Tantara (1995), his second album, followed on the heels of the first and showed that Park was a songwriter and performer of substantial talent rather than a one-hit wonder. Even as pop stardom moved within reach Park spent enough time on his Yonsei studies to graduate in 1996 with a geology degree.
Shucking off his burdens as a college student freed up more creative energies for Park’s third album Summer Jingle Bell (1997). The single “She Was Pretty” combined catchy lyrics with a compelling dance beat to become a monster hit, winning Park a songwriting award and making him a fixture on the K-pop scene. SK Telecom tapped Park to promote its 3G cellular service launch later that year, giving Park the chance to show pop’s power to tap the spending power of young consumers. The campaign’s success in signing up almost twice as many subscribers as the initial target of 1 million was credited to Park’s efforts.
Success gave Park the confidence to continue evolving his soulful, beat-driven style with two albums released back to back — Even After 10 Years (1998) and Kiss Me (1998). The raves he won as a lyricist and composer armed him with the respect and resources to produce albums for a fast-growing stable of younger talent under the management business he had launched in 1997 as Tae-Hong Planning Corporation.
Before long Park’s own singing career was eclipsed by the success of clients Park Ji-yoon, G.O.D., Jinjoo, Noel and a struggling backup dancer Park groomed under the name Rain. In 1999, in the midst of this hectic transition from performer to entertainment tycoon, Park also found time to marry Seo Yun Jung, a woman he had been seeing since 1993.
Park’s business was renamed JYP Entertainment after its famous founder in early 2001 and quickly became one of Korea’s four leading talent factories for an exploding K-pop scene, nearly on par with older, bigger rival SM Entertainment. The 50% stake SK Telecom took gave JYPE access to that chaebol’s customer base, its popular CyWorld social-networking site, and its growing presence in China, the U.S. (as Helio between 2005 and 2008) and other markets.
Yet Park wasn’t ready to give up his own dreams of stardom. In 2001 he released his sixth album Game (2001) in the wake of another hit album he had produced for Park Ji Yoon. Game is notable for its varied musical styles that include R&B, soul, jazz, dance/pop and even the 30s swing tune “Swing Baby” which became a hit single. The blond on the CD jacket may have hinted at Park’s growing ambition to expand his efforts beyond Korea’s borders. The album also heralded a six-year hiatus as a performer as Park focused on building JYPE into a global player. During this period Park built Rain into Asia’s top superstar. He also wrote two dozen hit songs and produced over 20 albums for other artists, winning a half dozen awards.
Despite JYPE’s growing success in Korea and Asian markets, Park knew that the highest level of global pop stardom went through the crucible of the saturated, hyper-competitive U.S. market.
“These days a star can go global only by dominating the Chinese and U.S. markets,” he told Chosun Daily. “Even U.S. culture has not produced any new global star since Mariah Carey.”
In 2004 Park launched his long-planned foray into the U.S. market. He rented a small office in Los Angeles as his beachhead and began passing out copies of his music to the segment of the music industry that had always interested him most — the L.A.-based African American rap and hiphop scene. To avoid the hurdle of overcoming stereotypes, Park went by the initials JYP to hide the fact that he was Asian. His talent as a songwriting and music producer proved big enough to leap the culture barrier. Will Smith, Mase, R. Kelly and Filipino American singer Cassie, among others, ended up recording songs written by Park.
Park’s credibility with U.S. entertainment executives was boosted by his growing success with Rain whose sold-out global concert tour climaxed in a packed Madison Square Garden arena in May of 2006.
“The only thing I regret about Rain,” Park notes, “is that I didn’t teach him enough English. When the New York Times published an article about Rain, interview requests from many big broadcasters flooded in, but Rain needed a translator at the time. That became a major stumbling block. If Rain had been able to speak fluent English then, he would be a superstar in the U.S. now.”
The experience with Rain convinced Park more than ever that any would-be global superstar had to acquire stature in the U.S. before moving on to the wide-open China market. In 2007 he opened the JYP Manhattan Center to serve as a training base and launching pad for three Asian singers whose U.S. debut he planned for 2009 (but which he ultimately postponed due to the recession).
“Three types of people can be global stars,” Park explained. “Chinese who speak English, Americans who speak Chinese and Koreans who speak Chinese and English.” Next