Ailee held her U.S. concert at the Agua Caliente Casino and Resort in Rancho Mirage (east of the greater Los Angeles area) this past Saturday, November 14th, and Seoulbeats also had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Ailee for an interview.
Ailee is so intriguing. As a performer, she seems to be able to do it all. To top it off, she has a warm, bubbly personality. When talking about her time in the US, she speaks with a nervous excitement. She comes across as down-to-earth; but when the subject swings to her passion, her music, she demonstrates an extremely focused drive.
We met in her waiting room with the staff standing at a distance near the doorway. Ailee was sitting in front of the vanity mirror with a few light bulbs illuminating the area, and she was dressed in black with a flowing red jacket layered over. Ailee calmly sipped a small bottle of water, and she possessed an effervescent energy as she smiled and greeted me.
How are you feeling for your upcoming concert tonight?
Ailee: Well, I’m very, very excited because I’m back in the States, and I haven’t been here in a very long time to perform.
How does it feel being back in the US? Have you gotten a chance to see any family or friends?
Ailee: No, just one friend. He’s actually out here, and he’s going to perform with me tonight. So I’m really excited about that performance cause I started music with that friend. And also, I’m kind of nervous. I don’t really get nervous, but I’m only nervous cause I’m back in the States. It’s like my hometown…well not my hometown, but home country.
How involved were you in the creative aspect of your latest album? Which parts of music making do you enjoy the most?
Ailee: I was in control most of the time. I put in my ideas from the shooting of the album jacket cover, to the music video, to the music. I was involved a hundred percent. And the styles that I loved doing? That’s kind of hard because I tried a lot of different genres in this album, and not a lot of the sounds you can hear in Korea. So, I tried a lot of different approaches that K-pop hasn’t really heard yet. So, kind of dip my toe into new genres.
You mentioned dipping your toe in new genres, but is there a different genre you want to do in the future?
Ailee: Well, I kind of started on [the] rock genre with the song I did with CN Blue‘s Jonghyun. I don’t know if you know him. I don’t remember the English title of the song, but it’s called “잔을 채우고.” We worked on that song together. I think it’s “Filling Up My Glass.” “Filling My Glass?” I kind of did rock, but it was a rock ballad song. But, I kind of want to do like a fun…[pause]
Like a high energy…
Ailee: Yeah, rock type of song.
What direction do you see your career headed towards? Any goals that you want to accomplish?
I know it’s a big question.
Ailee: Yeah! That’s a really, really big question. My career-wise, I still have way too much I want to accomplish. But as of right now, I’m already working on my next album. So I’m really excited about my next album, but I don’t want to say too much. I just ended my promotions [for Vivid].
Ah okay. I’m glad to see that the cast is off.
Are you going to be dancing tonight?
Ailee: I think that’s the direction I want to go with my career…For me to promote without an injury! That would be like the biggest goal of my career right now.
How does it feel to represent Asian America in the Korean entertainment scene?
Ailee: Oh, there’s not much of a difference.
*(Jason Derulo‘s “Want to Want Me” starts playing on the venue speakers)
Ailee: Well, okay… BGM for our interview (laughs). I’m definitely proud because I can speak English. It feels good to represent both countries and I think that’s kind of what defines who I am in the K-pop industry cause I do kind of have an American swag in my music. So it’s definitely something to be proud of. But, not to boast.
And do you feel like your upbringing in the States helps you create a stronger connection with other entertainers in Korea that also have similar backgrounds, who also grew up overseas?
Ailee: Oh yeah, definitely. That’s why I do have a lot more Asian American friends in the K-pop industry. I think there’s that connection, though, because we all come to Korea from overseas, and we’re all very lonely. All our families are overseas, so we all naturally lean on each other. Other than that, there’s no real difference.
Are entertainers who grow up overseas treated any differently?
Ailee: No, not really. Unless our Korean is really bad, [then] they definitely do try to help us understand what’s going on. Other than that, yeah. Everyone is really nice.
Going back to music, who are your biggest musical inspirations?
Ailee: Definitely Beyonce. We got bad girl RiRi [Rihanna]. And Alicia [Keys]. Whitney [Houston].
You did a collab with Eric Benet for “Almost Paradise.” How was that experience and is there someone you would want to collaborate with in the future?
Ailee: Well, I was really thankful that I got an opportunity to sing with Eric. And we actually did a concert in Korea together, too. That was an amazing experience. We got to sing some of his songs. And yeah, I was just mindblown. I was like a little fangirl. And, I would definitely like to work with Eric again. He was amazing. And um maybe…Chris Brown. And you know. Beyonce. I would love to sing with them one day.
Anything else you want to say to your fans?
Ailee: Well, I’m really thankful for this opportunity, for me to come back to America and perform. At first when I heard about coming here, I was really nervous. But I’m sure the crowd tonight is gonna ease my nerves, and I’m really excited. Thank you so much for all the love and support, always.
The concert began shortly after the interview. Just before the concert got underway, there were supportive messages playing on the jumbotrons from various K-entertainers such as AOA, CN Blue, Shin Bora, Jessi, and Fly to the Sky, all wishing Ailee a successful concert.
The MC at the event mentioned that she was still recovering from her injury but that did not seem to hinder Ailee. She was energetic and on point throughout the night. Right off the bat, Ailee showed her dance moves, with performances of “Don’t Touch Me,” Ariana Grande‘s “Problem,” and “Johnny.” Amongst a sea of rainbow colored light sticks, she drew energy from the crowd and gave the audience a show to remember.
After these first few songs, Ailee mentioned how she was performing in sneakers for the first time. She joked about how aside from one large jacket, she didn’t really pack for cold weather because she assumed the desert was going to be warm.
Her backing band entered the stage for this next portion of the concert, which was all about the vocals. Ailee’s voice is so smooth. I think hearing her in person definitely made me more in awe at how in control she is of her instrument. Her voice moves like a ballet dancer, graceful with an unyielding strength that propels itself in intricate patterns through the air.
The night certainly revealed the versatility of the young singer. Between her pop dance numbers, Immortal Song vocal performances, and her other special stages, Ailee proved that she could do it all.
Underneath the sheen of her performance, there is still this very friendly personality that comes through. At one point, she drops the JYP whisper (in response to someone in the crowd mentioning Park Jin-young) before breaking into a performance of Michael Bolton’s “Georgia on my Mind,” in which she added impromptu lines, at first exchanging the ‘Georgia’ part for an audience member’s name before singing “Cali on my mind,” which was extremely pleasing to the California-based crowd.
Of her special stages, her two Beyonce covers stand out. Her rendition of “Halo” stood eminent in its own color as Ailee elongated “Don’t fade away,” adding in some glorious vocal runs. She also brought out her friend Danny Chung (formerly known as Decipher) for her cover of “Crazy in Love.” She has known him since she was 15, and stated that he’s helped her through thick and thin, jokingly mentioning that he knows everything about her. They performed a second number “Catch me if you can” — where Ailee had a rap section — to close out the night. Ailee of course came back to do an encore and had the crowd on their feet at the close of the night.
A big thank you to Ailee, her staff, and the folks at Hugh Entertainment for giving us a chance to talk with Ailee and to cover her US concert!
(Images from YMC Entertainment and KBS)