Together With Bada (NEH Magazine)

The following piece of writing on K-Pop icon Bada appeared as the cover story for the “Hers” side of NEH Magazine’s October Issue.

With this post comes an end to the era of my writing in NEH Magazine. Shortly after I quit NEH in September, it was announced that NEH was throwing in the towel. I learned a lot in the 13 months I contributed to that publication and am grateful for the lessons that time in my life taught me.

Together With Bada

Her producer describes her as pure, uncorrupted, sincere and not naive. She’s all that and more.

Even though at this point I shouldn’t be, for some reason I am continually amazed by how welcoming most celebrity types are when you get the opportunity to meet them. It’s natural, I suppose, to assume the worst about a face-to-face with someone famous. In my experience, however, more often than not, the result couldn’t be more to the contrary. Probably the greatest example of this genuine warmth in character I have encountered has been my involvement with Korean mega K-Pop icon, Bada.

I’m fortunate to have spent time with Ms. Bada, personally contributing pieces of writing for her latest press kits and upcoming English websites. With her producer helping to interpret, as well as the mix of Korean/English skills we share, Bada and I have had a handful of substantial conversations during which I was repeatedly impressed by her generosity and all-encompassing kindness. Don’t just take my word for it. Whether it’s casually hanging out after a musical stage performance, an interview at a coffee shop, or helping on the set of her “Nawagachi” music video, released in September, the steady observation from everyone I’ve been involved with has been, “Could she possibly be any nicer?”

On the topic of consistency, if there is a phrase she has continually heard all of her life, it is, “You’re so lucky Bada.”

Most remember her as the famed lead vocalist of S.E.S., the record breaking original girl group that established the blueprint for female success in Korean popular music that we still see duplicated today. In addition, her solo music career consists of four albums and two hit singles, while her acting career spans successful runs with renowned stage productions such as 42nd Street and Legally Blonde: The Musical, among others. Her efforts on stage have gained accolades including recognition as Best Actress, Most Popular Actress and Best Newcomer Actress by various korean musical awards associations.

If you think that all of this, and more, was achieved merely through luck, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Though they may not have had much money, Bada was born into a family rich in Korean musical heritage. Her father was a traditional Namdo Minyo folk singer. Being surrounded by artists and musicians from a young age had a strong influence on her. As a result of this inspirational environment, music and singing came to her very naturally. Through years of respiratory exercises with deep roots feeding the spiritual aspects of musical creation, her father’s guidance lead Bada to the realization that music was something exceptional. It was more than just a pleasurable activity. It was embedded in her, as much a part of her being as breathing. Music had become a way of life.

From her humble beginnings in Bucheon, Bada earned the reputation of an extraordinary talent. She recalled to me her first influential moment of self awareness. In second grade, her teacher proposed a challenge to the entire class: whoever can sing better than Bada, step forward. According to Bada, when nobody stepped up, she asked her teacher the reason for making an example of her with such a public request. The response was, “Because you’re just that good. You don’t know?”

This awakening fueled the dedication required to further develop her abilities in both singing and acting. As time went by, years of childhood recognition would eventually lead to an opportunity to attend the prestigious Anyang Art High School to major in acting, further demonstrating her versatility in the arts. Because her family wasn’t financially blessed, this could only happen with the kind of hard work and devotion that would result in the highest marks, which she successfully achieved.

Her diligence and work ethic in high school caught the attention of SM Entertainment, which led to the birth of S.E.S. and the rest, is history. S.E.S. would go on to release five full albums, two special albums, and is, to date, the top-selling K-Pop female group in Korea.

Fast forward to modern times. Starring in musical stage productions has been very good to Bada. In her words, “Acting in musicals has given vitality to my life.” Not only has she received strong praise and recognition for success in acting at the highest level, but she has learned a lot about herself in the process. Take, for example, the role of Peggy Sawyer, the famous lead in 42nd Street. Often described as a young, naive, starry-eyed chorus girl, Sawyer also possesses the drive and urge to never give up until attaining success. Bada told me that this willingness to work tirelessly in order to achieve greatness reminded her a lot of how she initiated her own career. At a young age, she herself went through the realization that even though she may have wanted to quit, destiny would not let her.

This adherence to commitment is something that has never gone away. At the age of 30, she had to take a crash course in tap dancing to prepare for the role of Sawyer in 42nd Street. It’s apparent from speaking with her that jumping through the necessary hoops to so quickly master tap, a distinguished and physically challenging form of dance is something she’s extremely proud of.

Take also her current role as Hanbyeol in 200 Pounds Beauty, a musical adaptation of an extremely successful Korean film that was originally based on a Japanese Manga. In a nutshell, Hanbyeol is an overweight singer who is constantly overlooked because of her hefty physical appearance. Her remedy for success is to have full body plastic surgery that, among other attributes, helps her achieve a successful career.

This is Bada’s second time around with 200 Pounds Beauty. Speaking about the wardrobe required to pull off the role of Hanbyeol in 2008, Bada says, “It was very difficult to deliver the role’s character through the costume and the special make-up that I was wearing”. She adds that “The 30kg costume was something that I wasn’t used to.  It made it difficult to deliver my facial expression, body language, and details that I perform on stage.”

She spoke of the lessons learned by playing a character with image issues. “If you love yourself you will know the true value of you. I believe I was self-conscious about very little things” she says laughing. “Nothing too dominant, but after playing this role, without noticing, a lot of the doubts about myself mostly vanished.”

Intrigued by learning the moments of realization that resulted from playing the two previously mentioned characters, I asked Bada what her all-time favorite role has been. “I would have to say Esmeralda in Notre Dame de Paris,”, she replied. “The character’s purity and courage is just magnetically attractive. It made me realize that vulnerability is the ultimate unbeatable power.” Recapping the personal significance of playing this character, she continued, “Singing Ave Maria on stage was quite personally touching since I come from a Catholic background. The entire stage set and props were brought from Paris when I performed at Sejong Art Center. The gargoyles that weighed over one ton and the huge bell that was installed on stage really made it into a time traveling experience.”

On the recorded music side of her career, for the first time she’s working with a creative staff based on in-depth intuition and understanding, rather than focusing strictly on technicalities. In the past, everything had been so systematic. By contrast, this new formula is fueling ingenuity in musical production through education. Bada and her producer J-Path have a respectful relationship that doesn’t crush creativity. Rather than focusing on what doesn’t work, together they are working hard to bring out the hidden antiques; a process of dusting off ideas that have always been there but haven’t been given the opportunity to flourish.

This perfect storm of confidence in her abilities, enlightenment achieved through a successful career riddled with ups, downs and hard work, as well as her new staff of creative minds, has landed her exactly where she wants to be.

Her newest release is the “Nawagachi EP”, a project in conjunction with her affiliation with Good Buy Selly (GBS), a Korean Do-It-Yourself Social Commerce Networking Service. The premise of GBS is providing a platform for consumers to share information. Rather than being force-fed the concept of value, it’s GBS’ belief that the consumer creates the value of a product or service by sharing their experiences with other consumers. The result is a truthful exchange of relevant information among members of this social community.

Translated, “Nawagachi” means “Together With Me”. The lyrics pitifully portray those who can’t make a subjective judgment in the midst of the overwhelming commercial information that often inundates our senses. Instead of allowing this to cloud our judgments, her words suggest we think for ourselves by clearly recognizing the differences that should appropriately influence our decisions. In doing this, we personally identify with the value of something.

Both the song’s sound composition and the visuals of the music video are a throwback to the 1960’s and ’70’s. The drum sounds are similar to The Ronnettes’ 1963 hit “Be My Baby” while the minimal imagery is also reminiscent of TV commercials from that era. Another noticeable quality is a visionary attitude adopted from famous British films like Tommy, a musical based on The Who’s rock opera. The video also borrows color schemes found in Yellow Submarine, based on The Beatles’ music. In speaking with the director Marco Tessiore, less conspicuous influences are drawn from iconic the Trevi Fountain scene in La Dolce Vita, one of his favorite films.

Bada is excited to talk about the “Nawagachi” video process. “It has vintage tone and multi-cultural casting! It was the only way to provide an accurate look at the truthfulness of the song”, she says when discussing the difference between this and past video projects. Some of the props used in the video hold significant value to her. “I brought many of my personal household things to the music video set [so] seeing my tea cups, plates, blankets and even pillows, fills my heart with a warm comfortable feeling when I watch the music video.”

Consider Bada’s future aspirations in the metaphorical context of a chef. Abiding by a cookbook’s instructions, and using the best ingredients, will usually result in a delicious dish. However, discovering the meaningful relationship that binds the chef to the particular choice of additives can lead to a dish richer in fulfillment. By achieving this particular state of connectivity, Bada hopes to release the ideas lurking deep within. She aims to create a distinguished main course by carefully selecting the different elements and thereby intuitively influencing the process by which the entree is prepared.

Obvious good fortune is not what got Bada to where she is. That’s not to say luck and motivation aren’t common subjects spoken about in her circle. At this point in her career, she describes luck as the opportunity to attach herself to the emotion radiating from the crowd. What motivates her is the ecstatic feeling of performing in front of people. Both are defined by appreciating the joy of her audience as they participate in the performance along with her.


~ by ripcitytoseoul on November 11, 2011.

One Response to “Together With Bada (NEH Magazine)”

  1. […] Together With Bada (NEH Magazine) « Rip City to Seoul […]

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