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INTERVIEWKorean artist MY Q unveils tips to explore Seoul's creativity hotbed

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Korean artist MY Q, who has been selected as this year's Korean icon of the 2022 Booking Explorers campaign, poses at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul in this undated photo. Courtesy of Booking.com
Korean artist MY Q, who has been selected as this year's Korean icon of the 2022 Booking Explorers campaign, poses at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul in this undated photo. Courtesy of Booking.com

Multi-hyphenated Korean artist introduces Seoul's burgeoning cultural milieu

By Lee Hae-rin

MY Q, a Korean singer-songwriter and painting artist who has been selected as the Korean icon at this year's Booking Explorers campaign, introduced tips to discover the essence of Seoul's creativity hotbed.

Since his music debut with the release of "Style Music" in 2007, the Seoul-based artist has created over 180 songs. The multidisciplinary creator writes, sings, arranges, mixes his own songs and produces photography and cinematography for his music videos. He has left his mark on the country's indie music scene with his distinctive urban style of jazzy and dreamlike records and developed a small but devoted fandom.

While music has been his primary area of activity, he has expanded his creativity into the country's contemporary art scene. In 2018, he held an installation art exhibition at Seoul's D Project Space titled "MIKE," which refers to his English name that he picked up while growing up in Hong Kong, and debuted as a painter in 2019.

Also a lifestyle trendsetter who is counted among one of the favorite personalities among local magazines' fashion editors, was named to represent Seoul in this year's Booking Explorers campaign.

Global online travel platform Booking.com launched the campaign last year to celebrate stories of leading personalities in Asia-Pacific and inspire a spirit of exploration worldwide. In last year's inaugural edition, Korean alternative pop band Leenalchi was the country's icon, while this year, MY Q was named, along with four other trendsetters from Australia, India, Vietnam and Japan.

After two decades of living in the capital, the Seoul-based artist said the city is a hotbed of creativity offering uneasy yet unique charms stemming from its tough and competitive atmosphere.

Korean artist MY Q introduces alleys covered in graffiti in central Seoul's Itaewon area. Courtesy of Booking.com
Korean artist MY Q introduces alleys covered in graffiti in central Seoul's Itaewon area. Courtesy of Booking.com

"Seoul is an inspiration in a way that it is a harsh environment for survival," he said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. The highly competitive, trend-sensitive and fast-changing city may not be always comforting, but these demanding circumstances drive a spirit of challenge in creative minds and make his respect grow for his fellow artists who have survived to pave their own paths.

"Seoul can be very harsh, but also so much loving at the same time ― so much loving that it could scare you a little bit," he said, explaining the city's charms with a personified example of people with the blood type AB. According to a theory that blood type determines personality traits that was revived in Japan and became widely popular in Korea in the early 2000s, people with type AB blood are considered complicated and condescending to others, but ambidextrous and generous to those they cherish.

As someone deeply involved in the local art and music scene, MY Q recommended a visit to the vibrant Hongdae area to experience the essence of the city. This neighborhood around the city's leading arts institution Hongik University in western Seoul is packed with talented buskers, vivid underground live music clubs, trendy boutiques and street art.

"There is a growing appreciation for lesser-known independent musicians," he said, adamant that the city has more diversity to offer beyond the immense popularity of K-pop.

It was this area that he fell madly in love with during his visit in 2002, which led him to settle in the country, the artist said. As someone who grew up in Hong Kong and studied in the U.K., he never pictured himself moving back to his home city. However, after discovering the unique dynamics of the Korean cultural milieu, the artist chose to be based in Seoul among other global cities.

MY Q also shared his favorite scenery that he thinks best represents the capital.

"If someone asks me, 'what is Seoul really like?' I would tell them to walk around and cross the Dongho Bridge around 6 p.m. because that I think perfectly sums up this city," he said, referring to one of the few the Han River bridges with a sidewalk.

Korean artist MY Q runs at Jamwon Hangang Park in Seoul. Courtesy of Booking.com
Korean artist MY Q runs at Jamwon Hangang Park in Seoul. Courtesy of Booking.com

The riverside landscape featuring the northern and southern parts of the city divided by the Han River, as well as the orange-colored Dongho Bridge with a subway crossing in sunset, captures the city's quintessential beauty, according to MY Q. For him, the deep and pale orange hues combining the rusted and raw paint over the bridge and afterglow of a sunset over the river makes Seoul's top color palette and has inspired many of his works, citing his song titled, "Don't Hate Me," released in 2019.

For those planning to explore Seoul, the artist recommended diving into the local culture by reaching out to the city dwellers while keeping travel sustainability in mind.

With a little bit of searching and digging on social media, one could make a personalized itinerary that could make the journey more special and memorable, he said. "Koreans are very friendly and welcoming to foreign travelers … we even seem to share a sense of duty in hospitality," the artist said, encouraging future travelers to communicate with locals on social media or in person.

In that sense, the artist invited visitors to submerge themselves completely in the local culture, or "jump into a barrel of kimchi," in his words. The discomfort and bewilderment that one experiences traveling in a strange country, in the artist's point of view, will widen travelers' horizons and enrich their understanding of who they are.

Speaking of tourism's impact on the environment, the artist said he wishes people would "think of travel destinations as their own home" and adopt green and responsible practices for sustainable tourism.

If they think they are at home, travelers will hesitate once more before squandering the environmental resources and consider eco-friendly accommodations and experiences, the artist said. Making choices for sustainable travel may seem uncomfortable and pricey, but a lifestyle that raises the bar on sustainability issues "must be a new lifestyle trend," MY Q said, "because this planet is our home."

Korean artist MY Q stands on a balcony of his friend's home in central Seoul's Hannam-dong in this provided photo. Courtesy of Booking.com
Korean artist MY Q stands on a balcony of his friend's home in central Seoul's Hannam-dong in this provided photo. Courtesy of Booking.com
Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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