Cover story: Up close and personal with Korean heartthrob Jaejoong Kim

Jaejoong Kim in Superocean Heritage B20 Automatic 44 watch by Breitling, and Polo Sport Outdoor collection patchwork poncho and blue denim shirt, both by Polo Ralph Lauren

Rising to global fame as the original lead singer of a pioneering K-pop group half a lifetime ago, Korean heartthrob Jaejoong Kim (Jaejoong) and began releasing solo material in 2013, and has been making a constant effort to showcase his vast array of charms. Now 33 years old and already 16 years into his career, he’s still just as humble, witty and charismatic as ever – captivating everyone’s attention whenever he enters the studio.

Jaejoong Kim in navy knitted jumper with striped sleeves, green-and-yellow checked coat and black trousers, all by Paul Smith

In 2003, at the young age of 15, Jaejoong debuted as the original lead singer of a major K-pop group that paved the way for the global Korean Wave (hallyu); eventually, Jaejoong and other members formed a trio in 2010. Tremendously popular for his outstanding vocals and looks, he was a trailblazer in the early days of the K-pop scene. Thankfully, he didn’t stop there, but broadened his scope to acting and reality shows. Nowadays, he’s still on the move, tackling all the new challenges that come his way.

Jaejoong has long been an icon for many K-pop stars who pursued their dreams of stardom. Revered by many, he always stayed grounded and never fell complacent, always aspiring to do new things. Well known for communicating directly with his fans through social media, his affection for them is clearly evident. During our shoot, Jaejoong was bold, eager to try on a variety of outfits and strike a diverse range of poses, always with the aim of bringing out the best results. Smiling through it all, he brought a positive vibe to the studio that was absolutely infectious. Equally charismatic on-stage and off, his cheerful personality is a true reflection of his many charms.

Jaejoong Kim in Superocean Automatic 44 Outerknown watch by Breitling, and grey shearling jacket and gilet, both by Emporio Armani

Jaejoong Kim in Superocean Automatic 44 Outerknown watch by Breitling, and grey shearling jacket and gilet, both by Emporio Armani

It’s been 16 years since your debut. How are you doing these days?

16 years… It’s been a long time, but it doesn’t really make a big difference for me. It’s true that I have been in this industry for a long time and that there have been some challenges. But instead of doing the same things over and over again, I’m focusing on pushing myself to try different things. The number of years has little meaning to me, personally.

What do you normally do these days?

It’s the same routine – just doing work. These days, I have more work and it’s almost as much as I had when I debuted. From the sixth year of my career to a few years from then, I didn’t really have as much work as I do now. So it feels like I’ve gone back to the early days.

What’s the hardest thing about being in this industry for such a long time?

Not being able to eat when I want to! I easily gain weight when I eat and I easily lose it all when I don’t, too. Working out so as not to lose too much or watching my diet for work has been a little hard. Eating brings me a lot of joy in my daily life – and giving that up is quite tough.

“When I finished my military service, I thought there would be nothing as cold as that, but now it feels like it’s even colder. I always think of those hard times to get through what I’m faced with now”


From music to acting and to variety shows, you’ve been active in many entertainment fields. What’s the next step for you?

I guess it will be the same – I don’t think there will be a huge change. But there will be a difference in the type of work that I can do at my age. For example, next year, the year after that and in three years, even if I’m still doing the same type of work, I’m sure I will have a different mindset and my surroundings also won’t be the same.

What’s your biggest charm?

I guess my charm is that I seem like a celebrity, but at the same time, I’m not like one. I’m very sensitive and cautious of what other people think, and I’m also very self-conscious. So I get a lot of support from my fans, who say, “Just do whatever you want and be free.” Since I’ve cared so much about my surroundings, from now on I’m planning to be freer and enjoy what I do.

I heard you’re a good cook. When did you start cooking?

When I was young and my parents weren’t home, I had to cook for myself – and it became a habit. My mum also owned a restaurant, so I picked up a few things from there, which I guess contributed to the cooking skills I have now.

If you could cook a special meal for Christmas, what would it be?

I don’t cook on Christmas. I would definitely order some takeout delivery food or go out to eat somewhere.

You’re interested in fashion as well. What types of styles do you like?

Usually denim. These days, I don’t really like outfits that stand out too much. I prefer to style with denim, with maybe one eye-catching item.

Are you a trend follower or a trendsetter?

To be honest, I don’t really follow or set trends these days. I just wear a style of my own. I may have been a trendsetter before, though – for example, I was probably the first guy in Korea to wear Ugg boots, long boots or skinny jeans.

If you could collaborate with another artist on any type of project you wanted, who and what would that be?

There are many famous artists these days, but personally I think it would be awesome to collaborate with some of the talented new artists to design a creative, aesthetic album jacket cover. The typical type with symbolic characters is all good, but I’ve never done something with my face on it. I think it would be something worth trying.

Other than work, what’s your biggest passion these days?

I didn’t really care much about sleeping before, but these days I try my best to get quality sleep. Before, it was okay to sleep just a little and go to work. Now, if I go to bed late, it feels like it just ruins the day – like the whole day just disappears. So I think getting quality sleep is really important. I also had a habit of having a drink before bed, but I’m trying to fix that.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind lately?

To find a hobby to stick to and actually enjoy, you need to maintain
a regular lifestyle. But my work itself is so unpredictable that when I actually have time, I don’t know what to do. Even just yesterday, I got off work early and had some free time, but I had no idea what I should do. So I just went home, laid in bed, watched TV, woke up and did that again – on repeat. It felt like such a waste. But I did get a good night’s rest, which is probably why I’m feeling so good today. So I think I’ll go out and have a good end of my day once I finish this shoot!

What are you planning to do?

Tomorrow is actually my cheat day – it’s a day when I can eat and drink as much as I want. But if I do that, it could ruin the day after tomorrow, so I’ll shift it a day earlier to today.

How do you deal with stress?

Eating is my greatest joy, but my stomach has shrunk to a much smaller size than before. When I used to weigh around 59kg to 60kg, although I looked really slim, I could expand my stomach size by squishing my other organs aside to eat more. Now that I’m heavier than before, I can’t eat as much because my stomach is smaller, which makes me sad. So these days, I just take my time to enjoy the food while watching muk-bang [eating shows] on YouTube and feel more satisfaction by watching others eat instead.

Jaejoong Kim in Avenger Chronograph 45 Night Mission watch by Breitling, and brown shearling jacket, multicoloured flannel shirt and blue jeans, all by Polo Ralph Lauren

What kind of artist do you want to be remembered as?

An artist who eats a lot? [laughs] I’m just kidding. I want to become
an artist who makes people think, “Did he have this many years of experience?” Even by the time I hit the 20th anniversary since my debut, I want people to wonder, “Has it really been that long since
his debut?” That’s why I continue to try new things and never stop challenging myself. I want to remain someone who’s still innocent and naïve, and I wish I could postpone becoming “an adult”. These days,

I think it has a negative connotation, but I want to be someone who’s like an onion – with new layers after layers, or basically someone who gives off a new feeling even after knowing them for a long time. I want to be someone like an onion – in a good way.

Are there any childhood memories you have from this time of year?

When I was young, my parents were quite strict. If I got in trouble, they would scold me to stay outside of the house and reflect on myself. These days, things like this don’t happen, but when I was young – and especially in the countryside where I lived – it was quite common.

Anyway, I lived in the countryside and it snowed a lot in the middle of the winter. And I remember shivering outside my house. It felt so cold back then – but when I went into the army, that was the coldest thing I ever felt in my life. When I finished my military service, I thought there would be nothing as cold as that, but now it feels like it’s even colder. I always think of those hard times to get through what I’m faced with now.

What’s your favourite place in Korea?

The first would be the Han River – and the second is here. For two years or more, this studio has been the place I’ve come the most for work. It really feels like home.

Jaejoong Kim in Polo Sport Outdoor collection patchwork poncho and blue denim shirt, both by Polo Ralph Lauren

How would you describe yourself in one word?

Dong-ppa – an oppa [older brother] who’s like a dongsaeng [younger brother]. A lot of times people respect me as an artist, but I seriously wish that sometimes my fans and others could treat me a bit more relaxed. Of course I have years of experience and I may be older than them, but I wish I could just be an older brother or a senior who’s just like their friend, or maybe even a younger brother.

Any New Year’s resolutions?

If I have more time for myself, I want to work out more and travel a little – but I think that’s pretty hard at the moment and probably next year, too. I guess that’s why it’s not really easy to meet someone or get married… Anyway, for the past two years, my skin has gotten really bad. I feel I need to take better care of it and sleep better to get it back to normal. So in general, keep in shape and take better care of myself.

Anything you want to say to your fans?

Take good care of yourselves! When your exhaustion builds up, you’ll age faster and get more stressed out. I think it’s really important to take a vacation at least once a year or just take some time for yourself to rest. I really want to rest. Anyway, I will still work hard and afterwards travel somewhere nice to relax, so that I can come back to show you all a better version of myself. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to shoot these amazing pictures for Hong Kong and I would love to see you all again soon. Thank you! #

Creative Direction / Gordon Lam
Photography / Choi Seung-kwang
Styling / Kieran Ho
Hair / Park Ok-jae from Rue 710

Make-Up / Moon Joo-young from Rue 710
Dresser / Noh Mi-young

Coordination / Legend Entertainment Group
Text & Interview / Danny Kang

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