, with whom she hobnobs

Korean-American Lydia Paek must be the envy of Korean pop fans. She snowboards with members of A-list boyband BigBang and counts rapper CL of girlgroup 2NE1 as her pal.

No, she is no lucky fangirl. The bubbly Park, 25, is a bona fide musician, who pens and produces tunes for her labelmates 2NE1 and singer Lee Hi at mega artiste agency YG Entertainment.

Her talent for songwriting was recognised by YG's head honcho - chief executive Yang Hyun Suk - at her audition in Seoul four years ago.

"They asked me to play a song that I wrote. I started playing the piano. My boss was, like, this song is going to be a hit. It became a song by 2NE1's Park Bom, Don't Cry," says Paek, who is signed to YG Entertainment as a songwriter.

She has co-written songs such as 2NE1 hits Ugly and I Love You, and Lee Hi's catchy tunes It's Over and 1, 2, 3, 4.

Paek can sing and dance too. Dancing since the age of 15, she demonstrated her moves in BigBang rapper G-Dragon's music video One Of A Kind.

On her YouTube channel, which has more than 167,000 subscribers, she covers songs such as BigBang's Bad Boy and Chris Brown's Fine China.

She was in town earlier this month to perform at the Shine Festival Performance Showcase, which is organised by National Youth Council.

Despite mingling with K-pop royalty and bursting with talent, she comes across as down-to-earth in a face-to-face interview that was peppered with giggles.

The chirpy lass rattles on excitedly about her first visit here - from tucking into yummy chicken rice to the great view from Marina Bay Sands.

She shuttles between Seoul and her hometown in Los Angeles for work. "I go back home because my family is there," says Paek, who is the the older of two children of a retiree mother and factory manager father. Both parents are in their 60s.

Calling it a blessing to be able to work with the YG artistes, she says: "Every single person is so talented, yet so hardworking. They are just great people with great hearts.

"Everybody in YG is about quality and not quantity. We take our time to make sure fans are going to feel for the lyrics and the music. It's going to touch their souls."

1. How did you start working with YG Entertainment?

My friends were dance choreographers for YG Entertainment. They told the people in YG: "We have a friend who is Korean and she sings. Check her out on YouTube."

Then everything just started happening. They invited me to South Korea to audition four years ago. I'm blessed to be able to have this opportunity.

2. How did your parents react when you told them you were going to be a songwriter in South Korea?

They were so supportive and happy for me. My mum plays the piano and studied opera. My dad plays the harmonica and the guitar. He also sings. He was the disco king of his high school back in the day. My dad is always listening to the songs that I made in the morning.

They never stopped me from doing what I like to do. Even if they said that they wished I had something more secure for a career, they were never forceful. They were just concerned because they know it's not an easy way to make a living.

3. Where do you get your inspiration to write songs?

Sometimes it comes from the movies, TV shows and commercials that I've watched. Inspiration also comes from my experiences.

As an example, if you're eating at a restaurant by yourself and a guy looks at you and checks you out. You get this feeling, write it down and you could use it for inspiration for that next song.

4. Fans are envious of your close relationship with the YG artistes. Could you share some interesting tidbits about them?

Rapper CL of 2NE1 is amazingly talented. As a friend, she's very encouraging. She's a role model to a lot of people. I have a lot of respect for her.

The BigBang guys are great at music. They are also very funny. T.O.P acts all suave onstage, but he actually likes to fool around.

G-Dragon is very good at telling stories and is really funny. Nobody laughs when I try to tell a funny story.

Seungri is very good at talking, he's very sociable. When I first met Taeyang, I thought he was American because he's so Westernised. He's so easy to get along with.

Daesung has such a kind heart. One time I mentioned that my skin is so bad and he recommended me a skincare brand that is expensive. The next time we had a recording session, he bought me the skincare set.

5. What advice do you have for aspiring performers, such as singers and dancers?

When you're an entertainer or doing anything creative, you have to be prepared to be judged and get criticised. There will be good and negative comments.

Honestly, it's your life. You should live it the way you want it. What does it matter what others say? Believe in yourself. Make it a habit to wake up and look in the mirror, tell yourself that you are going to do it.

6. What's a nasty comment that you've received?

On my YouTube channel, I remember this mean comment: You're a f***ing ugly Asian. It hurt me. It was also funny to me because I'm not a make-up guru on YouTube. I sing, but you're commenting on how I look.

Who cares if I'm ugly. I sing. I'm not here on YouTube to make you look pretty. I'm here to showcase my singing and hopefully, it touches you.

7. It's common to get your looks enhanced by going under the knife in South Korea. Are you ever tempted to do it?

No, I want to still look like my mum and my dad. God made me the way I am and there's nothing that I need to change.

That said, I don't have any ill feelings towards women or men who undergo plastic surgery. It's your life. If you want to change your nose or eyes a little, just make sure you're doing it for a good reason - if it makes you happy and confident.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

I love music and I want to be remembered for my music.

But even more so, I'd like to be remembered as a kind and genuine person, someone who was able to help as many people as she could - be it someone who needed money or a talented person who just needs that one chance for a record label to notice him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Judge my music, not my looks'. Print Edition | Subscribe