Calling in from Seoul a day before the release of her album, Jessica spoke to Billboard about the next phase in her career.
You’re about 24 hours from the release of your first solo album, With Love, J. How are you feeling?
I am super excited. I mean, I’ve been working on this album for almost a year now. I feel butterflies in my tummy.
Does it feel different than when you debuted as a member of Girls’ Generation in 2007?
Yeah, of course. As I was putting together this album I mean, my biggest motivation was my fans. They were always so supportive and I always wanted to do something for them. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have made it this far so I really want to thank them.
Is that what the title is all about, With Love, J?
I’ve used it ever since my debut. Cause when I signed things from my fans or I write a little letter I always write “with love, J” at the end. And I really wanted to make this a present and a gift to my fans, so that’s why the name of this album is With Love, J.
Can you tell us a little about this album? What are we going to hear on it?
Well, there’s a lot of different types of genres and I feel like each song has a life of its own. I participated a lot in writing these songs and it was actually the first time I participated in creating music. I was inspired by my own experiences in life and what I’ve learned. There’s going to be “Fly,” my title song, and another favorite song that I also made a music video for is “Love Me The Same.” It’s an R&B medium tempo song. “Fly” is a pop dance song.
What was it like collaborating with American musicians?
I worked with Fabolous and also Kmack [Kerriem Mack]. I worked with them in New York -- [they’re] extremely talented and Kmack is a visionary. At first I was kind of scared because I never really worked with a lot of U.S. producers or U.S. artists. Usually in the past I just walked in, sang my parts and left. But Kmack started asking me questions and it was all about creative direction. I was really surprised that I could have input and I can make the song the way I actually want it to come out.
So as a soloist, you had much more creative say in the process than you did previously? You wrote quite a few songs.
I probably spent more time in the studio for this one album than I have in all of my previous years combined. I wrote the songs, you know? I was being inspired by my life experiences. I actually learned that you should never give up and if you love something, take courage and absolutely go after it. I wanted to tell people that hope is really powerful. I wanted this album to have a meaning of hope in it.
So is hope the overarching theme throughout the album?
It’s throughout the album but for example, “Fly” has the meaning of hope inside the song. Another one that I wrote, “Golden Sky,” is about my fans and about my appreciation for them.
What inspired you while working on the album?
I just wanted to express myself so I looked into what I can do best and what I can show people best. To be very natural. I didn’t want to overdo anything. I just tried to express myself.
Do you think there are any surprises on the album on the album for fans?
I think the album itself will be a surprise for them because I’ve never participated in writing any of the music before. Even on the album jacket cover, I personally hand wrote everything. All the lyrics and all the credits as well. I wanted it to be more personal.
It sounds very intimate, like an audio diary.
Yeah, I did want to go with that feel.
Would you say this is one of the hardest things you’ve done since you debuted in 2007?
I think it took courage. My fans and my company, they all gave me a lot of courage and helped me throughout.
This is going to be the first time that we’re seeing you on stage by yourself. How does that make you feel?
I’ve never really thought about this before. It feels kind of funny. I don’t know. I feel really happy right now, so comfortable and confident. Happy at the moment. I can’t wait.
You launched your brand, Blanc & Eclare, in 2014. How has your fashion influenced your new music?
For Blanc & Eclare, we go by the motto “modern classic” and that kind of comes from me because I don’t like to overdo things and I try to be as natural as possible. For this album as well, I wanted to show the natural side of me, not all made up. I wanted people to get to know me better.
Did you ever think you’d just stick to fashion and leave music behind?
No, no, no, no! I’ve never thought of that before. I think a lot of people think that way and there’s a lot of talk. But no. I’ve never wanted to stick only to Blanc & Eclare. Music was my passion and I started out as a singer. It’s just natural to me to keep pursuing my music career. It’s just the start.
How do your friends and family feel about your new start?
They’re so excited. My sister [Krystal of f(x)] is super excited. She’s been helping out a lot, even selecting pictures for my album and she came to my music video shoot. She’s just so supportive so I really wanna thank her.
It’s been almost ten years since you debuted as a member of Girls’ Generation. How do you feel about your past, present and future?
I’ll always cherish my time as a member of Girls’ Generation. I haven’t seen them in several years but I really wish them the best. For the future, I mean, I just want to continue pursuing my music career and continue growing. I also think that K-pop has transcended beyond Korea so one of my future aspirations is to be able to take what I’ve learned to the next level. And also my English album is coming out on May 27, so I hope this can be the beginning of a global career in addition to continuing K-pop.
You’re one of the few Asian-American singers out there really making a name for herself. How does it feel knowing that there are not a lot of Asian role models in mainstream American music, now that you’re releasing an English language album?
I would be honored to be a role model for Asian-Americans to start their career in the States or worldwide.
Tiffany from Girls’ Generation released her album last week. How do you feel? Is there any sense of competition?
Actually, competition fuels innovation and it only makes me work harder. So I invite competition. In competitions, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. And if you lose, you learn from your mistakes and try harder. But when you win, you just never rest on your laurels. I wish her the best.
What has been the hardest part of your career since leaving the U.S. until now?
I think for everybody, it’s trying to understand the other person and trying to… Hmm, how should I say it? Try to put yourself down and respect another person’s opinion and… I think that was the hard part because in America it’s usually a lot… It’s usually more for yourself, isn’t it? In Korea, it’s usually like you have to think of others first. What people think of you. How others might feel because of your behavior. There was a learning process there.
You left America when you were very young to pursue a career in Korea. How does this new beginning as a soloist compare to when you first started down the path of becoming a K-pop star?
I’m just very excited. It is a new project for me but I always go with the flow and I try to pursue my current dreams. So, I mean, I feel happy. I feel great. I’m totally excited.
How do you want people to feel when they listen to With Love, J for the first time?
I wanted this album to make people feel happy and I wanted this album to be a lively album. I want them to have hope because everybody has their hardships in life. If they have hope, I think anything can happen. That’s what happened to me. I feel like right now is a time when I’m blossoming and I want them to know that I’m there for them. That’s why I made the album. I’ll keep on making good music and creating great albums.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been busy working on this album and emceeing for [Korean television show] Beauty Bible. I’ve had a lot of different projects throughout Asia. I have a movie coming out in China in August. And I’m also shooting a movie [My Other Home] with Stephon Marbury right now, the NBA star. I’m having a lot of fun doing that as well. I’m doing a lot of things at once. I’m having a lot of fun, everything is so exciting.