Way Back Wednesday : Baek Ji Young
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No other K-pop star can say that they have been down the road that Baek Ji Young has traveled. Debuting as a sexy, sultry dance singer, she went through the most public of humiliations yet was able to transform herself into a confident, beautiful balladeer. She showed the industry that through hard work and with the help of loving friends and family, one could move on from a painful past and come out stronger and better than ever.
Baek Ji Young burst onto the K-pop scene in 1999 with her first album 'Sorrow'. The album capitalized on the worldwide explosion of Latin music, and the featured single "Choice" was one of the earliest K-pop songs to feature the beats and rhythms infused with Latin music. The second single from the album "Burden" was a pure techno, dance track, which was more in line with the type K-pop music popular at the time. Both songs and the album as a whole were considered successes. Following her debut, she was awarded with the SBS Best New Artist award.
Baek Ji Young quickly followed her success with her 2000 sophomore album 'Rouge'. The album became one of the biggest hits of the year and featured two very successful singles "Dash" and "Sad Salsa". "Dash" was one of the biggest hits of that summer reaching #1 on music charts and establishing her place as a star in K-pop on par with the other popular female singers of the day. Baek Ji Young's incredible vocal range is sometimes overlooked because of the Latin rhythms, but it was that vocal ability combined with her sexy image that propelled to her to the spotlight. "Sad Salsa" also reached the top spot, and for a brief moment, Baek Ji Young had reached the top of mountain.
During the peak of her popularity in the winter of 2000, a tape surfaced online that claimed to show Baek Ji Young having sexual relations with her manager at the time. The video caused one of the largest media scandals in K-pop history and embroiled the entire country in controversy. At one point, the video was distributed over 200,000 times in a single day making it accessible to nearly anyone who wanted to find it. Baek's initial reaction was to deny the allegations, however in December of 2000, she held a news conference and confessed that the person in the video was indeed her, and that the video was shot without her knowledge in 1998 prior to her official debut.
Baek's confession sparked a firestorm within the society, as the juxtaposition between a conservative culture and being one of the most wired countries in the world, revealed the opinions of different generations in terms of how they viewed the direction of the culture. It also brought to light some of the seedier practices of the Korean entertainment industry, which often required up and coming female hopefuls to perform sexual favors to men in positions of authority. However, there were cynics who believed that Baek not only knew she was being taped, but actively participated so she could move ahead in her career, and maybe even use it as leverage to serve to her own advantage when necessary. Needless to say, this was one of the lowest moments in K-pop's history.
Following the initial wave of the scandal, Baek attempted to continue with her career in the face of the backlash and released her third album 'Tres' in 2001. After a two-year break, Baek Ji Young returned with her fourth album 'Smile' in 2003. Singles from the album "Crash" and "Smile" were a continuation of her Latin themed music while "Depth" featured her emotion-laden voice in a more traditional ballad.
However, because of the residual effects of the controversy, Baek Ji Young was unable to properly promote the albums and wasn't even able to appear on television because of some bans against her. Baek took some time off and surrounded herself with family and friends as she attempted to move on and begin the next chapter of her life.
Finally in 2006, six years after the controversy and three years after her last album, Baek Ji Young made an emotional return to the spotlight as a newly transformed person. Gone were the Latin beats and revealing outfits, and in their place was a confident, beautiful young woman who unleashed one of the best-kept-secret voices in K-pop. Her return album 'Smile Again' featured the single "I Won't Love", her first #1 hit in six years which established her return to the industry that she once dominated. The music industry also recognized her triumphant comeback by awarding her with the MKMF Best Solo Female Singer Award and Golden Disk Popularity Award. She was also a finalist for the SBS Music Grand Prize award.
On the heels of her successful comeback album, Baek Ji Young released her sixth album 'The Sixth Miracle' which featured another flowing ballad "I Only Need One Love". The ballad was an emotional song that highlighted Baek's amazing voice as it traversed the emotional range of a woman waiting for her one true love. With this song, Baek slowly began to establish herself as a ballad singer rather than being known for the dance music she performed in the past.
Queen of Ballads
Just as she was making a name for herself as the Queen of Ballads, Baek Ji Young once again turned expectations on its head as she released her seventh album 'Sensibility' in 2008. The single "Give You My Lips" was an electro-pop track featuring some her dancing roots though more refined. However, it was the mega-hit "Like Being Shot with a Bullet" that would be most memorable from the album. The mid-tempo ballad was a runaway success and the perfect vehicle to showcase the emotion, range, and talent of the singer, eventually becoming her signature song.
In 2009, Baek released her mini-album 'EGO' which received much attention for the title duet with 2PM member Taecyeon. The song "My Ear's Candy" showed that the now older songstress could still keep up with the latest idol singers, proving that age was just a number. That same year she participated in the soundtrack for the mega hit Korean television drama series 'IRIS' by singing the hit "Don't Forget". It was considered one of the best songs from a soundtrack in recent memory, and that year, she was recognized as the MNET Asian Female Singer of the Year along with receiving five other awards despite not releasing a formal album.
In 2010, she continued her reign as the soundtrack queen with the song "One Woman" from the drama 'Secret Garden', which helped earn her the MNET Asian Music Best OST award along with four others. She's continuing to entertain drama audiences to this day as she released her eighth album 'Pitta' last year with the single "Normal".
Twelve years ago, no one would have imagined Baek Ji Young to be as successful as she is today. No one would have dreamed she would have this many number 1 hits, that she would make frequent appearances on hit variety show programs (including a very successful run on MBC's "I Am a Singer"), or that she would be willing to publicly disclose her relationship with her actor boyfriend, Jung Suk Won, whom is 9 years her junior. Baek Ji Young is considered one of the very best singers in K-pop, and she is the definition of a survivor. Through the hate, the anger, and the pain, she was able to find strength and solace with her family and refused to become a victim. She instead fought back and proved that you can't keep a star from shining.
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