[EXCLUSIVE] A Conversation With Jeff Benjamin

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If you have been a K-pop fan, then I am sure you would have never missed this person popping up in your news feed or when your favorite act sits down for an interview.

Jeff Benjamin is one of the top K-pop journalists who is loved by both the fans and Idols. He also owns the name as one of the reliable journalists for any k-pop news as his works in Billboards, NYTimes, RollingStone, TeenVogue, Forbes, and PaperMagazine are interesting as well as factual. Not just writing but his charismatic presence and fun personality can guarantee a smile for the viewers and interviewees in every filmed interview.

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Jeff Benjamin’s Instagram

From holding the highest number “high-touches from Jackson” (member of GOT7) to daily “selfie updates” under hashtag #Jeffbenjaminselfie, he has mastered them all. We, Destination K-pop had the opportunity to get his interview where he shared a bit more about his career and K-pop as his love and an industry.

1.  Can you give a small introduction about yourself to our Desi K-pop fans?

Hello Desi K-pop fans and DKPOP readers!! This is Jeff Benjamin, a writer you hopefully know and follow, but if not, I hope this interview is a good introductionJ nice to meet you!

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Jeff Benjamin’s Instagram

2. How and when did your journey start as a K-pop journalist?

Specifically as a K-pop journalist, my journey started around 2010 and 2011 when I was an intern at Billboard during college. I’m a fan of all kinds of music, but we had a very competitive intern class and I was always looking for ways to stand out and was always very passionate about sharing the music I loved. Of course, I was a fan of K-pop music, wanted to share it on larger platforms too, but I was really lucky that more K-pop artists were becoming more active and interested in America. It was with my dedication to wanting pitch K-pop more at Billboard, along with the fact that there were more opportunities with artists, that really started my journey in 2010, 2011.

3. What kind of preparations you go through before interviewing an act?

Ha I can’t give away all my secrets or you guys will take my job!! Just kidding. But during my preparation process, I really try to dive as deep as I can into an artist before interviews. Even if I’m familiar with their work and their story, I like going on to more obscure news sites and blogs to pick up something particular or unique about an artist. Maybe it was a quote they gave in a magazine interview that I wanted to know more about or maybe it was a hidden talent they haven’t been able to share. Just little things most journalists wouldn’t be able to ask because they haven’t taken the time to prepare in that same way. I also make sure to listen to as much of their music as possible and try to listen for new things because, ultimately at the end of the day, they are musicians and we can all connect through music.

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Jeff Benjamin’s Instagram

4. Can you share one of the best experiences of being a K-pop journalist?

I’ve had so many amazing experiences in this world of K-pop journalism, I really do feel so lucky and so thankful. I think one of the best experiences has simply been the whole amazing world and culture I’ve been exposed to as a result of K-pop journalism. Just getting to see the inner-workings of how a country’s entire media scene operates and works, and trying to make it fit with the Western journalism world I come from, has really been fascinating. I always call my journey “a lesson in empathy,” because a lot of it is about how to make both sides happy, help them understand one another and reconcile cultural differences.

I also really have felt genuine appreciation for what I do. Whether it’s from a manager, a PR executive, an agency representative or even the artists, there is a genuine appreciation and thankfulness for my work, and I always make sure to let know that I am just as genuinely appreciative and thankful.

But if we want specific stories, there have been times where what started as a regular media opportunity such as attending a concert or meeting with an artist and their manager has turned into a rollercoaster of a night with me witnessing hours of eating, drinking, partying and other fun activities with idols. But you’ll have to wait for my book to come out to get those stories…hehe.

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Jeff Benjamin’s Instagram

5. How will you describe K-pop to a gathering, who has never listened to K-pop?

I would say that K-pop isn’t just about listening! It’s a multidimensional experience. I think any K-pop fan can agree that we aren’t just fans of the music—it goes deeper into the videos, the choreographies, the visuals, the album art, the music programs, the fashion, the variety shows, the social media and so much more. On one hand, I would say K-pop music looks to show the full sphere of entertainment and make music that can hook all kinds of fans—fans of pop music, fans of hip-hop, fans of dance, R&B, ballads, rock and more—while also appealing to fans in ways other than music.

6.  What would you say as the pros and cons of being a journalist?

As a general journalist, the pros are that you get to share stories, perspectives and viewpoints in your own voice and, hopefully, connect with other people through your words. The cons are that this industry is very difficult and it feels like there are fewer jobs, especially full-time jobs with benefits, which makes for an unstable career path for many and some literally cannot afford to pursue it which is sad. While it may have looked like I was growing in my career, I spent my first years as a professional journalist sleeping on friend’s couches and in unstable living situations while juggling a full-time job, my freelance column, a small weekend job, as well as any other freelance jobs I could fit. I don’t regret that time since it gave me financial stability and I was very wise with how I spent my money, but it was a stressful and probably unhealthy time in my life which is why I always try to look out for writers in that way too.

When it comes to being a K-pop journalist, I would say the pros are exploring this exciting, new music scene that has so many opportunities on a global scale. But the con is that there are a lot of sensitivities and misunderstandings that come from this global fanbase, and, personally, there have been times my words and intentions have been misunderstood when I only come at my work from a positive and creative place.

7. How K-pop has influenced you personally? (The role of K-pop in your life)

I’ve been asked this before and I think it’s such an interesting question and I’m honestly not sure if I’ve figured out entirely how to answer this. As a man, I do think K-pop has helped me think a lot about masculinity and redefining the definition I always knew of it in America. I’ve written about this in the past, like in a Billboard piece that examined how Seventeen normalized male makeup use in their “Thanks” video, and I’ve since thought deeper about things like makeup, skincare, fashion and haircare—I believe in a big thanks (no pun intended) to K-pop and my connections with Korean culture. Men using makeup is pretty normal in K-pop—and why shouldn’t it be?­—but when I’ve done some touch-ups with powder on the streets of New York, I get strange looks. It’s very interesting.

I also think the K-pop world helped me put into perspective my hardships and hard work. Sometimes I think it would be easy to complain about my situations or even about a K-pop star, but I think about the hard work that we see so many K-pop stars put in and how they’re so open with their emotions when they are feeling grateful—like winning No. 1 on a music program, we know how emotional of an experience that is. It’s amazing to see and really inspires me to work harder as a result.

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8. How do you analyse the growth of K-pop wave in India all these years? Can we expect more sooner?

I think if the K-pop market is smart, they will definitely focus on India. The global music and media industry at large is thinking more and more about India, and I think it’s just a matter of time until we hear more about activities in India on the regular. I’m seeing and reading about more and more K-pop artists coming to India and I think that’s a great sign. And, selfishly, as someone who loves Bollywood music, I would love to see some Korean artists collaborating in that world—BTS’ “Idol” music video gave me hope it might happen sooner than later! Would anyone else love to see Pritam collaborating with an idol group because I would!!

9. Who are the acts or solo artists you would like to meet in the future?

I’ve been really lucky to meet so many artists that there are only a few on my bucket list—mainly those being the members of After School and Brown Eyed Girls. But these days, I would actually really like to talk to the CEOs at the different agencies. I want to know more about their vision and creative mindset, but how that blends into a business. I’ve been lucky enough to talk with Big Hit Entertainment CEO’s ‘Hitman’ Bang and PSY in his position as CEO of P-Nation.

But who else? I actually have never met Lovelyz and I would really want to talk to them about a cappella music since they have such a knack for it! And I’ve never met Oh My Girl and I think they’re excellent and seem really fun.

10. Would you prefer to attend your favorite group’s concert or interview them? Why?

This is a tough question!! While I’m a music fan first and foremost, I think I’m a human before all of that, and the ways you can connect with someone human-to-human, versus artist-to-concertgoer, are very different. That’s something I always try to do in my interviews with K-pop artists, treat them like humans. I would like to think they think it’s refreshing when they see me smiling, naming my favorite songs and making fun of myself in the interview. I think we know the K-pop scene as very formal, but I always try to get their human side out in interviews and then put that into my writing.

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Jeff Benjamin’s Instagram

11. According to you, what are all the traits a K-pop group or solo artist must poses to become No.1?

Like I said before, we’re humans before we’re musicians, journalists, whatever. An artist that can connect with people as humans so that people are fans ofyou, not just your music, is key. If we’re talking about who is No. 1, BTS obviously comes to mind and I’ve said this from my earliest writings about them, they were always looking for ways to connect deeper. BTS’ music feels personal, familiar and friendly, but also BTS made such an effort to meet with and communicate with fans in so many ways on social media, fan café letters, on V Live and more. The music and performance must be good, of course, but connecting deeper as humans means so much more than finding something that is popular.

12. You have always been an inspiration to most of our K-pop writers (including me). Can you give us a word of encouragement to our enthusiastic Indian K-pop learners and writers? Ah that is so kind and believe me when I say that I take those messages very much to heart. So, first off, I must say thank you all for the words of encouragement you’ve given me all these years. Whether you shared an article or sent me a tweet, I appreciate it and you. But I would say my word of encouragement is to keep finding and forging your unique path. No one ever got anywhere by being the same as someone else, and I would encourage any writer or learner to find out what is that unique thing that makes you excited or makes you feel accomplished. Even early on in my K-pop writing, I very quickly realized I was not going to be the fastest news writer because there were Korean outlets working 24 hours covering this scene. So, I developed more of a voice where I could analyze and review the music and scene deeper as a columnist rather than a hardcore news writer. And I’ve taken that mindset and tried to apply that to different mediums and platforms. And that was just me! Maybe you are the fastest news writer and that gets you excited! Whatever gets that creative fire burning in you, explore and follow that! Even if it feels unstable or scary, it’s at least exploring because I do believe passion leads to success.

A message to our DKPOP readers.

Hello DKPOP readers!! It’s really an honor to be featured on this site which I heard was the very-first K-pop outlet based in India. I hope you’ll continue to support DKPOP since it’s so important to support local journalism and keep this media industry growing around the world. I’ve met some of the staff from DKPOP in Korea, and we still keep in touch today, and can say you are being led by a very strong and smart team. Personally, I really hope I can visit India one day…would DKPOP readers come meet me?!? I hope so! I’ve heard amazing stories about the country and it’s on my bucket list to visit one day. Please keep supporting me as well and my various activities, I want to keep the K-pop world growing in healthy ways and have some exciting things in the works that I think many K-pop fans will enjoy! You can ALWAYS get in contact with me on social media whether it’s TwitterInstagram or Facebook. If you send me a personal DM or message, I will always do my absolute best to respond. I don’t have many friends who like K-pop, so I really like talking about it with kind people who get it. Thank you all and stay happy! 

On behalf of the Destination K-pop Team, we would like to thank Jeff Benjamin for spending his valuable time to reply us back within days. We also wish him the best and will hope to meet you here in India soon!

Thank you!

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