It's been 12 years since Lee Ji-hoon's debut, but he is 'still' careful to define himself. The word 'still' may sound odd, but that seems most fitting. It's because he has overcome dangers that don't happen easily, and he is beginning to bear fruit for his longtime prayers. Lee Ji-hoon, who is turning thirty this year, says that his life so far has only been an introduction.
The thing I need is not a break but energy
"One glass of hot cocoa".
Mid-June brought an earlier heat wave, and Lee Ji-hoon, who we met at a cafe, ordered hot cocoa. Hot cocoa on a day for refreshing iced tea… He laughs and explains, feeling the eyes of the reporter on him.
"I didn't get to drink it this morning. I have filming left in the afternoon, so I'm going to replenish my calories". MBC drama "New Heart", which started November 2007 ended in February, in March and April, made his album and started filming KBS drama "You Are My Destiny", Japanese show in May and release of his sixth album ' The Classic '. Lee Ji-hoon, who has come nonstop, didn't need a break but replenishment. In the midst of his busy schedule with drama filming, interviews, and television programs, he is heavy-hearted for the lack of his album activities.
"It's my first album in four years. I wanted to go around several districts and share my music but I'm so busy with my drama schedule that I can't find the time".
Since he's a supporting character and not the main, he started the drama thinking that there wouldn't be a big problem. However, with the rising viewing rates, Lee Ji-hoon's role also grew.
"The character of Kangtae-poong is the one who connects all the characters together. Thankfully, the writer developed my role a lot. I believe it'll only get bigger".
The disappointment with his album activities will only be solved with time. He set aside thoughts of ending it abruptly and plans to declare a war. He plans to sing until this fall.
"There is a disappearance of famous songs these days. Before, if I released one album, there were a lot of songs that received love for more than a year, but the speed at which the public's taste changes is getting quicker. It gets popular fast and goes down fast. It's very unfortunate".
He has met the public as an actor rather than a singer for several years, but he has never let go of the string of being a singer. As a singer, he wasn't planning the break he had recently.
"I entered the industry at a young age, and I adjusted well with no trouble. I wanted to form my own identity without someone to lean on. I planned my own schedule, studied a character when a scenario came in, signed contracts at movie production companies, and drove all by myself. And I was able to learn the hardships of managers and producers. I learned, 'Although he looks calm on the outside, he's not. It's not easy'. I think I've matured now".
In 1996, he debuted with 'Why the Sky' in high school, and as an idol star, there was not much he could do by himself. He received help from his manager for things that an average person does easily, such as receiving a certified resident registration or bank affairs. Only in 2004 did he leave his entertainment company for the first time, truly 'standing alone'.
If the people around him had made Lee Ji-hoon before, he is now forming his own self. His recent album has that theme in it. He used to just sing and leave everything up to others, but this time, he worked on the album design, music video, and communicated well with the songwriters. He is disappointed that he can't spend his time on doing his music that he spent so much time on, but he is thankful for the work he has now. He is acting, singing, and participating in variety shows, and I asked his 'main line of work'.
"I don't think I have anything like that. Of course, there is passion in the moments when I'm saying. It's the same when I'm acting or in variety programs. If there are people who look out for me and need me, I want to show them my best. I'm just thankful that there are people who want me".
It's been 12 years since his debut. I call him a genuine idol, 'the original idol', and he jumps up and asks to call him 'middle-aged'.
"As an actor, I'm still a newcomer. In the music industry… well, I'm a lot older. These days, if I stay in the waiting room in the broadcasting buildings, there are many juniors who come to pay respects to me. Inside, I think, 'They're becoming hospitable to their seniors. That's a relief'.
It seems that he doesn't realize how respectable he is to singers who are debuting. He didn't seem to have the pride as an 'original idol'. Except for the fact that he's more comfortable when he meets people and he defines relationships differently, he says there's not a big change from 12 years ago.
"If you took out 'loyalty', I was simply a corpse. If it was a friend's request, I did anything for them, and if they called me in the middle of the night, I went to them. If I had kept my loyalties by sacrificing myself, I believe that now, I should keep my loyalties by taking care of myself. Competition is fierce, and it even exists between friends. I realized that you can only maintain relationships if you somewhat match their level. If you keep comparing yourself with others and believe that you're not good enough for them, that relationship doesn't work out. I have thoughts about investing in myself and building substance. There were many times that I overlooked things because they were friends, and I would experience heartbreak alone. If friends can't understand that, it's not friendship. It was a situation that everyone could have understood, but I didn't know".
Listening to his story, there are two people that come to mind. Kangta and Shin Hye-sung. They were the three who were rumored to be close, and they debuted at similar ages and had similar problems and helped each other. They are the style to not say a word and support each other for things concerning work.
There is also an organization called '79 Club' that comes to mind. '79 Club' consists of Park Kyung-rim, Lee Ki-chan, Lee Hyori, Lee Soo-young, and others who were born in 1979, and is currently 'broken up'.
"Three or four years ago, we met quite often. We met regularly about twice or three times a month, had drinks, and talked, but we don't do it anymore. They all like drinking except me. I had the role of cleaning up after them (laugh)".
Since youthful men and women met, there must have been thoughts of dating none of them, but he says he never saw Lee Hyori and Lee Soo-young as women. When he decides they're friends once, they're always friends. There is no chance that friends and a woman with a boyfriend will be promoted to a lover. He is different from the 'player' image he gets from television.
"Many people see me like that because I'm sentimental and very thoughtful. There are many who think, 'He seems to be vain. He must have met a lot of girls', but most of my friends are guys". He said he truthfully mostly avoids women and makes an expression that he feels falsely charged for his image. I also asked him about the recent scandal with Shin Bong-seon.
"I sent a text message saying I was sorry to Bong-seon. I got a favorable impression from seeing her on television. I just said it because I was able to film with her, but I didn't know things would get this big. It seems Shin Bong-seon also heard things from here and there. This is why you have to be careful about what you say on show programs (laugh)".
The first page of my 30s
Lee Ji-hoon always seemed relaxed. Maybe we can call it the dignity of having been in the business for 12 years. He doesn't become confused or agitated easily. If you think about it, it seems he was like that from his debut. The public can see that his life has flowed like water, without any big troubles, and it seems he'll continue like that. But even for him, there was a crisis.
"If you tell me to talk about my memories, I don't have any. Since I started my social life early, I don't have the memories of childhood experiences. Since I earned money from high school, I was well off financially, but I regretted that I grew up without being able to do the things I wanted to".
This is why he gets worried when he sees younger singers entering the industry at an earlier age than when he debuted.
"After debuting early and getting popular, they may get hurt when they feel that their popularity is declining. I thought about that a lot too. If I can't make it here, what do I have to do? Do I have to die? If I had to, I would have to get by somehow… I get really frustrated about what I have to do".
He is in the top 1% of entertainers who have constantly received the public's love. If you are famous, you always have the uneasiness about when you'll be neglected. For Lee Ji-hoon, it was in his mid-20s. The thing that held him together was his religion.
"Prayer was more powerful to me than the comforting words of others. The thing I prayed about produced good results. When I first started acting, there were few singers turned actors, and public opinion was not positive. But that has changed. Directors and producers see me favorably too. I really tried hard to be considered worthy. It was probably the same for others in similar situations".
Now, there are some answers. In the midst of a busy schedule with dramas, shows, albums, and musicals, he was able to succeed in everything because he believed that everything would work out through his prayers.
He calls his 30s the 'first page' of his life. "I believe that the past 12 years of my life in the entertainment industry is the introduction of a book called 'Lee Ji-hoon'. I often say that I am in the middle of rehearsal. Now, I think I know that this is how I'm supposed to do things. Since my 30s are an introduction, the main story will be at my 40s? The conclusion, who knows? I want to perform as a singer in front of thousands. I don't know if it'll be in Korea or in Japan, but I want to. If I grow naturally as an actor with time and experience, I believe I can become productive like Shin Goo and Lee Soon-jae".
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"[Interview of the week] Thirty, rehearsal is over! Entertainer Lee Ji-hoon"
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