Interview: Lydia Paek

Lydia Paek in Toronto
Lydia Paek in Toronto

I remember the first time I heard Lydia Paek on YouTube – wow, it’s been a few years now – I was captivated by her soulful voice. So of course, when I heard (yay, social media) that she was doing a few intimate shows in Toronto, I made sure that I caught one and had a chance to chat with her afterwards.

While I would have loved to have heard more from her, as the set was quite short (probably because the show started more than 2 hours after it was advertised), Lydia wowed the crowd during her performance. It was easy to see that she had fans as the young guy beside me was definitely happy watching her sing. Despite the wait, the crowd seemed happy with the show.

I chatted outside the venue, Hapa Izakaya (great service, I’ll definitely have to go back and try more of their food), with Lydia and found her to be genuine, funny and super lovely. Plus she gave super long answers which makes for a fabulous interview! Definitely visit her YouTube channel and check her out if you’re not already familiar with her. And if you’re a BigBang fan, you might know her from her official cover of Tae Yang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips.”

Lydia Paek in Toronto
Lydia Paek in Toronto

The Interview with Lydia Paek

Hi there, can you please introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Lydia Paek.

You work for YG Entertainment as a songwriter, how did that come about?

Two really good friends of mine, about four years ago, four years and then two years before that, they were choreographing for Tae Yang and the BigBang guys. They’re really good friends of mine from L.A. and they went out there to choreograph for BigBang and then I guess they just mentioned my name or you know, showed them my YouTube videos and they were interested. That’s how everything got connected so I thank my great friends for introducing me.

Have you faced any challenges as a Korean-American working in the Korean music industry?

Um, challenges, I guess maybe the culture is a bit of a challenge. I’m pretty adaptable to anywhere I go or whatever culture but I think what gets me the most is I feel like everybody is made in the image of God, and with his hands, and everybody is beautiful. But in certain areas of the industry or even in the culture, they really… I guess you could say Korea is big on plastic surgery and stuff, right. And looking really skinny and pretty with long legs and great hair. I’m not one of those types of girls you know. I’m short.

But you have great hair.

It only stays this big because it’s dead. [laughter] I have tricks but thank you though. But yeah, I don’t have the big eyes, I have small eyes so it kind of gets to me sometimes. I’m proud of who I am and how I look. I love looking like my parents and my brother so I wouldn’t change anything. But at times it is a struggle.

Also I think just being a woman in general. Korea is still a bit, not new, but there has been a history of kind of looking at woman as lower than men. I think it’s not too much of a struggle now but here and there, rarely, but I do get a bit of that kind of energy or vibe. Other than that, I’m pretty much an L.A., So-Cal kind of girl so if anyone gives me that time of shade, I will be like, you know what, screw you. [laughter]

Lydia Paek in Toronto
Lydia Paek in Toronto

Where do you get your songwriting inspiration?

Oh my gosh, inspiration from everywhere. My friends, like that are in relationships, cheesy chick flicks and Korean dramas. But you know, it’s those types of stories that people can relate to. Also there are bits of truth, if not the whole story. Sometimes I do write from my own experiences as the whole song or the concept is from my own experience or sometimes I have bits of experiences that I went through in it. Maybe one or two, or maybe the second verse might be something I went through but the first verse is nothing that I went through.

So it’s a bit of a mix and match in what I feel. Inspiration doesn’t really come right away, you go into the studio and sometimes you leave without making anything because inspiration is hard to come by sometimes. So always keep your mind open.

You’re an inspiration for North American songwriters who might want to work in the Korean music industry, any advice you can give aspiring songwriters?

I think, the best songwriters, when you’re true to your work and you’re writing your life, your stories, with your imagination and your inspiration; you’re really getting into people’s minds and souls.

I feel like, it’s um, what was I going to say. I go off on tangents and then I lose my flow, so sorry.

But I think giving the truth about what you’ve been through and writing about it, it’ll touch other people. It might help people get out of a really bad situation, you know, or a sad situation, maybe even enjoy more or make a happy situation more happy. I feel like when you keep writing, and also reach anyone and let the focus of your work come from your heart and soul so you reach out to people, I think that’s the key to any success.

If you’re doing for the fame, if you’re doing it for the money, I’m not judging on anyone’s hustle or trying to bag on anyone’s hustle but, because everyone wants to get somewhere, right. But at the same time, I feel like it’s not going to go very far for you and it’s going to be very mediocre, very ignorant type of music. Music these days is catchy but there’s no meaning behind it, you know. At least the ones that are like number one, there’s a couple, a couple of great ones but I just feel like I want music that has meaning. I hope that they really take from their own experiences to write.

I think overall, whether you’re doing music or whether you’re trying to be a singer or a dancer or anything in the industry, when you keep true to your heart and grounded is when you attract that same type of energy. If you write from your heart, you’ll reach the people that you want to reach. And that’s what I advise other aspiring writers.

That’s great advice! You have your own YouTube channel where you do a lot of great covers, which song was the most fun to cover?

Oh my gosh, actually I’m putting out some in the future right now that are really fun. Which one is the most fun one, I don’t know. Well, “Eyes, Noses, Lips” the English version was really fun but it was shot by the company, it wasn’t shot by myself. That one was really, really fun.

But if you were talking about ones that I recorded like literally on my iPhone, um, I think it would have to be, I don’t know about fun but I really enjoyed singing Bonnie Iver’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. I love that song, such great lyrics. Yeah, that one.

What’s the funniest or most unusual thing to happen to you on stage while performing?

Performing, hm, I’ve never tripped, thank God, and I hope it never happens. Oh, I remember. I was like singing or something and I had a ring and it literally flew off but for some reason I saw it and I just went, snatch, and I caught it while I was dancing. I was doing this and I just snatched it.

And another unusual thing is that I always have to go pee, I always have to go pee when I step on stage. Because I drink too much water before.

What do you like to do for fun (when not performing, dancing or making music)?

Oh my gosh, I love cooking, I love baking. I love, there’s so many things, I love cooking, I love baking… I love drinking wine. But I’m very, very lightweight drinker so when I say drinking wine, I mean one glass and one glass just gets me. I’m not a heavy drinker although a lot of people say like, ‘oh wait, what happened, I thought you’re a Korean so you should be able to drink’ and I’m like, I don’t know.

But yeah, cooking and baking and sewing, I love sewing, and I love watching anime movies and comic books.

Lydia Paek in Toronto
Lydia Paek in Toronto

I’m sure you’ve been asked this before but our readers would love to know about the YG artists you’ve worked with. Do you have any fun stories you can share? Any cute stories?

I have a lot. First of all, they’re just, I feel like people expect me to say something gossipy or something. But honestly, each and every one of them are so kind-hearted and not only are they so talented but they’re such great people and you know, that’s so important. I know that YG does a good job of keeping everyone, or at least reminding everyone, to keep grounded and humble. And I think that’s what gets you there, that’s what keeps it going for a very long time and I feel like, ah, they’re so amazing, each and every one of them.

I swear I’ve never had a problem with any of them; they’re great friends of mine. They’re people, you know, with purpose and they’re role models for people, you know.

So I guess, the first time I met T.O.P, I thought he was always like this cool, doesn’t really say much kind of guy. But the first time I met him, he started mimicking the Toy Story monkey. Like he sat on the floor and started like bouncing up and clapping his hands, you know like the monkey with the cymbals. Yeah.

Oh what else, this one time me and Tae Yang and another friend of ours as well who also choreographs for them, we went snowboarding. Tae Yang was all covered up with you know, snow gear and we were going to the highest peak. And was a guarded lift, it wasn’t like one of those lifts that you can jump off of, it was with a door. The girl that was working the lift was like, ‘Are you Tae Yang?’ I don’t know how she recognized him but one of our friends is like, ‘Man, I told you that you look like him. Everyone says that you look like him.’ And so she never got to find out it was him and we went on the lift.

Another thing, in “The Baddest Female,” the song for CL where I was in the music video for her where at the end I was combing her hair, I remember I was really hungry so I ended up just taking a piece of gum from my purse and just chewing it because I was so hungry. And then she goes, ‘Oh, I need you to act a bit, like cattier, like have this attitude face while you’re brushing my hair and mouthing the words.’ I was like, okay. And I didn’t realize but I was chewing gum which made it actually, me chewing gum made it actually look like I was the b-word, you know what I mean like not a nice person. So it all kind of worked out just because I was hungry. I really don’t know how to make that kind of face but chewing the gum, that helped.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2015 and 2016?

More music, that I’ve written. And also hopefully, my music. I’m working on my own stuff so I hope that people also will enjoy what I do and I think that I’m just in the process of putting together something that’s not like mediocre or empty words. I really want to put something out there that’s going to be effective. I don’t care if the world hears it, if one person is able to connect with me, that’s all that matters. I can’t wait, I’m excited.

I’m going to be doing a lot of stuff, a lot of projects, a lot of videos are coming out so please look out for that. And I’m so grateful to every reader, every viewer, it’s so great, thank you.

Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you so much, thank you.

Just the facts: Social media edition

Huge thanks to Lydia for taking the time after her show to chat with us. It’s much appreciated! And don’t forget to check her music out if you haven’t already!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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