Jackson Wang Talks Fronting Fashion Campaigns and Kicking Back With Karl Lagerfeld
The Hong Kong-born artist opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about the intersection of his music and style — and recalls the "good few hours" he spent with the late Fendi designer last year in Rome.
Jackson Wang sure knows how to light up a room.
On a snowy February day in New York, the lobby of SoHo's NoMo hotel is populated with patrons seeking refuge from freezing temperatures and brutal winds. But soon, seemingly out of nowhere, a burst of heat enters the building. It's Wang, the Hong Kong-born singer-rapper who's in the Big Apple for a marathon of press during a rare visit to the U.S.
The rising solo artist — who first found fame as one seventh of the beloved K-pop boy band GOT7 — looks like he just stepped out of a fashion magazine, outfitted in sleek athleisure wear: a crisp, coral pink T-shirt paired with an equally bright and coordinating shearling coat, black joggers and his signature beanie. Rose-colored shades and an impressive amount of bling make it evident that this young man must be a star of some sort.
It's possible that no one at the hotel has any idea who Wang is, but his undeniable presence — and the MTV News camera crew that follows him to document his special trip to the States — certainly makes people want to know more about the handsome Asian import. Heads turn, and a teenage girl whispers aloud, "Who is that?"
To clarify, 25-year-old Wang is a quadruple threat. Not only does he sing, rap and dance, but the former fencer — who, at one point, considered training for the 2012 London Olympics — has solidified himself as an international style icon. His playful approach to fashion, marked by a penchant for matching tracksuits and hyper-pigmented statement pieces, has made him a favorite among designers and a source of inspiration for style-minded fans. In recent years, Wang's way of dress has even prompted several Instagram accounts solely dedicated to coursing his sartorial choices daily.
So, it's no surprise that in 2018, Wang was tapped as the face of both Fendi and Adidas in his native China. Nestled into a secluded booth in the back corner of the NoMo's first floor, Wang tells The Hollywood Reporter that fronting such campaigns feels like an extension to his artistry.
"Fashion is very personal. My style is simple but with exclamation points. For example, I'm wearing all black today — but I also got that pop of color. Today, pink is my shit," he says, pointing to his vivid outerwear and sunglasses. "I'm all about the accessories. I really embrace fashion and it's become a big part of me, and especially a big part of who I am as an artist. I really feel like music and fashion go hand in hand."
Wang's work in music and in fashion is indeed symbiotic. Shortly after securing his gig with Fendi, Wang dropped his aptly titled single, "Fendiman," for which he filmed its accompanying video at the Italian fashion house's Rome headquarters. To date, the stylish, choreography-heavy clip has racked up more than 12 million views on YouTube.
"As the face of brands like Fendi and Adidas, my message is: Don't compare yourself to other people. You don't follow trends because you are the trend. Make yourself the trend," says Wang. "Growing up as an athlete, I never expected to be a 'fashion guy,' but my career has led me here and it's something that I really enjoy being a part of."
Below, Wang opens up more to THR about his evolving style and new music (the visual for his latest release, "Oxygen," is out today) — plus, he recalls what it was like spending "a good few hours" with Karl Lagerfeld, the late creative director of Fendi and Chanel, last year.
How did you make the transition from sports to music?
My dad and my mom were both athletes on the national team of China. My mom was a world-class gymnast and my dad was an Olympian fencer. My brother used to be a rugby player, also a gymnast before that. And I also used to be a fencer. I got a scholarship, I got accepted into great universities and I was preparing to train for the Olympics. But, even when I was an athlete, music has been my motivation. Music inspired me a lot when I was sad, when I was depressed, when I was happy or excited. Music has always been there for me. I think it was destiny. I had to follow my heart.
You began your career with JYP Entertainment in 2011 as a K-pop trainee before debuting with GOT7 in 2014. What was the most difficult part and the most rewarding part of that experience?
There's a lot of stereotypes and also a lot of rumors about K-pop being manufactured and that the training process works like a machine. If you really know it, it's the best training system. I appreciate it so much because it's like toothpaste. They want to squeeze every little last bit out of your package. They'll put you under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. But at the same time, if you're living under pressure or under stress, you'll become stronger. You have to be very insecure in order to work hard. We got an evaluation each week. If you pass, you stay. If you don't, you leave and you're sent home. It's very easy to get in but it's also very easy to go out. If you want to sustain your position, you really have to work for it. It's tough, but I'd do it all over again.
Was it always your goal to be a solo artist?
In a way, yes. Because with being a solo artist, there is definitely a lot more freedom. With seven members, it's us. You get seven different flavors. It's a rainbow. It's like Skittles and you get the full package. But with me being a solo artist, you get a specific color. I emphasize that. You get me, everything about me: lifestyle, personality, visions, fashion. Everything about me and my music genre is just Jackson.
What do your GOT7 bandmates think of your solo endeavors?
They're very supportive and encouraging. They're like, "If you believe this is right for you, you've got to do it." Everyone's actually working really hard to open up more doors for each other. Sometimes if two other members are having a better opportunity they can pull us up as a group. We just like to elevate each other and we're growing as a whole.
You've split your career between South Korea and China. Are you planning to conquer America next?
I'm at a point where I want to share my story, my music and my whole vision to different parts of the world. It's not about wanting to break in America and killing the Billboard charts or being successful here, specifically, in the U.S. It's not about that. My vision is just to be a global artist. I want the world to know that there's this Chinese kid who loves music and is going after his dreams. I hope to inspire others to go after theirs as well.
After spending a bit of time in the U.S., how would you say American fans compare to your fans in Asia?
I don't think it's about the region. It's not about the country. It's not about which part of the world they're from. I feel like it's all love. And I love them as much as they love me. Actually, I love them more than they love me, I would say.
Who is your biggest influence as an artist?
I would say Omarion. His 21 album with "Ice Box." All of those songs really inspired me and the way he danced, his body — he is just perfect. He is the man. Chris Brown is also a big inspiration. His music is crazy. He is a legend. Post Malone, too. Michael Jackson has also been huge for me: Dangerous, Bad. Every Michael Jackson song is legendary. Also, his style is so iconic. He had timeless fashion.
Speaking of fashion, you were the first artist to ever perform at a Fendi fashion show at the FW19 menswear presentation earlier this year in Rome. What was that experience like?
It was my first time attending fashion week and I was very honored to perform at the end of the Fendi show. That was the first-ever performance in a fashion show in the history of Fendi, so I was very honored and felt very blessed. I'm very grateful and thankful to Silvia Fendi. It was such a great experience and really cool because now I'm a part of fashion history. I made it.
You spent some time last year with Fendi's Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away on Feb. 19. How would you describe your time together?
I wasn't able to spend too much time with Karl Lagerfeld, but I didn't need to spend much time with him to understand that he is an absolute legend and genius. Even in my collaboration with Fendi, it felt like it had his touch and that his ideas were involved. Also, I was shooting my music video for my song "Fendiman" at Fendi's headquarters in Italy. I shot that music video on the roof of the building and, apparently, he was in the building at the same time and he waited for me. He was like, "Who is this kid filming a music video for a song called 'Fendiman?'" He listened to the song and he loved it. We talked a little, we drank a little and that was it. It was so cool. It was a good time. It was a good few hours. Karl has inspired me a lot and the way that I wear stuff, the way that I put together outfits. I would always look to how he was dressing and how he dressed others. I've always been inspired by his work and I think many people will be inspired by his work for years to come.
How has your sense of style evolved over time?
It's a lot more streamlined these days. Even though I like accessories, I'm in a less-is-more mode. For instance, I don't dye my hair anymore. That's not where I am artistically. Right now, I'm sticking with dark brown or black. I think it's nice and it looks good, but the crazy colors are just not my thing. Also, I'm trying to focus more on my music than my hair these days. But that's not to say I don't like how the other guys in K-pop do it. I still love it on other people, and I think it's cool the way men in K-pop embrace a trend like that and aren't afraid to experiment with different colors. I respect everybody. But, for me, my opinion is that I have to focus more on my music. I really want people to focus more on my music than my hair.
What’s next on the music front after "Oxygen?"
I'll release an album later this year. The name of the album is Journey to the West. It's based on a very traditional story in China. It's about a monkey, a pig, the master and the white horse going on a journey to the west and then in the middle of the journey, there are different obstacles that they have to go through. Monsters come in and they have to fight everyone. I'm trying to make this whole story, the outline of it, more modern. It's me as a Chinese going to the west, to see the whole world. I can't wait for my fans to hear it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.