Last month, Gain released her fourth solo EP Hawwah that garnered loads of attention for its visuals (the video for “Paradise Lost” was the second-most watched K-pop video in the world in March), music (“Lost Paradise” and “Apple” featuring Jay Park both hit the Top 10 of Korea’s domestic music charts). For the Brown Eyed Girls solo star — who pushed buttons singing about topics like sex and domestic violence on past releases like “Bloom” and “Fxxk U” — it was not only an artistic victory in Korea, but in America too: Hawwah was Gain’s first appearance on any U.S. chart when it peaked at No. 9 on Billboard‘s World Albums chart on March 28.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone was happy with the album. Upon its release, “Paradise Lost” was banned from being performed on three of South Korea’s major TV channels due to its provocative dance moves. Not to mention, “Apple” initially received an explicit “19+” label in Korea (the equivalent of a “Rated R” rating) for its lyrics likening two lovers’ feelings to the Bible story of Eve biting the forbidden fruit. Tame stuff for Americans, but not so much in her native country.
In the midst of a packed promo schedule, Gain caught up with Billboard where no topic or question was denied or deemed too touchy. Peep the interview — done via translator — with Korea’s top shock diva below.
Congrats on the success with Hawwah, it hit the Top 10 of Billboard‘s World Albums chart.
Gain: I was so surprised to hear that Hawwah is on Billboard‘s World Album chart. It’s such a honor to see my album on the Billboard charts! I’m very grateful to all the listeners in Korea and abroad.
Hawwah is the classic Hebrew name for Eve in the Bible, and Hawwah seems to be inspired by religion and themes from it. Was that your main inspiration?
My album is not related to the Bible, actually. It was a kind of fiction made from a character in Bible. So, I tried to understand this concept as a story not as a religious material.
Are you religious?
I actually don’t have any religion. That’s why I understand the concept of Hawwah as “a story.”
Hawwah goes through a lot of genres and moods. Do you have a favorite track?
It’s “The First Temptation.” This song was the first one that I had listened to among all the tracks [while preparing to choose songs to record for] Hawwah. The lyrics tell the concept of Hawwah very directly. So after listening to this song, I could conceptualize the whole album easily. That’s why I like this song especially.
You’ve express disappointment that your new songs were given explicit ratings. I personally find them brilliant. Why do you think they got banned?
In Korea, the airtime of music programs are quite early and the main viewers are young so I regard those kinds of regulation is inevitable.
I see you as an artist typically not bound to those standards though. How do you deal with the pressures from the industry that may try to limit your work, whether that’s keeping you off television or putting age restrictions?
Composers and lyric-writers make songs and lyrics thinking about me as the singer Gain. I never want to interrupt their freedom of expression because of restrictions. Actually, I accept those restrictions as rather interesting because most concepts I’ve done are not easy to express and pull off. Sometimes, it causes controversy and gets hit with an age restriction. I think this is my personal color, so, I think I don’t worry that much.
Do you feel validation when you see your new songs hit No. 1 or that your music videos earn millions of views?
To be honest, this is not the expected result. Because the contents of Hawwah are not easy to enjoy for a pop audience, I was surprised that the attention was long-term instead of temporary.
Do you think Korea is too conservative when it comes to music?
Being conservative is unavoidable, I think. Since artists don’t have many opportunities to show their performance, they need to appear on music programs. As I said before, music programs have inevitable regulations — like its airing time, the age of its viewers — so it’s the norm [that many songs are released] to be accepted by all. So, sometimes I feel sorry but I should accept it.
Do you ever wonder if your music would be better accepted in America? Would you or Brown Eyed Girls consider promoting in America more?
Even though I work based in the Korean music scene, now we can share the contents globally via media like YouTube. With a good opportunity, I’d love to try to promote in America. But I think I still need much more preparation.
Speaking of Brown Eyed Girls, is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming Brown Eyed Girls comeback?
Actually I’m very busy with the Brown Eyed Girls’ new album. The recording is not started yet so, sadly, I can’t tell you much. But please support Brown Eyed Girls!
What else do you have planned this year?
I want to have a good result with Brown Eyed Girls as well. If it’s possible, maybe one more solo album!
Back to the album, who was your favorite collaborator to work with on Hawwah? There are a lot of impressive names.
Dok2. He is one of the best rappers in Korea. I’m a big fan of him so working together was very pleasant.
I heard that you worked out your lower half for three months straight to obtain “Apple hips” we see in the “Apple” video. Can you share your favorite exercise?
It’s walking lunges. I can’t say I like it, but it is very effective.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Thank you very much for attention on my solo album Hawwah. I’m preparing new album for Brown Eyed Girls now. Please wait for it and I’ll see you soon.