In the year, two months, 18 days, one hour, and 30 minutes since I last interviewed Jay B, our lives have shifted to new frequencies. The pandemic has obviously taken today's meeting to Zoom. As I wave hello from about 6,867 miles away, Jay B mentions I look different. In a much less poetic way, my hair falls past my shoulders now; his has been taken up several inches, I return.
Both of us are known better as something else these days, too. Lim Jaebeom is now Jay B — a stage name sonically the same as JB but has better SEO value. Google the initials that marked the past seven years of his life as an idol, and you'll see results mostly for Justin Bieber, Jay B jokes with his signature crinkled, cresent moon-eyed smile. "I wanted to build up my identity as an artist at HIGHR MUSIC," he continues. "There wasn't any other special reason." (And in case you were wondering, people in my neighborhood mostly call me "Scorpion's Mom" since adopting a dog earlier this year.)
Essentially, Jay B is no longer considered a K-pop star either. In January 2021, JYP Entertainment announced GOT7 didn't renew their contract. The other members' solo plans were quickly announced, but Jay B took his time to sort through his options. As he plotted his next move, "I thought I should be more careful about [everything]," Jay B reveals. "I should be careful before I decide something."
On May 11, H1GHR Music, a record label run by Jay Park, revealed Jay B would be joining its talented roster of musicians — a move that Jay B never would have guessed he would have made a year ago, he tells me. Nonetheless, Jay B is palpably excited. I know he's not just saying he is because he's sitting in a conference room surround by at least three people on his new team. Jay B's joviality radiates through the screen. It's in the grin he perpetually has on his face as he shares stories with me, the way he shrugs off his leather jacket and slouches forward comfortably with his elbows leaned on the table, and how he flips his black, LA-embroidered baseball cap backward as we catch up.
In Seoul last year, I saw flashes of this nonchalant side of Jay B but never so consistently and unapologetically in a business setting. Although he doesn't say it, I sense this comfort blossomed out of his time as a free agent — and the pandemic. Like many of us, including yours truly, Jay B took the past year to reexamine his relationship with more than just himself but also being alive. Although social distancing and public health restrictions placed boundaries on doing so, the 27-year-old did his best to find workarounds by exploring new interests.
Although he once told me he enjoys staying home doing nothing, Jay B started feeling like doing so was wasting time. "I had to go outside," Jay B says. "I tried to be more active than ever." As many fans may have noticed on social media, Jay B has been hitting the gym with a personal trainer.
Learning how to scuba dive was also checked off Jay B's to-do list. Underwater — with all of his senses cut off except for his vision — Jay B absorbed new ways to float through life. "It's very interesting to have this kind of hobby not on land, but in water," he shares. "I had to learn to use different techniques for how to breathe and how to move."
On land, these lessons have flowed into his music as he experiments with new styles and themes. With the release of his first single under H1GHR, "Switch It Up", Jay B's vaporous voice ripples through the sexiest lyrics he's ever shared with the public. In fact, KBS, one of South Korea's largest TV and radio broadcasters, even deemed the song "excessively sexual," and has barred it from airwaves. I'll allow you to listen to it on your own time to see if you agree.
Jay B's wardrobe is being refined in this new phase of his life, too. Before attending Saint Laurent events over the past three years as a global ambassador for the fashion house, Jay B never thought slim-fitted outfits suited him. Now, "I'm thinking about trying out those kinds of tighter outfits and bringing a sharper-looking image to myself," Jay B says.
But what about your hair, I inquire. After dyeing his beloved long style bubblegum pink, bleach blonde, navy, then, back to black, Jay B reverted back to his go-to take on the mullet trend — subtly choppy-yet-sleek — and has stuck with it for almost a year. Is this his favorite haircut? "No, no, no," he reverberates in English before elusively explaining in Korean, "I want to try a new type of hair, but I don't know what kind." (Hmmm, I'm curious what the future of Jay B's hair holds.)
Just as he hinted at in our 2020 interview, Jay B finally painted his nails black. However, he didn't take cues from the rising trend among men, especially those in the music industry from here to Seoul. Instead, the gothic paint job was a fun ode to his favorite manga. "I like Naruto, you know?" Jay B asks me in English. I nod yes. "I like [the character] Itachi, so I wanted to try to paint my nails," he continues. "I just copied him."
In the same vein, Jay B soon wants to try a new style of colored contacts to take his otherworldly approach to them to another — albeit slightly menacing — level. (Last year, he was all about the odd eye look with different hues for each eye.) Blackout lenses are on his agenda. "Like an alien vibe?" I ask. Nope. He pulls up a photo of Korean actor Yoo Ah In with a blue buzzcut wearing contacts that have pitch-black irises. The look is so delightfully weird and so Jay B.
Jay B’s reference photo
This year has always seen Jay B and I being more openly honest about our mental health in ways we never felt comfortable doing so before. Both of us sought treatment for depression and anxiety and now currently take medication. Over the three or four years, Jay B admits he felt extreme pressure and burden as an artist. However, he often hid those feelings away. These days, Jay B is open to sharing his emotions with the world because "many people share these kinds of feelings — and perhaps disorders," he explains. "I want everybody to feel confident enough to speak about these kinds of problems that they have and be someone who can help speak out for them."
Through this honesty and time of recovery, Jay B has realized feelings are not facts. They should be evaluated before accepting them as the latter. "I think about my emotion one more time before I make a final decision about myself," he explains. "Maybe I feel a little bit depressed, but I would think, 'Oh, is this right? Let's think about this again.'" Another lesson: Talking through even his most difficult emotions with his friends and loved ones instead of sitting with them by himself is crucial for getting back on the right track. "It's best to know where you are, your status, or how you feel," he adds. "It's important for the other people, as well, to know you."
One major, consistent element of Lim Jaebeom as I know him now is his dedication to clearly delineating his public and private selves; as a performer and as a human being. This is more important to him than ever before as he's made these aforementioned discoveries and changes in his life. "It's really hard to distinguish those two identities," he admits. "But I want to do a perfect performance on the stage. When I get off [it], I want to enjoy my daily life as a humble person."
"It's only my job to be perfect, to pursue perfectionism in my career, in my music."
Does that mean he's less of a perfectionist when it comes to himself and more when it comes to his music? I ponder aloud. Jay B doesn't have to take more than half of a second to digest the question. "It's only my job to be perfect, to pursue perfectionism in my career, in my music," he declares. "I think that goes for everyone, even you as an Allure editor. But as a person, it's good to just relax and chill. A quote that's stuck with me is 'you don't live to work; you work to live.'" Jay B works so he can keep doing things he's never done before, keep scuba diving, keep spending time with his friends, and keep seeking joy.
"Even when you're not working, you can find other excitement," he continues. "You can get inspiration from that as well."
However, when he is working, Jay B feels like he has a lot to prove now that he's under a new label with people to impress. But what exactly does he feel like he has to prove? "That it wasn't wrong that Jay Park chose me," Jay B reveals. And how will he measure that? Up until recently, Jay B solely looked to streaming charts as validation. Now, his own satisfaction with his music is what truly matters, instead of being lead by what others think. Chart numbers are but a cherry on top of it all.
Last year, I riffed a lot on the astrological-like set of traits Jay B has given himself as a performer and how JB presents himself for public consumption: sleek, stubborn, disciplined, and sharp. As Jay B, he lists off "new start, on the bottom, and a hard worker," in English as his latest descriptors.
When picking three words to describe himself at his core as Lim Jaebeom, he sighs and hums. This seems to be the part of the interview Jay B takes most seriously. However, someone from his team jokingly answers in the distance, "Sexy, sexy, sexy?" Nope, that's not it. "Just free," Jay B corrects him in English. "Very free and more human being. And then," he pauses to further ponder how he sees himself when no one is watching. "I'm not cute," Jay B adds with a smirk.
As our time comes to an end, I pose the same question as I did the last time we talked. "How far into the future can you see yourself?" Back then, Jay B was living moment to moment. As of this moment, the future has become clearer to him now. Jay B can see as far out as a fishing-filled retirement. "Of course, I understand I have to build up my career by spending time with my music," he adds. "But when I'm older, I expect to live in a quiet place, chilling on a beach."
If the same question comes up this time next year, Jay B doesn't expect to have the same answer, though. "Maybe one month from now or two months from now or even one year from now, everything should be different," he explains. "But it's very important for me to consider what I enjoy at that moment, and what I think at that moment. That's what you can expect from my answer next year."
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