Since debuting on the music scene just over nine years ago, Jessica Jung has constantly been tagged as an "ice princess," with the San Francisco-born singer boasting a cool, regal demeanor in her music videos and public appearances. But when Fuse meets up with the singer at The Highline in midtown New York on a summer day, there's no ice to melt, just a somewhat timid, extremely well-spoken woman whose inner passion slowly reveals itself.
Maybe she's initially guarded because she's needed to fend for herself since unexpectedly leaving K-pop supergroup Girls' Generation in 2014—what actually happened is still one of K-pop's biggest mysteries. Or maybe it's because she's still got so much left to prove when it comes to her solo career.
In the two years since she exited the group that initially made her famous, Jessica has expanded her fashion company, Blanc & Eclare; made her debut as a solo artist with her With Love, J EP, which topped the charts in Korea and sold respectably in America; met passionate supporters at exclusive fan events across the globe; and signed on to multiple upcoming film roles. When you meet with Jessica in person, she'll do her best to make eye contact with you, but figuratively and literally, she's always looking forward.
"The first album got a positive response, thankfully," she says in a quick breath when explaining the purpose of her latest New York trip. "I was really excited and I really wanted to keep making good music for my fans and listeners. I was constantly thinking of what the concept should be, what kind of music listeners want to hear. You know, my first album was mostly recorded in New York too so I just wanted to come back and get into the zone again. I've thought of a concept and sound, but it's really early to tell you. I'm trying to keep it a secret."
Jessica says that she's planning multiple collaborations with American artists for record No. 2: She's already been in the studio with Karriem Mack—or "K. Mack" as she calls him—who produced the tracks "Love Me the Same," "Golden Sky" and the Fabolous collaboration "Fly," her debut solo single that led off With Love, J. The song was a easy-breezy empowerment anthem that finds the singer declaring, "You're a hero, you can fly" while Fabo adds, "You should’ve never doubted yourself, matter of fact you should be proud of yourself."
It's the kind of song that comforts and empowers fans, but Jessica hints that she might have needed these words for herself at the start her solo journey. As a member of the powerhouse act Girls' Generation, Jessica spent seven years earning nearly a dozen No. 1 singles, topping Forbes Korea's Power Celebrity list, and essentially proving that a large girl group could be a hugely successful brand. No member had even released a solo album before Jessica's 2014 departure, and just like the rest of her group mates, Jessica's post-GG success was considered a question mark.
"It did kind of relate to my story," the 27-year-old says of her "Fly" single. "Everyone goes through hardships, but I just wanted people to know that if you just walk forward, come through, dream and go for it, good things always happen in the end. I wanted them to have some faith in themselves."
That faith in herself has not only secured a chart-topping record (With Love, J was No. 1 on Korea's Gaon Album Chart while entering Billboard's World and Heatseekers Albums charts) and a hit single ("Fly" hit the Top 10 in Korea). But releasing her EP in both Korean and English was the first step in trying to successfully make Jessica a true crossover act—something that won't be easy, since the West has lacked a true Asian pop star over the past few years. Instead of a hindrance, however, Jessica sees an opportunity.
“There hasn't been an Asian singer yet, but there's a first for everything.”
"There's always a first for everything," she says, citing shows like Fresh Off the Boat and actors like Ki Hong Lee (Maze Runner, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as examples of Hollywood leading the way for more Asian faces in media. "For actors and actresses, I think it's easier. Well, not exactly easier, but they've done it, right? I know there hasn't been an Asian singer yet, but there's a first for everything. I take it as encouragement... I think there were a lot of language barriers in past cases. I was born and raised in San Francisco—crossing over to the U.S. is like coming back home."
In addition to her next solo music project, Jess has two upcoming film projects, including a short film starring her and Ki Hong Lee. She also intends to further expand Blanc & Eclare, which began as a sunglasses brand but has already moved into accessories, denim, ready-to-wear and cosmetics.
"I want it to be a total, global brand," she says. "We have perfume on the way. We've been going through a lot of sampling and stuff—we went to a Paris perfumery. It's fun, just a lot of work and processing."
Jessica and her accompanying team has a bright future in multiple endeavors, but they're also aware of the acute attention following her every move back in Asia—especially felt during a heated media "battle" with her former Girls' Generation band mate Tiffany, who made her solo debuts within the same week as Jessica. But she takes it all in stride, accepting the fact that people will focus on whatever they want in spite of the messaging she attempts to put out there.
"It's like that for everything," she says when she asked whether she thinks people understand her artistic and professional visions. "It's wasn't just for my album. I think people have opinions on everything and they all have different opinions."
Jessica laughs, then adds, "Maybe they don't accept it the way you want them to, but it's OK, right? I don't put too much thought into that."
Listen to Jessica speak more about her solo endeavors as a guest on Fuse's K-pop podcast K-Stop at the 40:55 mark below: