Active veteran kpop artists are rarity, these days. With the kpop industry’s increasing reliance on young talent groomed in-house as idols, these stars of another era often have to rely on their inherent versatility and uniqueness to remain active. A mixed blessing, with long-term benefits over their younger counterparts, this provides them longevity in the Korean Entertainment industry.
It’s this versatility and uniqueness attribute that has served veteran kpop artist Lisa, quite well. Debuting 14 years ago as a solo artist, she has found success beyond the confines of MVs and music charts, in other avenue. Mostly in the increasingly popular musical theater, Lisa’s career pivot has her co-starring with current kpop idols who are at the height of their popularity.
Lisa’s next musical theater production is a heart-felt love story, “Last Kiss”, where she will co-star with several current kpop idols, most notably Suho from Exo, one of the most popular kpop groups today.
In anticipation of the Last Kiss, opening December 15 at the LG Art Center in Seoul, Korea, we spoke with Lisa about a wide range of topics, including her journey to being a kpop artist, then into musical theater, about the current evolution of kpop, and other fun stuff.
Part 1 – Bio
GMM: So, take us to the beginning. We know you debuted in 2003, but where were you born? Grew up? And, what inspired you to become an artist?
Lisa: I was born in Seoul, Korea. But, I grew up in several different countries – Malaysia, Sweden, Germany, Poland including Korea. My dad was a diplomat, so our family moved around quite a lot. It wasn’t very easy moving to different places as a kid, but now as a grown up I thank my parents for it. All of that traveling experience made me unique as an artist.
I loved music and art since I was very little, so I knew I was going to be part of this one day. I always liked being on stage and to share my talent made me happy. When I lived in Sweden I was lucky to go to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous concert and everything about him just blew me away! Ever since then, I wanted to be part of music.
GMM: Are you classically trained? Listening to some of your music, it’s like you exist in a sweet spot somewhere between kpop and classical sort of singing? Very melodious, but with deep and pronounced enunciations?
Lisa: I actually majored fine arts at Hongik University in Korea, so I never really was trained classically, but I did get some classical vocal lessons after I started musicals which helped me a lot.
When I was preparing for my own albums I listened to many artists albums studying their vocals. I can say they were my real teachers.
GMM: So basically, it looks like u were born to sing. How have you maintained your career, over such a sustained period?
Lisa: I guess my love for music makes me go on. Music gives me energy and gives me love and to be myself.
GMM: I watched some of your live performance footage in New York, and you move so comfortably between genres. One minute you’re singing a pop song, the next a jazzy tune, and then before long you’re off to an RnB jam. How did you develop such versatility and skill?
Lisa: Well, I always thought any kind of music that moved my heart was good music, so I didn’t mind listening to all sorts of music and to try them out. Maybe that’s why I feel comfortable with all kinds of genres.
GMM: Has this played a role in the longevity of your career?
Lisa: I think so. Being open to different genres led me to musicals which I love to do.
GMM: Do you have a favorite genre you like to perform?
Lisa: Can’t pick one, that’s hard but I am use to pop, Korean Rnb, ballads and musicals.
GMM: Do you have a favorite artist/actress (Korean or American) whose career inspires you?
Lisa: Oh yes, many. Like I told you earlier, I am a big fan of Michael Jackson. His music always inspires me.
I like India Aire, Beyoncé, Sara Bareilles and many more. I heard recently Sara Bareilles is doing a musical called Waitress with Jason Marz (also my favorite), and all her music is used in that piece. I would love to do something like that one day!
GMM: How has your inspiration(s) changed over the years? Does what motivate you yesterday still work today?
Lisa: Besides music, I get inspired by a lot of things that actually get me inspired to do music. I love art, I paint and have my on exhibition time to time. I love sports. I love doing season sports (skiing). I love watching movies, musicals and plays give me new ideas. My inspirations do change around, but they all do motivate me and give me new energy.
Part 2 – Kpop:
GMM: Let’s talk about the kpop industry for a minute. How has the industry changed over the years?
Lisa: Over the past few years most of the Kpop industry got focused with the idol groups. It’s a great thing for our country since some of the idol groups became so huge around the world .
GMM: What has changed for the better, and what do you think the industry has lost?
Lisa: Well, the idol groups did a huge thing by showing the world about Korean music and our culture, but because Kpop idols are the biggest issue, many of the other artists are shadowed by them.
GMM: When you look at groups like 2NE1, 4Minute, Wonder Girls and Girls Generation, do you think “youth” is overrated in the kpop industry, especially for female artists/idols?
Lisa: I think idols are all about the youth. Idol concept actually started in Japan having many young girls and boys as one group.
The younger you are the more they want you as an idol member.
GMM: But, your case has been different. After 14 years in the industry, you are busier than ever. Besides musical theater, you continue to release music and perform concerts. You released a single “No Matter”, not that long ago, and last year held a concert in New York City. What has been different about your trajectory?
Lisa: I started as a solo artist singing many heart breaking love songs. I was 23 when I made my debut so I could’ve been part of an idol group, but instead I chose to be a vocally focused solo artist, and that opened up opportunities for me to sing and write music and led me to musicals, and also to be able to perform freely whereever I wanted if the chance was given.
GMM: How much influence have you had over your career decisions? And, how much influence has your agency(ies) played or directed your path?
Lisa: Well, when I was making my very first album, I didn’t have much control over the album, but I actually liked that in the beginning because I believed in the experienced professionals who knew what they were doing. I went along with that and let myself learn about how things were run in this field. But after my first album, I wanted to be more involved with my album production and show more about, me so I tried to write more songs and lyrics to tell more about my story, and that let me feel more like a real artist.
GMM: A bit of a tangent – when I think of longevity in kpop, I think of artists like Kim Bum Soo. I had a chance to see him concert in NYC. Simply outstanding! And, I think he’s also had some roles in musical theater – I may be wrong, but didn’t he do Phantom of the Opera? Out of curiosity, have you guys ever done anything together, or crossed paths?
Lisa: I am a fan of Kim Bum Soo. I love his vocals and all the songs he worked on. I don’t think he has been in a musical yet, but I would love to see him on a musical stage.
We never got the chance to do anything together, but I totally would if we could.
GMM: Who are some of the other kpop idols and artists you’ve worked with? Both in music and in musical theater? Any favorites? Or memorable one?
Lisa: I worked with many idols like, Key (Shinee), Yang Yosup (Beast), uknowuknow (Dongbangshingi), Sungkyu (Infinite) and a few others. Honestly, they were all great. They really worked hard going back and forth between their idol schedule and musical practice and were perfectly fine as musical actors.
Part 3 – Musical Theater:
GMM: Live musical theater seems to be quite popular in Korea? How influential is the musical theater industry in Korea?
Lisa: Musicals have become bigger, and is getting bigger every year here in Korea. More musical productions are starting up and more idols are involved in many musical pieces nowadays and that probably means more number of fans for musical theater.
GMM: Demographically, who would you say it caters more towards? Or does it enjoy widespread appeal?
Lisa: Well, I think it depends on the style of the the show. Shows like Mama Mia is for every age, but shows like Bonnie and Clyde starring idols are more for the young fans.
GMM: How would you compare doing musical theater to doing just music, or even just theater? From your perspective how would you compare and contrast?
Lisa: It is actually quite different. Musicals are more about teamwork and partnership – it’s never about just you doing well, and also you need to become the character not yourself. But, as a solo singer doing music, it’s important to find yourself and show who you are and tell your own story.
GMM: You certainly seem to enjoy combining the two. How did you get your start in musical theater? Where you surprised you enjoyed it so much?
Lisa: I always liked musicals. My very first time seeing a musical was in London with my family. We went to see My Fair Lady and I was just blown away by the music and the stage – everything about it. That’s when I started to dream about being part of musicals one day.
After my debut, a musical director happened to see me on TV singing my song, and she wanted to work with me. So, she called me to be in her musicals. That’s how it started. I was really lucky to start my first musical with such a great director.
GMM: Have you had any dream roles in the past? And, what has been your favorite role, so far?
Lisa: If I could have the chance to, I would love to be part of all the musicals there are and try out all the characters. I loved all the shows that I was in, in the past. But, if I really had to pick one, its ‘Evita.’ I just love the songs in Evita written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I really felt like her, when singing her numbers and it took me to her heart each time I was performing. Thinking about it still gives me chills.
GMM: I listened to you sing the Evita theme song. Loved it! You made every lyric come alive. You really felt the song.
Lisa: I love that musical. I would love to be her again, someday!
GMM: I also listened to you once describe a character you played in the Turandot musical. And, you really delved into the psychology of the character, the Princess Turandot. How do you prepare for a role?
Lisa: First, I try to understand the character by doing research on what kind of background she comes from, what kind of situation she is in, her family relationships, friends, etc. And, with that I break down into smaller things like what she loves to do, dislikes to do, loves to eat, etc starting from all of the information given in the script. If I feel like I am lacking information I try to make some stories up for the character to make it smoother for me to understand.
GMM: It’s said you have a bright and fun personality, which probably makes you stand out a lot. Does this inhibit you from playing certain characters, or does it actually give you the bandwidth to play different characters? I imagine, its probably easier for a happy person to play a sad person, than it is for a sad person to play a happy person, correct?
Lisa: When I am just Lisa with my family and friends yes I am bright, funny and crazy sometimes. But, when I am given a character on stage, I am her not me. So I don’t know how others are but for me I could change into different characters.
GMM: So, is it more about being in tune with your emotions?
Lisa: Yes, I think so. Working on how to become the character and all the practices, to tune in with your emotions sounds like a better answer to me.
GMM: How do your co-stars factor into all this? Is it important to feed off their energy, or must you be ready to hold your own at all times?
Lisa: Even though you are given the same character, they present different energy, different explanations of their character.
As we both work on becoming a character we share ideas and try to find something new for the character.
Part 4 – Last Kiss:
GMM: Tell us about your next production, “The Last Kiss”?
Lisa: Yes this is the third time playing in Korea by EMK production. It’s my first time in this show. It’s about Austrian prince Rudolf’s love story (with Mary Vetsera).
GMM: And, you play the Countess Marie. Can you tell us about her character?
Lisa: Actually I am playing Larish in this show, who is Mary’s best friend and Rudolf’s closet cousin, who always worries about these two. She comes from a wealthy father and a actress mother. So, as she grows up she learns both sides of the world. She later marries a rich husband and she was a social butterfly everybody loved. Because of her background, she was good with connecting people and was known for that.
She is a very bright, happy, sexy and smart woman who enjoys the moment and believes in true love.
GMM: News of the production made a splash in the kpop world, when it was reported that Exo’s Suho will be making his musical debut in Last Kiss? Given your own transition and rich experience, what advice would you give to younger kpop artists and idols making their first appearance in a musical?
Lisa: Suho is doing great right now. I know that he is so busy going back and forth doing his group schdule and this. I just want to say to all the artists who are starting something new and doing two things at the same time, to eat well and be healthy to enjoy both! Good luck!
GMM: Are any other kpop idols appearing in Last Kiss?
Lisa: Yes, same role as Suho, Leo from the group Vixx and also Luna from the group FX will be playing Marie.
GMM: Last Kiss is a tragic love story, quite like Romeo and Juliet, but this one actually happened. A recurring theme in the musical is the phrase “it is better to die all at once than to die a little every day.” But, to me that almost sounds like a trap. What lessons can your audience learn or take away from the production, when it opens on December
14, at the LG Art Center in Seoul?
Lisa: I would like to say just come and check it out, feel the love in our musical and decide for youselves. It starts December 15th!
GMM: Do you have any favorite quotes that help you deal with tough situations?
Lisa: Well, towards the very end of the musical Last Kiss, Larish tries to stop Rudolf from letting Mary go because he is afraid that the country and his revolution will hurt her,
but Larish knows that this is true love, and was hard for her to see this couple let go of each other. Larish says to Rudolf, ‘but you love her…..’ This broke my heart when I read it.
It’s kind of hard to explain, so please come and see it! Lol.
Part 5 – Conclusion:
GMM: After this what would you love to do next?
Lisa: Maybe get back to making more music as a singer since it’s been quite some time. And also would love to do my own concert again.
GMM: Have you thought of possibly trying your hands at movies? Or is that too much competition at home for that career switch (Lisa is married to Kyu Lee, a renowned movie producer)?
Lisa: I would love to be part of movies too!! Actually not long ago I made a debut in a movie called ‘Ordinary Person’ a Korean movie starring Jang Hyuk and Sohn Hyunjoo. They wanted someone with actual experience as a singer. It was a tiny little part, but it was really fun being part of the movie for the first time.
GMM: When I speak to women in the United States, students, career women, entrepreneurs, etc, for many of them, its very important to have balance in their lives in order to find success. Does this apply also to you, and for Korean female professionals? If so, how do you practice and achieve balance, for success?
Lisa: I think it can’t be very different from any other woman with a career. I do think having a good balance is important. For me living as a singer , musical actress, painter is important but all before that my family comes first. I realized long ago that I am doing all the things I want to do to eventually share with my family and friends – that sounds like real success to me. Also to only lookup to your work is dangerous. Where will you go when the only thing you trust fails.
GMM: Without sounding too weird, looking at your videos from 2003 to now, you have taken very good care of yourself, and your voice. What can your fans learn about the way you treat your body and wellbeing, that they too can practice in their lives?
Lisa: I always try to stay healthy mentally and physically at the same time. When either one fails then the other one follows to fail. It’s almost impossible to not get stressed out in this business but I still try my best to think positive and stay happy because that’s why i am doing this.
I love doing sports, I use to be on the varsity basketball team in high school, I did little bit of baseball and also love doing silks which I always take lessons when I visit the US. Being active is away of staying healthy physically for me. It relieves stress and keeps me fit. These days I love to do Yoga and doing home training through youtube, there are so many great youtube channels you can follow to get fit, you just have put your mind to it. I think it’s important to move around alot, eat well and stay happy.
GMM: Lisa, you have been most gracious with your time. We thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and preparations to answer these questions. We wish you the very best in the Last Kiss and in your future work. Would you like to conclude with a message to your fans?
Lisa: I thank you for interviewing me !! Hope to meet you next time when I do somthing in the US.
Thank you all for your love and support!!!!
God bless you.^^
Click to learn more about Lisa’s upcoming musical “Last Kiss”.
Share – Comment Below – And, click the links below to stay up to date with us