How K-pop’s Eric Nam is breaking into the mainstream |
Pushing Culture Forward: How K-pop’s Eric Nam is breaking into the mainstream

Pushing Culture Forward: How K-pop’s Eric Nam is breaking into the mainstream

By Olivia Munson

From hosting two podcasts to performing across the globe, K-pop singer Eric Nam has accomplished a lot within his seven-year career.

Nam rose to fame after placing in the top 5 on the popular South Korean program “Star Audition: Birth of a Great Star 2.”

However, nothing has meant more to the Atlanta-born singer than his North American leg of his “Before We Begin” tour.

“My goal and dream were always to work in the States. I came to Korea because it was the only place that gave me an opportunity to become a musician,” Nam says.

Nam is ready to return to the road and perform new places, like Phoenix, where he plays The Van Buren on Sunday, February 2. Nam is one of the few K-pop acts to perform in the Valley, and he believes that most artists tend to overlook the city.

“Phoenix was a place I was really adamant on going to,” he says. He recommended the city to management after friends and fans begged for it.

“And here we are,” he says.

Nam’s last U.S. tour was two years ago, so fans can expect a completely different show, complete with music, dancing and comedy. Nam is trying his best to incorporate “bodyrollage” throughout the set.

With K-pop, it is a lot more than music; it’s a culture and lifestyle. When it comes to idol production, Nam believes the common denominator is choreography in arenas. As a solo artist, Nam finds this is not always achievable.

“There are limits to what I can carry on my own performing, as opposed to splitting it up amongst seven or eight or 10 people,” he says.

To set himself apart from other acts, Nam uses his “weapon of choice”—conversation.

“I do my shows in English wherever I am, except Korea. In Asia, English is going to be a second, if not third, language for a lot of people. Connecting with people is a lot easier in the U.S. and Canada,” Nam says.

So Phoenix, be prepared for “storytelling, a mini TedTalk, almost like a lecture.”

“I want this tour to be a celebration not only for me, but for the people who come to show and spending their time and energy to come hang out with me,” he says.

Nam wants his fans to walk away feeling good, confident and with a love for the show and what he brings to the stage.

The tour’s namesake comes from Nam’s latest album released last November. “Before We Begin” is his first full-English album, and Nam hopes it can pave the way for him to come back to the States.

Each song reflects a different period within a relationship—the love, breakup and regret—whether it is the existentialism of “Love Die Young” or lightheartedness of “You’re Sexy I’m Sexy.”

Though he did not intend to portray this entire spectrum, Nam simply wanted to create music that was true to him and his sound, regardless of the message.

“Putting an English album out is a way to move culture forward,” he says. “To help break down those barriers and those preconceived notions of what Asian and Asian American can do.”

Growing up in Atlanta, Nam did not see many like him within mainstream media. Not until recently did Nam begin to see representation diversified.

“When I first started my career, those opportunities weren’t there. The social media networks that have really catapulted K-pop and Asian faces into the main sphere of entertainment weren’t readily available,” he explains.

Since then, American culture has drastically changed and Nam is happy people are beginning to embrace those who look and sound different than them.

“Music and entertainment do not have to be in your native tongue. It doesn’t have to look like you,” he says.

As K-pop continues to grow, Nam hopes people come to understand the genre is all encompassing.

“Within (K-pop) you have multiple layers of idols, solo artists, R&B and jazz. Right now, I think the focus is on the big groups with purple hair and flashy jackets,” he says. “There are incredibly talented R&B and solo artists, and hopefully people will get to dive into the deeper realms of K-pop.”

Though he is performing all around the world, Nam wishes to push more content out in the United States, whether it’s through music, film or television.

Nam has plenty planned for the future—more music, podcasts and digital work—and he hopes to prove the naysayers wrong.

“There is so much room for representation and growth for Asian and Asian Americans and anybody of diversity to be shown in American media,” he says.

And with the show in Phoenix, Nam plans to make his mark.

“To be one of the first (K-pop acts in Phoenix) is an honor, and hopefully I put on a show that is a great first impression for a lot of people and gets people more into K-pop and the music scene,” he says.

Eric Nam, The Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, 480.659.1641,, 8 p.m. Sunday, February 2, tickets start at $32.