The following interview is an excerpt from Daebak Weekly, BuzzFeed's K-pop newsletter. You can sign up for more here.
On Friday, the 27-year-old South Korean R&B singer JAY B finally returned to the public eye with his debut solo single, “Switch It Up.” It was big, highly anticipated news: After the K-pop idol group Got7, of which JAY B (born Lim Jae-Beom) is the leader, announced their departure from JYP Entertainment earlier this year, many fans have speculated what's next for the artist. So when he announced that he had signed to hip-hop mogul Jay Park’s label H1GHR Music this week and revealed their first collaboration, it was no surprise that “Jaebeom” immediately started trending on Twitter. But between this new track and a brand-new era for JAY B as a stand-alone performer, what has he been up to? Well, learning to scuba dive during the pandemic, it turns out.
“I’ve always wanted to get a scuba diving license, and I finally have free time to take on the challenge,” he told BuzzFeed News.
But the newest H1GHR artist has still been grinding away at music. “Switch It Up,” which JAY B said was a close collaboration with Park and producer Cha Cha Malone, was his first project with the two well-respected industry figures. “In the beginning, I was a little bit tense because this was my first studio session with them, but I’m super satisfied with how everything came together,” he said. “I was a bit worried back then, but now I’m relieved that the song turned out so good.”
The song is undeniably sexy, with JAY B’s sultry vocals floating above a bouncy trap beat. He sings in English, “Baby ride my body / Nice and calm,” adding more fuel to the fire of our postpandemic Hot Girl Summer.
It’s new territory for him, and it’s a song he said he has been trying to make for some time. JAY B has long been an outspoken fan of R&B performers like D’Angelo and Chaka Khan. But when asked about what inspires his own music, he said he tries not to let influences get in the way as a creator. “I think I’m more strongly influenced by those artists whenever I practice vocals, but not when I’m composing a song,” he said. “There aren’t really any boundaries to the music I listen to. That’s why it’s kind of hard to narrow down my music to just one genre or style.”
His new single doesn’t have a specific message or origin story, he said; he just wanted to work on something different. “I hope it makes people excited to hear what I have next — but more than anything, I hope it shows that I’m pushing my sound in new directions,” he said.
When asked if he’s anxious about debuting as a solo artist, he smiled. “Yes, I’m a little nervous because the future is always uncertain for anybody,” he said. “But gradually I’m feeling more stable and relieved as I’m communicating and working in sync with the H1GHR team.”
Mostly, he admitted, he’s excited to see what people think of this new chapter in his career. “I’m hoping people who haven’t heard of me before might listen to my music for the first time,” he said.
When JAY B debuted in a K-pop group, it was 2014 and he had just barely turned 20 years old. It’s been several years since then, but he said witnessing the worldwide explosion of K-pop has been incredible. “As a Korean, I’m proud to see the K-pop scene grow day by day,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from it.”
It’s also instilled in him a philosophy of perseverance. He said he reminds himself not to “expect too much or get too disappointed” and to “always keep myself together and do what I must to get through the hard times.” It’s something he is taking with him into this new solo chapter as well, feeling thankful for his formative experiences. He said he talks most to Park about his anxieties and shares with him new musical ideas.
For the Aghases (the nickname for Got7’s fans) who are holding out for more music from the group, JAY B said it would be difficult to do this year. He’s focused on his solo career at the moment, although he’s hesitant to divulge what projects are on the horizon. But he still has some clear goals for the year ahead. One item on his bucket list? He hopes to be recognized as R&B Artist of the Year at both Western and Asian awards shows. “I’m not a greedy person when it comes to awards! But it would be great to have one,” he said, laughing.
But above all, JAY B hopes “Switch It Up” is a turning point. He’s far from the first K-pop group member to go solo, but he wants fans to get to know a different side to him. The song, he said, is “a new exploration of myself within a different music scene.”