Over the past two decades, Edmonds-born musician Jay Park has amassed an international fan base. Since his days dancing while a student at Edmonds-Woodway High School, to his breakthrough in the Korean music scene, to his current roles of singer, rapper, entrepreneur and dancer, he’s been working nonstop.
And like most other times in his life, Park has been very busy the past few months, but has still kept his heart on the Seattle community that raised him.
Fresh off his “SEXY 4EVA” World Tour, Park returned to his home in Seoul, South Korea, just as the coronavirus pandemic enveloped the country and the rest of the world. Since then, Park has filled his time with numerous projects, releasing new music and other dance collaborations with his record labels AOMG and H1ghr Music.
He’s also spearheaded efforts inspired by recent events, including a food drive in Seattle to support people affected by COVID-19 and creating awareness (posting support on social media and coordinating statements with H1ghr Music artists) and donating to Black Lives Matter amid ongoing protests.
Over a Zoom call, Park told us more about what he’s been up to the past few months, his role in speaking up about social justice, and what the Seattle community means to him. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What have you been doing since the coronavirus outbreak began?
We were quarantining for a little bit, but then things were getting a lot better and cases went down in Korea, we started to open back up. But cases have gone back up, so quarantining and social distancing is back in effect.
Quarantining or not though, I’m always working on new stuff, along with some of the other AOMG artists. But the world is shifting every day so we’re just trying to figure out how to keep afloat and navigate and help out where we can.
There were a lot of things that we were planning on doing, videos we had shot and were editing, that we were going to release during this time period. We were planning to release “GANG,” a song that went viral in Korea that we remixed, but once the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movements started, we knew we had to push it back. It didn’t feel right to pretend that these protests didn’t exist and that we didn’t know what was going on. Me, being from the states, having been influenced by Black culture, having a lot of friends affected by this, of course I felt like it was my duty to spread awareness over here. A lot of people over here in Korea know that racism exists, but they don’t really know to what extent, and they don’t know why it’s so important. So I felt it was my job to bridge this gap, and explain why we need to support.
As a celebrity, and someone who sometimes acts as a bridge between the U.S. and Korea, what do you think your role is in these social justice issues?
I don’t consider myself an activist, I’m not involved in politics. But for me, this is more than just a social issue. Just because me, or my family or friends are not affected by something directly, doesn’t mean I should ignore it. People need our support right now. It’s more than just a Black, Asian thing. This is a human rights problem. If I see these things happening to other people, I should use my platform to change things. And I can see right now, something very important is happening.
Where did the idea come from for the H1ghr Music food drive?
My friends and family in the Seattle area depend on their businesses and restaurants to pay bills, and when things started shutting down [to slow the spread of coronavirus] they were losing a lot. So I wanted to find a way to give them business, but do something good in the process. So [H1ghr Music] bought $10,000 worth of food from Luna Azul in Greenwood and KC Seafood restaurant in Renton, which are both owned by some people really close to me. And then some of my family, friends and other H1ghr Music artists got together to hand out the food. So it was nice to do something together, uplift the community and help people in need and those were affected by coronavirus. We’ve taken a pause on the drive for safety reasons since Seattle’s protests began, but once things quiet down it’s definitely something we want to keep doing.
Having grown up in Edmonds, what does the Seattle area mean to you?
The reason I am who I am today is because of the Seattle community and the people there; I still have a lot of friends and family there. It shaped who I am; it gave me the characteristics to even come to Korea in the first place. And I’ve of course built other characteristics since coming to Korea, but the base of who I am is from Seattle. I’ll never forget where I come from and I’ll always try to give back.
Do you have anything coming up?
We [at H1ghr Music] were planning a lot of things, but it’s so hard to predict what things will be like. This has been such a crazy year for everyone. I’ve seen people plan comeback shows and festivals, but then another outbreak happens and they get pushed back three months. So I just hope that everyone stays safe and healthy and that everything changes for the better very soon.