'American Idol' Alum HeeJun Han Enlists Rapper Pusha T for New Song, Video
Korea-based label Polaris plans an international release for "Bring The Love Back," the first single by the season 11 finalist.
Dusk was falling when The Hollywood Reporter arrived at the Pink Motel and adjacent Cadillac Cafe, a popular retro film location in Sun Valley, Calif., where season 11 top 10 finalist HeeJun Han (who just goes by HeeJun these days) and a crowd of 60 extras were on set with director Sylvain White and some classic cars for a nighttime shoot for HeeJun’s debut single, “Bring the Love Back.”
The song, written and produced by the hot team of Kadis & Sean, will be HeeJun’s first single for the Korean-based Polaris label and will be released internationally, including in the U.S. and Korea. After HeeJun’s season on American Idol, he says he recognized that, “After the tour, maybe one of 10 signed to a label, and I realized this is something you have to hustle for. No one is going to come up and ask you to record, so I went back to Korea.”
HeeJun lived in Korea prior to his time on Idol, but found life difficult when he couldn’t get a record deal. Things were different this time.
“I had meetings with 10 labels," says HeeJun. "I pursued [Polaris] for three months. They wanted to release my album in Korea, but I told them I was confident of being successful in the States. I said, ‘Why don’t you guys fund and support the whole project?’”
Label execs agreed and HeeJunreturned to the U.S. and went right to work in the studio. “Kadis and Sean were playing music and I wasn’t really feeling it. We were about to go home. Then they played this one song and I said, ‘Play it again.’ It was an amazing song.”
At first, Kadis and Sean didn’t think “Bring the Love Back” was right for Han, but he kept after them for a month until they agreed to cut the track with him in their recording studio in Studio City, Calif. “Their studio was really, really vintage,” says HeeJun, who laid down his vocals over two days. “It was very small and had no air conditioning. I went into a small boutique booth and sang it not like I was trying to be a star, but just trying to deliver a message to the audience, to the world. It was a magical moment when I recorded it.”
Asked to explain the meaning behind “Bring the Love Back,” Han elaborates, “When you watch the news, there's a really important thing that's missing in our lives. It's love. I feel like we have to somehow bring the love back into our society and into the world. The song is talking about bringing my girl back to my heart, but I'm talking about bringing the love back to the people who haven't had it.”
Is the song slow, mid or up-tempo? HeeJun says that was a topic of discussion during the recording session. “Should we do a slow jam? A fast song? I said, ‘Why don't we go country, hip-hop, dubstep and everything?’ The song is like riding a roller coaster. It's just like going up and down and up and down. It’s really friendly radio pop.”
HeeJun isn’t kidding about the hip-hop part. When the producers wanted a rapper to add vocals, HeeJun was thrilled when he found out the featured guest would be an Island Def Jam artist signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint. Says Han: “I love Pusha T. I've been a big fan of him since he was in a group called Clipse in New York. That was the anthem back in my day when I was in high school. Every day and every night they would play that song. Back then, I didn't even speak English and I liked that song. We reached out to him and he said he would do it. He’s been really supportive and cooperative. It’s an honor to have him on the track and here on the set.”
While the single will have an imminent release, Han is already looking ahead. “We’re thinking of releasing an EP right after the single. So we’ll record four more songs.”
Talking to HeeJun in his trailer between takes, the subject turns to the success of another Korean artist, Psy, who has garnered over 1.7 billion YouTube views for his hit “Gangnam Style.” Psy has been credited for calling worldwide attention to the phenomenon known as K-Pop music. “My first language is Korean,” says Han. “I eat Korean food every day. Trust me, I can't eat non-Korean food. Deep down inside, I'm most Korean in this Korean world. But I am not a K-Pop singer. I'm in America. I'm an artist who also happens to be Korean.”
It’s time to return to the set, but as THR and Han leave the trailer, some familiar Idol faces are waiting outside. Soyon An, who was a stylist and costume designer on Idol, is here as a design consultant and Nappytabs -- the husband and wife team of Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo, who worked on Han’s season of Idol -- are here as choreographers. The season 11 finalist is clearly happy to be working with familiar Idol faces. “It's like bringing back the old crowd and having a family party.”