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Jackson Wang Still Believes in “Magic”

"If you’re having a bad day and through my work you can be entertained and smile, I’ll be happy," Wang says of his new album

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jackson wang interview
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    Jackson Wang doesn’t get writer’s block.

    From many other artists, that might be a statement that feels hard to relate to. From multi-hyphenate Wang — who speaks four languages fluently, storyboards his own music videos, writes and produces much of his own music, runs a fashion brand, and competed as a nationally ranked fencer prior to diving headfirst into the music world — it’s entirely believable.

    Wang hails from China (“This is Jackson Wang from China” is common refrain for the artist), and moved to Seoul as a teenager to train with JYP Entertainment, one of the “big three” labels in K-pop. He then debuted in GOT7, a still-active seven-member group that now operates independently from JYP.

    Within the world of K-pop, Wang has a reputation, especially in the United States, as being something of a great equalizer. Across fandoms and entry points to the subgenre, he seems to be something just about everyone can agree on.

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    Upon hearing this assessment during a conversation with Consequence, he’s pleasantly baffled, insisting that he’s never heard anything of the sort. “Thank you to everyone, if that’s real,” he says. “I want people to take care of themselves and be someone they’re proud of in their industry. For me, if you’re having a bad day and through my work you can be entertained and smile, I’ll be happy. I hope that people, whether they’re my fans or not my fans, take that and go fly.”

    The day we are speaking, Wang is in recovery mode. He’s just performed at 88rising’s Head In the Clouds Festival, which was followed by an afterparty he describes as an event populated by everyone he’s ever met. (“I feel like if my parents were there, it would’ve been my whole world,” he says.) Even so, a day of physical rest still included writing a treatment for his next music video for MAGIC MAN, his sophomore solo album, which has arrived as of Friday, September 9th.

    Wang’s more hip-hop heavy 2019 solo release, Mirrors, felt like a natural progression from his roots in GOT7; with MAGIC MAN, he strikes as an artist spreading his wings. This album is wonderfully dramatic and indulgent, with more rock-tinged tracks providing a perfect vehicle for his raspy vocals. Songs like “Champagne Cool” and “Come Alive” feel akin to the modern, Harry Styles-type interpretation of what a rock star can be. There are also poppier moments alongside more vulnerable tracks — closer “Blue,” a song he describes as a song he cried over many times, takes him back to the day he left China to become a trainee in Seoul.

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    “I feel like with this generation, music is music,” he says of the album’s genre-fluid essence. “The only thing that matters is how much can people relate to it. Everything, to me, is art.”

    The album was preceded by two singles, “Blow” and “Cruel.” The former is an absolute explosion of theatricality — think The Phantom of the Opera if it slayed. “This album is more inspired by modern art and contemporary choreography,” he explains, describing incredibly detailed rehearsal processes that aim to get every camera angle perfect prior to shooting. “The way I like my visuals to be done is like a musical.”

    Wang has a hand in almost every part of the creative process, from outlining the stories he wants to tell in a music video to the costuming, lighting, and production design. He shares that the reason he started learning production was to ensure that he was able to communicate his vision entirely — he wanted to know how to speak the language required bring his plan for a song to life. He travels with his producer and portable gear — MAGIC MAN was recorded throughout China, South Korea, and Los Angeles. The album’s cohesiveness, from the tracks within it to the visual accompaniments, are the result of Wang learning the craft from as many angles as possible.

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    This is why he doesn’t ever experience what most people would call “writer’s block,” he explains. For him, it’s more of a matter of thinking outside the box. “I always try to beat my previous self,” he says of the elaborate choreography and dazzling visuals. “Honestly, for this album, these might not be the ‘best’ or most viral videos with the most views, but to me, I think it’s something that I’ve always wanted to try. It’s something I believe in.”

    As with so many creatives, he’s always looking ahead to the next thing, raising the bar for himself. Failure is normal to him, he explains, circling back multiple times in the conversation express appreciation for the fans who have been there with him from the start, and through work he doesn’t think of so fondly these days. He doesn’t feel the need to take a break or find ways to recharge in the more traditional sense when he loves his work this much.

    “I just want to share my artistry,” he shares. “It might sound super cheesy, but it is what I think inside… I just want to leave something behind. We’re living this life where we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I just hope I can work and create something that means something to some people — leave something behind before I’m gone.”

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