Many K-pop fans often complain that their favourite artists do not release new music often enough—just ask any Black Pink fan. The same, however, cannot be said for Jay Park. Since the beginning of this year, he has starred in a YouTube docu-series about himself, released a 17-track studio album and five MVs, and announced a world tour with stops in East Asia, Europe, North America, with more on the way if his tweets are to be believed.
The latest in Jay Park’s projects is Nothing Matters, a five-track EP with a surprisingly nihilistic title for an artist known for his goofy and fun-loving personality. Jay’s recent music has leaned more towards hip-hop than R&B and pop, and is full of features. I thus expected a similar sound from Nothing Matters, due to its title, but it is a surprisingly upbeat pop/R&B album that makes a great soundtrack for the remains of the summer.
Nothing Matters consists of five tracks, all produced by various producers. It opens with the Okayjjack-produced “All Day (Flex).” An upbeat, catchy pop song tinged with a groovy beat, “All Day (Flex)” features Yummda and Jay’s H1ghr Music label-mate, Haon and is about—if its title didn’t give it away—flexing all day. Jay and Haon rap about enjoying their days with a peace of mind few can afford, as all their bills are paid and they can still spend freely on anything they want. Even if, as Jay sings, that anything is a “diamond embed soju” which Jay showed off in his “Soju” MV.
Yummda’s part is limited to spoken lines at the end and the beginning of the song, unlike its MV, where it is peppered throughout the song at the risk of disrupting it. The end result is a song that’s catchy and fun to bop your head to as you enjoy a summer day.
“All Day (Flex)” segues into “Nothing Matters,” an Ugly Duck production. Rather than being a hard hip-hop song about nothing mattering in the shallow world of entertainment, which was what I expected, “Nothing Matters” is a plea from Jay to his lover to return to him because nothing matters without them.
“Nothing Matters” comprises a sparse trap beat punctuated with piano and synths, which allows Jay’s vocals and the emotion in it to shine. The listener can imagine him sitting in an empty room at night and missing his love, because the instrumental truly highlights the longing in his voice. I’ve enjoyed all previous Jay Park-Ugly Duck collaborations— “Mommae” still slaps—so I’m not surprised that I love this one, too.
“Yummy” follows up “Nothing Matters.” Produced by Jay’s longtime collaborator, Cha Cha Malone, and featuring Crush, “Yummy” begins with synth beats that dupe the the reader into believing that a slow R&B song is about to follow. However, “Yummy” morphs into a high-energy pop song with a melee of electro-hop, synth, and snapping beats. Jay Park and Crush are spending a day with his lover, whose presence is so enjoyable that it is “yummy.” “Yummy” is also another great summer song, and one that would be interesting if accompanied by an MV.
The next track is the Slom-produced “By Myself.” The song features a sparse beat complemented by a buoyant-sounding piano instrumental. Despite the bright sound of the song, the lyrics show vulnerability. Jay talks about taking care of people around him by himself, and having no one to share this enormous pressure with:
I’m here by myself, I’m here by myself
Where are you guys? I’m hurt but I only show up at parties, someone get me up
I’m taking care of everyone who’s grown up, and I’m not sure they’ll do the same thing
I don’t know if it’s going to be alright after a while, even if I’m crowded, I’m still alone
Who knows? Maybe God is alone, but no worries, I’ll get through it
Wherever I go, I don’t see anyone by my side
Jay confesses that he’s pretending that it’s all good, wonders who’s going to know his pain, and admits he doesn’t know what he’s holding onto. The song is a reminder that though Jay often puts up a goofy and fun-loving front, he faces enormous pressure as a CEO of two independently-established labels–whose artists’ well-being he feels responsible for–and perhaps as an independent artist who represents Asian-Americans in both Korea and the States.
The song is heartbreaking and makes the listener wish that Jay Park would consider resting, but also understand why he feels that he can’t. The simple instrumental spotlights Jay’s vocals and the emotions he want to convey, and is the best song on this album, not because of the meaning it conveys, but the excellence with which it conveys it.
The EP closes with “Encore,” which is also produced by Slom. In “Encore,” Jay releases all his anger following his sadness in “By Myself.” This anger takes the form of rapped verses over a steady, simple beat with small intervals of trumpets, as well as ringing synth sounds. The song’s hook, which consists of two lines (“Encore/Do you want more?”), as well as its lyrics, allude to Jay Park’s impending retirement that he has been hinting at for a while now.
Though the song is meant to be cathartic, it rings sad. The listener cannot help but feel that after his constant hustle, Jay is exhausted, but feels compelled to keep going because of the demands from his friends, his co-workers, and his fans.
Since the 11 years since Jay Park’s debut with 2PM, his ill-fated departure from the group, and his subsequent return to the Korean music industry, there is no doubt that he has grown as an artist. Jay has founded two independent music labels in Korea, used his given opportunities to numerous independent artists, and is always collaborating with new artists, producers, and video directors and even dance crews. Jay’s latest MVs have incorporated new editing styles and aesthetics, yet one gets the feeling from Jay’s music and online activity that he feels as though he has plateaued. Jay has posted several Instagram posts and tweets voicing his frustration that he feels like he is taken for granted, which is understandable given that he gets asked if he’s in BTS despite being in the industry for nearly a decade.
It is saddening to see Jay Park deprecate himself, be unsatisfied with his accomplishments, and feel plateaued. If anything is proof of his growth, it is this EP which showcases his willingness to be vulnerable and honest in his music and in his digital presence. To Jay Park, nothing may matter, but to his fans—as well as to the Korean hip-hop movement, and to the Asian-Americans who see themselves in him—he will always matter.