By Sarina Bhutani
As Jay B settles into a late-night Zoom call from a conference room in Seoul, he is stoic as ever — the epitome of Capricorn energy. However, just ahead of the release of his first solo venture, the K-R&B star is facing a mix of emotions. Regardless of the massive success of debut solo single “Switch It Up,” which has topped the charts in 44 countries since its release in May, Jay B has not yet felt relief. “The feeling of success hasn’t marinated fully in me yet,” he tells MTV News. “The nervousness is still intact. The anxiety is still intact.”
As fans already know, before there was Jay B, there was JB, the leader of effervescent boy band Got7. After debuting in 2014 with “Girls, Girls, Girls,” the group worked steadily to become one of the most sought-after groups of their generation, releasing five studio albums, 15 EPs, and nearly 30 singles before parting ways with their label, JYP, at the turn of the new year. It makes sense that the excitement felt ahead of this release can feel, as he says, “more [like] a comeback than an industry debut.”
Though he has entered the next phase of his career, he looks back on that early time with Got7, of which he remains a member, with pride: “Being in Got7 is such a huge part of my career. It’s initially what shaped me as an artist.” However, when asked about the most important thing he took away from that experience, he smiles. “What still lingers even today, is… the hand gestures,” he says through laughter as he points aggressively with both hands at the camera. “That’s definitely what I took away from Got7.”
Despite some of the idol-isms that remain, much about Jay B has changed. He’s ditched the aegyo, the cutesy gesticulations and expressions often required of K-pop idols, at least for now: “The aegyo is still in there! My heart is bigger than ever and I’m open to it all, so if I needed to, I could still do aegyo, but… not today.” However, in leaving some things behind, he’s discovered himself to be a chameleon now, someone who can “mold into different characters and alter egos.” You see that best on his new EP Somo:Fume, out today (August 26). His first full solo project since joining Jay Park’s H1ghr Music earlier this year, Somo:Fume is different from what fans are used to from Jay B, but it’s still totally and completely his. Below, he tells MTV News about his reinvention and bringing Somo:Fume to life.
MTV News: You’ve said in the past that, since going officially solo, you feel you have more artistic freedom. How do we see that in these songs?
Jay B: The freedom that I feel is that my ideas, my creativity, and my direction does not get lost in translation and doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t get overridden by other people’s opinions. Now, my creativity is becoming more of a reality. It’s not that I have the freedom to do whatever I want with my music — that’s not it. It’s just that my ideas are being more prioritized here, and I feel like you see that in my songs.
MTV News: These songs seem a lot more personal to you. For example, you’ve opened up recently about your mental health struggles, which we see in the song “Paranoia.”
Jay B: I think you definitely see that freedom in this case. With “Paranoia,” it’s not really the most positive topic. It’s really personal and worrisome. But this time around, I wanted to open up and be more honest, versus before, I would think, maybe this is not the right thing to do. I would second guess all my steps and decisions. But now, even though it’s a sensitive topic, I wanted to open up on my own free will.
MTV News: Even though you’ve taken a break from being in a traditional group, you’ve kind of entered a new one since joining H1gher Music. Does it feel like you’re part of a new team?
Jay B: [Laughs] You hit the nail right on the head. I have a lot of pride in my label, labelmates, and company in general. I never feel like, oh, I’m this solo artist, it’s just about me. I don’t act that way and don’t want to be that way. If there’s a group chat I need to be part of, I want to be part of it. If there’s a teamwork thing that I need to be part of, I want to be part of it. I definitely feel like I have entered a new family, a new group, and I want to make sure that, if there’s anything in my power that I can do to help other artists on the team or help progress the company, I do that. I would also love to get help from the other artists too, so that it’s like real teamwork within the label.
MTV News: Aside from collaborating with Jay Park on “B.T.W,” you have a few other features on the EP as well: Mamamoo’s Whee In on “AM PM,” Junny on “Fame,” and G1nger on “In to You.” How did you go about picking them and why did you feel they were the right people for the songs?
Jay B: First of all, when I choose a feature, I just listen to the songs and already have an idea of who would be perfect for them. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll get to work with every one of them, but I line up who would be the best. With Junny and G1nger, they’re both close friends of mine. I really thought they were perfect, not only for the songs themselves, but also because they’re not really common names that you hear often. Not only are they so talented, but they could become better known through the feature, and that was important to me. Then, with Whee In, she graciously agreed to be a part of it when I asked. The song came out beautifully, and she matched it perfectly with her vocals. It was simple.
MTV News: You mentioned earlier how you’d love to help other artists on the team, and you mentioned it again with Junny and G1nger. Where does that desire to help come from? Do you have younger siblings? Is it from being the leader of Got7?
Jay B: [Laughs] I have no siblings, so it doesn’t come from that. Maybe it’s because I have no siblings that I want to help younger people. But I think it’s that I see positivity and excitement in everything. It’s not just about helping someone, but creating something new and exciting, working together as a team, and discovering new talent. It’s like a win-win situation. That’s where the attraction really is and what my motives are. Personally, I don’t think it’s from my leadership, just my general personality.
MTV News: A lot of fans have followed you over from Got7 and your other work, but there are also many who became fans after “Switch It Up.” How do you hope to maintain those initial relationships and keep them strong?
Jay B: When it comes to maintaining the Got7 fans, it’s a tricky question. I want the fans to continue to see me and keep their love for me. Nothing’s going to change. Just look at me and take me for what I am and who I am. I’m still me. But I really want to let the fans know that every one of the seven members are trying extremely hard to continuously do good work and maintain the name of Got7. Even today, we were talking and are still thinking of ways we can do something together so we can maintain the fandom and honor for Got7. We’re always thinking of new ways to progress, but it’s challenging.
MTV News: Overall, what do you hope your fans take away from the project? What do you want them to learn about you?
Jay B: In general, I just want people to listen and get to know me in this way. This is just the start of my solo journey, so there are no rules. It’s a free-for-all. What I can share is that this is how I made this EP, with these types of feelings, now how do you feel after hearing it? I want to hear about all the different ways it makes people feel.