PETER CHUN SHARES WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE TO MANAGE KOREAN POP ARTISTS.
You may have heard about K-pop—that’s short for “Korean pop”—in the past few years or so. And if not, perhaps have been haunted by this generation’s “Macarena,” the YouTube sensation, “Gangnam Style.”
Whatever the case, it’s undeniable that the genre has quickly grown its cult-like following worldwide. And it’s now attempting to infiltrate into the stateside mainstream this spring when the blonde-tressed 23-year old lead singer from the group 2NE1, CL, debuts with her first ever solo album on an American label. The blonde-tressed chanteuse was signed by Scooter Braun (the same manager who catapulted Justin Bieber into infamy as well as Ariana Grande) and is working with the likes of Blood Diamonds, Skrillex, Diplo, among others for her English album.
Though it’s TBD if CL will become the first Asian pop star to make it in America, it’s an impressive feat nonetheless to share the same record label as bonafide pop stars like Katy Perry and Sam Smith.
Behind her success has been Peter Chun, the U.S. publicity and marketing director for CL and Psy’s Korean record label, YG Entertainment—a behemoth of a company that has investors in the likes of LVMH. Peter’s been the unsung hero who’s been the company’s faceless and nameless go-to when bringing these Korean/American collaborations together.
When one of YG’s artists, Taeyang (of the group Big Bang), became the face of CK One fragrances last summer, it was Peter who solidified the contracts. When MIA made her way to Seoul, it was the New Jersey native who brought her and her management together with CL. When G-Dragon (of Big Bang) was on the cover of Hypebeast, it was the 32-year old who managed to put the pieces together. And for the record, when I needed to get in touch with CL for a profile I wrote for ELLE, it was Peter who brought it all together.
“It’s actually really creative and fun the work that I do,” he said over coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I’m hoping that these artists can one day break through and show America that Asians can be cool too.
“Right now CL being a cool, strong Asian female who can speak multiple languages, can dance, can sing and dress. I think somebody like her can change a lot of people’s perceptions of Asians.”
Peter took out time from his busy schedule to talk to me about his come up, stories about his travels with his artists, how he got his foot in the door with a Korean record label, his thoughts on Korean music, and advice for others who want to follow in his footsteps.
Q: What is it that you do?
PETER CHUN: I’m a relationship bridge for my Korean artists and the American market. I work with a lot of people in fashion and casting agents. A lot are unaware what Asian talents are out there. I get some calls with people asking for Asians for campaigns – usually female. They ask me who’s the hot person they should go for. I recommend a couple of artists and they’re sold. The press we’ve done, the fashion people we’re friends with, the fashion shows we’ve been to – there’s been a lot of different campaigns I’ve worked on. The most memorable [one] was the CK One campaign I worked on that was photographed by Mario Sorrenti. Taeyang became the face of the brand. CK One is iconic for us…
Q: This is such a relationship industry as we know. Tell me about how you leverage fashion and business together?
CHUN: There’s a lot of professionals but they don’t know how to vibe with creative people. When you’re speaking about creatives, there’s a few difficulties. I’m a businessman, but I have a lot of creative friends – most of my friends are creatives. Actually YG is who brought me into the company, like Teddy [YG’s creative director and producer], who I’ve known since childhood. I understand how to work with artists and I also know how to handle business. So essentially, since I speak English well, my job out here for YG is to be the bridge, speak the language here, understand the business here, and translate that back to Korea.
I’ve been around Teddy as an artist and Yang Hyung Suk, my boss, since the [late]-’90s. I would help Teddy by picking up artists from the airport and then showing them around New York.
Q: It’s difficult being an artist because you don’t know who to trust. How do you deal with that?
CHUN: It is true. A lot of artists are concerned with who they surround themselves with. At YG we are very careful. We don’t go out and fraternize with or socialize with a lot of other celebrities. It’s the culture of our record label. We also want to protect our younger artists so they focus on their craft. We make sure that they vibe with other writers and are writing and vibing with producers. It’s a very creative space. It’s not a fraternity environment at all. It’s not about going out and partying – it’s about focusing on the music. Our studio space, for instance, is only for our artists. It’s a creative space. They dim the lights, watch music videos, and get inspired, and that’s how they start doing their music. It’s not a place where you’re supposed to do. It’s a collaborative and creative area.
Q: How long do you stay in Korea?
CHUN: I stay 10% of my time in Korea. I love going there and going to the studios with my artists. I [went] for appearances with Taeyang when he was doing his CK One signing event. Also with networks like Fuse TV, I did five pieces on YG entertainment when out there. I also was there to do introductions like CL and MIA. I had a relationship with their management. They knew each other but I was there to introduce MIA’s manager to CL’s and was there for them to hang out. We had dinner and went to the studio, then we all went to the Ultra Music Festival where MIA went onstage and CL came up not planned, impromptu – freestyle. That was cool. When Justin Bieber was in Korea, we had G-Dragon do a special appearance. I’m there for media opportunities, relationships, signing events, or photo shoots.
Q: How did you get where you have?
CHUN: I always wanted to be in the music industry. Even as young kids, me and Teddy would listen to all of our favorite musicians like the rockers Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses. We always wanted to be musicians. I was very focused on studies. My parents expected me to focus on that but Teddy was more courageous and he went for the music thing.
Q: Did you intern much?
CHUN: When I was in college, I interned at Columbia Records and interned at DJ Honda Records. I was interning for free for 9 months at Columbia just because I wanted a foot in the door. I was commuting all the way from Rutgers where I went to school. I eventually went into media, in publishing. I was working at PC Mag at Ziff Davis. I quickly moved over to Rolling Stone because I saw it as a compromise doing music and publishing. I was working in marketing and doing partnerships with other companies with subscriptions. It’s not glamorous, but it was a great experience where I got to eat lunch with a bunch of artists like Kanye and Kim – separately. I met Rihanna, Ke$ha, Ozzy Osborne. They’d eat lunch with the staff.
Q: When did you know to leave Rolling Stone and go to YG?
CHUN: I’ve always wanted to be with YG. I was in America at the time so it was difficult. Three years ago, at the time this is when 2NE1 and Big Bang and the Korean industry [were] on the rise, they were getting so many “love calls” from different people and needed a bridge to be there for them and take everything that was coming in and translate it and handle these opportunities. One day I went to Korea on vacation. Some people here and there were whispering to me that there my be an opportunity. Teddy is like a big brother to me and was always like, he doesn’t want to promise anything until he knows it’s the right opportunity for you. One day he calls me and is like, “You wanna do this? Come to Korea, let’s talk.” At the time, I was the only person for the U.S. [leg] and it was a great time to try. That was three years ago. One year before that, I was freelancing for YG.
Q: You have another business that you run called Base NYC, a promotions business. Tell me about it.
CHUN: It’s an event marketing business with a partnership between me and five friends. We ran the biggest parties along the East coast at Hiro Ballroom, which is now Tao Downtown in the Maritime Hotel. Through doing those events, I’ve been [able] to do concerts and appearances. Everyone from Kim Hee Sun, Russell Peters, and a ton of different people came through. That was also entertainment and hosting talent and working with talent. I got a good feel on how to handle clientele, book talent, and handle talent. That’s where I learned to take care of artists and VIP.
Q: How did you book talents?
CHUN: I have a lot of relationships. I have a lot of industry friends – a lot of friends who go out. I had relationships with YG as a record label, so Se7en was a friend of mine. Also, one of my partners, Nelson, worked at JYP. He brought in other people. Sean Kingston came through another friend of mine, Harry Kim. It was a collective of people with relationships with artists, film festivals, cultural groups where we would come together and help out the Korean American community.
Q: What was your strategy with YG?
CHUN: My first year I really wanted to focus on press. I was like, they’ve seen [these Korean pop stars’] music videos, they heard the music, but don’t know what these people are about. The second year was about appearances. Getting them on MTV, Palladium, the cover ofHypebeast, spending a week with Complex. We were getting them out more. With having that, we have press clips. We parlay that into saying, “These guys were on the cover of Vogue Italia. Did a sold out show with MTV Iggy… They’re best friends with these designers.” When people see that they’re co-signed by people like Missy Elliott, Skrillex, Diplo, they’re like, “Oh, I gotta check this out.” They see the power of what they bring on [with] social media, the millions of followers they have, and their YouTube videos. They check out their music videos and they’re hooked. It’s addictive for a lot of people. Korean music can be very addictive, especially with a lot of people I know. It’s not me creating opportunities – it’s more like the Asian market becoming huge.
Q: Is that happening now?
CHUN: Asians are misrepresented in media over here. Asian males in America are seen as a joke. It’s unfortunate because there are so many cool Asians. It rubs a lot of us in a wrong way because it misrepresents us. If we’re smart and use social media to connect to an audience and show them what we can do with our craft and style and fashion, it opens doors and people’s eyes to Asian people.
Q: Will CL change that?
CHUN: Right now CL being a cool, strong Asian female who can speak multiple languages, can dance, can sing and dress – I think somebody like her can change a lot of people’s perceptions of Asians. I’m inspired by that a lot.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from CL?
CHUN: I respect anyone who wants to be hands on and knows what they want to do. From being around her, I’ve learned to be hands on with her and hands on with what we are working on. It was very much a collaborative effort. I’m listening to what she wants to do and [I] give her my opinions when she [needs].
Q: What’s it like to work at YG Entertainment, arguably the most influential record label in all of Asia?
CHUN: It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun being creative but it’s work. They wouldn’t hire who could not handle the artists. At YG, everyone is professional and they know how to handle business. It’s a lot of work and everyone works hard. They want to hire someone they can trust at the end of the day.
Q: How does one become someone like you or work at YG Entertainment?
CHUN: You have to learn about music. Most of us at YG don’t really know a lot of Korean music. We know global music and good music, period. You [have] to know what trends are coming and also have relationships that we’d need. Within the people I work with at YG, it’s a relationship thing that got them into the door. For instance, G-Dragon brought in Top. Teddy brought in Master Wu and Choice 37 and me. He also brought in Xin, the stylist to 2NE1. Having a goal and taking those steps everyday to reach those goals are what you have to do. A lot of people know what they want but aren’t willing to take the steps to get there. None of this was ever given to me. I always kept my eyes on music and doing what I love. From Rolling Stone to nightlife events to concerts, I could apply to this job now. Stay focused, be driven, but care about your relationships. It’s a dog eat dog world. If you keep thinking you’re going to get ahead by doing shortcuts, it won’t work in the long run. You need to have a vision.
PETER’S MOST MEMORABLE VIDEO SHOOTS:
- BIGBANG – Bad Boy MV || “This was one of the very first projects I worked on at YG – I was simply assisting the artists at the time and showing them around NY. This was filmed only a few blocks away from my apartment in Brooklyn and it was freezing cold. We also filmed ‘Blue’ during this same trip and ate some good local food.”
- 2NE1 – HAPPY MV || “We filmed this during one of 2NE1’s trips to LA – I took a redeye immediately after BIGBANG’s Prudential Center concert wrapped. Once shooting was complete, I planned a surprise birthday dinner for Dara. Jeremy Scott came by with gifts and everyone had a good time.”
- SKRILLEX FT. GD & CL – Dirty Vibe || “We filmed this in LA last summer immediately after G-Dragon’s performance at KCON. It was a very collaborative experience since it was our first time working with a non-Korean director (Lil’ Internet). I remember all of the little kids who were extras had their mothers on set watching over them”
Source: The Hundreds