Q&A: 2AM Chat Korean Ballads & 'Passionate' American Fans (Exclusive)

Billboard chats with 2AM about their return to America and their take on the ballad genre at KCON 2013.

Those who keep up with the K-Pop Hot 100 know how a great Korean ballad can obliterate the chart competition. The longest-running No. 1 is Lee Seung Gi's melancholic "Return" ballad, which ruled for five weeks last winter. Los Angeles K-pop convention KCON featured a grand finale concert with acts representing all sects of K-pop music: boy bands, girl groups, soloists, hip-hop acts, and 2AM representing the beloved ballad genre.

The four-member act earned their first No. 1 on the K-Pop chart with 2012's "I Wonder If You Hurt Like Me," ruling for two weeks last spring. In March, the quintet found chart success again, landing six songs off new album "One Spring Day" on the K-Pop Hot 100, led by the No. 3-peaking title track.

 

2AM is one of the most fascinating acts in K-pop as their international popularity continues sizzling, even though they do not craft addictively catchy pop singles. With five years together, the boys are K-pop veterans who have performed all over Asia, as well in the U.S. and Canada while opening for a 2010 tour by labelmates Wonder Girls.

When Billboard caught up with the boys backstage at KCON, it appeared the international traveling had had a particular impact on the group's Changmin. Without translation into Korean, the 27-year-old understood a few questions asked in English and answered -- even adding a little in English himself to one comment!

During Day 1 of the convention, the 2AM men -- looking sharp in ties, suspenders and slacks -- were each relaxed after a fan meet-and-greet session. In fact, Jo Kwon was so comfortable, many times he'd close his eyes and affectionately rest his head on bandmate Jinwoon.

Billboard chatted with the boys about their return to America and to get their take on the ballad genre.

Welcome to L.A., 2AM! It's been over five years since your K-pop debut. What does it mean for you to see a convention dedicated entirely to the culture?

Changmin: It is amazing that K-pop has grown this much outside of Korea. We hope that more conventions like KCON [dedicated to K-pop] will be held in the future. We also hope to deliver 2AM's distinctive musical colors to fans to make a concrete impression at these events.

2AM certainly fell smack dab in the middle of K-pop's international explosion. How have you seen things change since your debut?  

Seulong: K-pop is truly global now. When we first debuted, K-pop was well-known only in East Asia. But now, it's loved in Europe and South America as well -- that’s the most-major change we've seen, so far, is how familiar people in Europe and South America are with K-pop. With the PSY's "Gangnam Style" going globally viral -- it's definitely more global.  

NEXT: How do American fans compare to Korean fans?

You've traveled to see fans in many countries. How are your American fans stacking up this time?

Seulong: The fans' reaction is different in every country, but in L.A. and the U.S.A. the fans are more passionate. We received great amount of energy and good vibes [during the fan meet-and-greet].

Tough question: How do they compare to your Korean fans?

Changmin: [Laughs] American fans were more passionate and outgoing.

Will your American fans see you debut in the U.S.?

Seulong: We don't have any specific plans to officially debut in the U.S., but we would if we have an opportunity.

2AM is famous for ballads in Korea. For those who may not know, can you talk a little more about ballads and why they are different in Korea?

Changmin: I think the ballad in Korea is a specific type of a ballad; it's different... just because a song is... slow, doesn't mean it's a Korean ballad. Like in R&B, that is a certain type of ballad. With most ballads, there is a part of it that is specifically Korean. I think, now, fans can relate to them a little more. I also think [KCON] is a great opportunity to spread ballads to international K-pop fans.

In fact, one of your ballads, "I Wonder If You Hurt Like Me," hit No. 1 on the K-Pop Hot 100 in spring 2012. What was your reaction to that?

Jo Kwon: We are honored and excited that the song did so well on the chart. We were also excited that we are garnering so much love from foreign fans.

Do you have a message for your fans worldwide?

Jo Kwon: We want to thank all the fans that are supporting us. We hope that we'll be able to see you soon. We're just so thankful.