[Exclusive Interview] Eric Nam on Turning Down Job Offers from YG and Pursuing Music
With K-Pop singers getting younger and younger, it’s a rarity to find an artist who has a career outside of the entertainment industry to fall back on.
Though there are many K-pop idols who’ve managed to complete their basic schooling, fewer are choosing to pursue higher education - Eric Nam, on the other hand, not only has already completed his degree, but has a fall-back career all lined up.
In an interview with Mwave, Eric Nam talked about his goals for his singing and entertainment career, and what he would do if he ever decided to leave it behind.
Eric Nam, who got his start after he was scouted to audition for MBC’s The Great Birth from the power of his Youtube videos, didn’t end up winning the audition program, but did score a contract with his current company, B2M Entertainment.
Prior to that though, Eric Nam had already earned a job with a top consulting firm - so what prompted him to leave it behind?
“I always had an appreciation for K-Pop and it was never like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do K-Pop’,” said Eric Nam. “And Asian Americans don’t have a platform at all in the States. So being a musician or a performer was always just a dream. I never really thought I’d pursue it as a profession. And it was such a 180 spin from where I was in college, that I was always nervous taking that risk, so I wanted to finish my degree before I did anything. So in a way, the timing worked out perfectly for me to go into the K-Pop scene.”
Of course, as a native English speaker, there are simultaneously more and less opportunities.
“I do think I’m in a very interesting and fortunate place, where K-Pop is a big cultural influence, but I have the ability and opportunities to perform and connect in English,” said Eric Nam. “So I think, for people like myself, or Ailee or John Park, we’re at this crossroads, where yea, we’re recognized perhaps a lot in the Korean market, them more so than me, but in the future, I think there’s potential and opportunity to go abroad, and that’s what I’m very much excited about.”
But as most international fans already know, there’s a different reaction to the Eric Nam who speaks English and the Eric Nam who speaks Korean - and as of yet, there haven’t been many opportunities to merge the two images.
“I would love to do some variety shows. I think I’ve been very limited on what I’ve been able to do on a Korean basis. I think on an international basis, they’ve been able to see a lot of my real personality, just being carefree and a little humorous and crazy,” said Eric Nam. “But the Korean audience doesn’t get to really see that and that’s regretful.”
And even though he doesn’t have any kids, Eric Nam admits that he’d love to join Dad! Where Are You Going?.
“We need to make it Uncle! Where Are You Going?! I have 40-something cousins, so I do have a lot of nieces and nephews I could take on the show…” said Eric Nam. “Or Grampas over Flowers, or Nunas over Flowers. I saw that they went to spain, and I was like, ‘But I speak Spanish!!! That should be me, I could do that!’”
But Eric Nam, who clearly isn’t satisfied with doing anything halfway, also has a few ideas for his own shows in mind.
“I really want to start my own shows and produce a couple. But I’m not sure I’m at that point where I’d be recognized for my ideas and be taken on,” said Eric Nam. “But if there’s ever an opportunity, I would want to do some travel or food-related shows.”
But even with all Eric Nam has managed to accomplish in the Korean entertainment industry, he admits there are still moments he’d like to return to his previous life.
“Every once in awhile, I do want to return to consulting, to be honest. I think last year was a very difficult and trying year for me personally and professionally on many levels. Part of that came from the fact that I came and signed as a singer, and I wasn’t singing. To be releasing one song a year, as a singer, it’s very depressing in a way and disheartening,” said Eric Nam. “So during that time, to be honest, I was like, ‘Maybe I should just go back to work, to consulting.’”
And though Eric Nam is known for his slightly wacky, nearly always bright personality, there clearly is more behind the surface.
“[Consulting] is work, but I enjoyed that work. On TV, people think I’m this insane, crazy, screaming fanboy, but in a way, that’s a role I have to play,” said Eric Nam. “I had a team of Malaysian journalists following me the other day and they were like, ‘We thought you’d be funny, Sam [of Lunafly, and Eric Nam’s friend] said you were super crazy.’ And I was like, ‘Yea, but work hard, play hard.’ When it’s time to work, I work. When it’s time to play, I play. I think they were very taken aback by that.”
And while many people may be proud to have a famous K-Pop star in their families, Eric Nam’s parents are more concerned with their son’s happiness.
“My dad was always like, do whatever you think is best for you. We trust your judgement and you’ve taken yourself far enough in life to know who you are and what to do, so just pray about it. And whatever you find through prayer, go for it,” said Eric Nam.
“My mom has always been like, ‘But why...you have a job that actually pays, and it’s a respectable job and degree, what are you throwing that away for?’” said Eric Nam. “Even to this day, my mom will call and ask if I want to come back.”
But when his mom sent him a text asking if he was happy, Eric Nam responded with a yes.
“And she was like, ‘You better be happy, because if you’re not happy, you have to make changes.’ But in the end, as long as I’m happy and I find what I do fulfilling, they’ll always be supportive,” said Eric Nam. “For them, giving me the opportunity and the support really means the world to me, and I’m just so thankful to have such loving parents.”
But even if Eric Nam were to return to his suit and tie days and go back into consulting, he probably won’t stray too far from what he knows and loves.
“My goal, my hope when I started consulting, was that I’d ideally be able to consult entertainment companies. Even when I was at Deloitte Consulting, I was trying to grab meetings with partners who were in media and entertainment,” said Eric Nam. “The dream was to work with YG, SM, consult them for foreign stuff. So even now, I think I′m setting up a great path.”
But for now, music is where Eric Nam’s heart is.
“YG offered me a job before I signed. They asked if I wanted to come consult for them, but I was like, ‘No...’” said Eric Nam. “They were like, ‘You don’t want to do strategy for Big Bang and 2NE1?’ And I said, ‘I would, but I’d rather sing.’”
Photo credit: B2M, Essen