It’s time for Kpopalypse Interview! This time Kpopalypse talks to Oli London! Read on and find out more!
If you don’t recall his name you might think that you don’t know who Oli London is, but actually you probably already do know of him. In fact his viral story is so infamous that many of my non-k-pop-following friends are well aware of this guy’s claim to fame even if they’ve probably forgotten everything else about him. Oli is the young English gentleman who dropped a cool $100,000 on plastic surgery to make himself look as much like his favourite k-pop idol, Jimin from BTS as possible. As it happens, since that story went viral last year, Oli has now dropped an extra $150,000 – not on more surgery, but on an entry into the k-pop market with his song “Perfection”.
Oli was kind enough to have a conversation with Kpopalypse, where he talked very candidly and honestly about the motivations behind his new song, his extensive surgery and his love of k-pop. All the trufax is below!
(Editing note: there were a few audio dropouts during this interview, probably due to the sketchiness of the Internet connection between England and Australia. I’ve done my best to fill in the gaps with the correct context where noted.)
Let’s just start with a little about yourself, and how you got interested in k-pop in the first place, and what made you want to do the project.
I lived in Korea, in 2013 I was there for a year as an English teacher at an elementary school, and basically I didn’t really know much about Korea before I went there. I literally just did a Google search about working abroad, and Korea came up and I applied and then I started researching Korea and just started to fall in love. I was thinking “wow this is an amazing country with so much history”, and then when I got there I was instantly in love. I did a three week teacher training program in a city called Jochiwon which is not too far from Seoul, and it was there where I fell in love because I was having different classes about the culture of Korea, Hangul, learning the Korean language, k-pop artists as well, and it just made me fall in love. Then I moved to Jeju Island which is just south of the Korean mainland, and that’s where I was teaching, and I was fascinated by the culture, the people over there are so friendly, so kind and so welcoming and extremely helpful – if you’re ever stuck with something they’ll always do everything they can to help. Then I fell in love with k-pop because I was watching TV every day and I would watch all the k-pop shows, the chart shows, and I would just fall in love with them, their dancing, their singing. Every day I would listen to k-pop, I would dance to k-pop, I was singing it in my house, and just became obsessed. It was about six months after I got there that BTS came out, and then I became obsessed with them – I just fell in love with the country.
How did BTS in particular grab your attention?
It was their dance moves initially, they were just so well co-ordinated, and they had a really cool style. When they first debuted they had a different style to what they do now, they had a “street” style, with a lot of black clothes, almost like a gothic look, and they were doing “We Are Bulletproof“, that song was amazing, their dance moves were incredible and they were just so perfect, every single dance move was perfect, their singing was perfect, in particular Jimin was absolutely perfect so that’s why I love him.
What is it about him in particular that stood out as opposed to the other members of the group?
There’s several members of BTS and they’re all super-talented in their own ways, but Jimin has a very special beautiful voice, it sounds like an angel, the way he looks is just so perfect. He’s just got such a cute face, cute little cheeks, beautiful eyes, beautiful lips, and just the way he looks I fell in love with. I used to watch a lot of behind the scenes videos on YouTube of them hanging out, and they’re just so cute together. Jimin’s so cute, he’s always very forgetful, very clumsy, very silly, and I just fell in love with the way he looks, his personality, and his talent.
BTS wasn’t your first k-pop group that you really liked. Do you remember what groups actually got you into k-pop?
Back then, the biggest bands were 2NE1, BigBang, there was a boy band called SPEED which I’m still obsessed with today but they don’t exist anymore…
I quite liked SPEED myself actually, I was quite sad when they broke up!
Oh my god, I can’t believe you know them! Some of their songs are my favourite songs. Teen Top I really like as well, then there was a band called C-Clown which don’t exist anymore, they came out then. Then for girl groups it was 4Minute, miss A, Rania, I was listening to the k-pop charts every single day, I was watching it every single day on TV, I just loved everything.
BTS of course are extremely well co-ordinated and have some songs that really resonate with people, but then that could probably equally be said about their contemporaries on other labels, like NCT, EXO, Ikon etc… what do you think that BTS have in particular that other groups might not?
Well I also love NCT and EXO, they’re some of the biggest k-pop groups in the world. What I think is so special about BTS is that obviously you had PSY who kind of made k-pop worldwide, but BTS were really the first group to dominate the world and spread their message of “love yourself and do what makes you happy”. They were the first to really resonate with people from all walks of life around the world, and obviously now NCT 127 have become very big, kind of thanks to BTS spreading k-pop around the world. I think BTS just have a very special energy, a very special message, and it resonates with so many people around the world, people around the world now listen to groups like NCT and EXO because of BTS.
Tell us now about your song “Perfection”.
The song, I’ve been working on for the last four months, it’s in Korean and English, and it’s a song that I dedicated to Jimin because I think Jimin is perfect. It’s very upbeat, it’s very k-pop, my producers really studied the k-pop sound, the BTS sound, to get it kind of just right. It’s a very feelgood song and it’s all about perfection. I get a lot of trolls and haters online, so it’s my message to them, “I’m happy, just leave me be, who I am, I feel perfect in my own world” and it’s also a message to everyone who listens to the song. Everyone around the world is perfect in their own way, we just have to follow our dreams and be happy and ignore what other people say about us. It’s just a very uplifting song which is about perfection, which is obviously Jimin because he’s very perfect!
I guess the obvious criticism that people are going to have about the message of the song, is that on the one hand you’re saying “we’re all perfection in our own way” and that you want people to love who they are and embrace themselves, but on the other hand you’ve spent a lot of money to look like somebody else. How do you reconcile those two things?
Yeah, I completely understand why people would be confused or even criticise me, but what I’m trying to say is “this is why I feel perfect, I feel perfect now because of all the enhancements I’ve done, so this is who I am now – I’ve chosen to do this, it’s been my personal choice, and I’m following my dreams”. If there’s something you want to do in life that’s going to make you feel perfect, then go for it. This is something that makes me feel good, I look more like a k-pop star – everyone is perfect in their own way, and this just makes me feel more perfect.
So I assume you didn’t feel very happy with how you looked beforehand?
No, not at all. I had my first surgeries when I lived in Korea, when I was watching all the k-pop stars I thought “wow, they look amazing, I want to look like them”. So that’s why I had my eye surgery, my nose and my jaw done when I was in Korea. Beforehand, I looked very very different. I had no shape to my face, it was just like a round blob, my nose was huge, my eyes were very kind of small, and my lips had no definition. I literally felt like my face looked like a blob – I just wanted to change it and make my features like my jaw and my cheeks more defined, I’ve definitely changed a lot.
Your situation reminds me of the guy who was from Brazil who made headlines much like you did, for being a k-pop fan and having a large amount of surgery and he completely transformed his appearance. He hasn’t released a song, but I was wondering if you were aware of that guy.
Yeah, his name is Xiahn, he made headlines obviously for having a total transformation. I think he looks absolutely amazing, what the doctors did was incredible. His eyes look beautiful – he looks Korean actually, so his doctors did a really good job, and I have respect for him for sharing his story, because it’s a big deal to share that with the world and know that you’re going to receive so much criticism. I have so much respect for him, and he’s got a good doctor, maybe I need to go to them! [laughs]
So how do you handle the criticism? I had a look at the video and saw some comments there, and we both know what k-pop fans are like – how do you handle the negativity that you are no doubt going to receive?
Obviously I get a lot of backlash but I don’t even read the comments. I never respond to them, because those kind of people, they are looking for a response. They have a lot of insecurities themselves, that’s why they sit behind their mobile phone and troll people online. I don’t even read their comments. They think they’re bringing me down, but they’re actually bringing me up, they don’t realise that they’re helping me with that. I completely ignore them, they literally don’t affect me at all.
Some comments I can understand, like when people say “stop trying to change your race”. People are obviously confused – I’m not trying to change my race as such, I just want to have the Korean k-pop “look”. That’s obviously a very sensitive issue, and I would never do something so culturally insensitive to hurt people, it’s just a question of me wanting to look more k-pop, as opposed to me trying to change my entire ethnicity.
I watched your video, and one thing that really stuck out for me, is that you don’t dance!
[laughs] Oh my god, I know! I have been learning to dance. Obviously the k-pop dances are very hard…
…you didn’t want to do a bad job, or make it look rushed?
Right. I want to dance to the same standards as BTS. I’m working on some new songs that will have my dancing in them, I’m practicing and doing a lot of choreography, so my next songs will have more dance moves in them.
The particular theme of the song “Perfection” was me being in my own world, so the artistic director for my video told me to pretend that I’m in my own world, so all of the people around me I’m almost ignoring. So I have my dancers moving around me, and the theme is me being stuck in my own world where everything is so perfect and so happy, that I don’t even notice anything around me. That was the theme for that particular video, but you’ll definitely see some dance moves coming up in my next videos.
I imagine that the thing you’re going to get the most flak for on a musical level is that the song has very heavy Autotune in it, which was more in vogue around the time that you got involved in k-pop originally, whereas it’s actually fairly rare to hear obvious Autotune on a k-pop track these days.
I love it. I just love the sound of it – it’s very robotic, I think it goes well with the whole image of “perfection”, “plastic”, I think it just went very well with the theme. On my next songs there won’t be as much Autotune. I can sing, I just love the sound of it. A lot of people are saying that I use too much Autotune, but I just love it – and you’re right, some of the older k-pop styles did use a lot of Autotune and I guess that’s kind of the first music I listened to when I was in Korea. I just love the sound of it and it just goes so well with the theme of perfection, the idea that “I’m so perfect in my own world, I’m almost like a robot or a doll”.
I was wondering if you were aware of Chad Future and if so, what you thought of him?
No! Who is he, is he a k-pop star?
Um… he’s… yeah I thought you might not be, because your bio mentions that you’re “the first western solo artist to ever release a k-pop song in Korean and English”. Chad Future actually had a pretty hefty shot of making a career from doing exactly that, starting from about 2010 I think, he had quite a lot of songs. I’ll link you an interview, I think you’d be very interested!
Oh! Because I did a lot of research before [writing the bio], and I couldn’t find anyone. I found out there was a k-pop group from Eastern Europe who were European and who were doing k-pop songs, but I asked [in Korea] and nobody told me that there was a westerner who had done a k-pop song as a solo artist before. That’s interesting, I’ll have to check it out!
He didn’t have very much traction within the Korean k-pop community, I guess for obvious reasons – people didn’t really like the idea of a westerner doing it…
It’s very hard to break into the k-pop market, because in Korea it’s kind of a closed society, so they kind of support themselves. Even for Chinese artists it’s very hard for them to break into k-pop. With EXO some of the members are Chinese so they’ve managed to do it, but there’s not really that many Chinese artists. Then you’ve got 2PM where one of the members was from Thailand, but [when watching the group] you kind of forget that.
So are you actually trying to break into the industry itself, or are you just trying to do it independently? Say if SM or YG decided to send you an offer, would you take it, or would you continue to do it your own way?
Well I’d rather BigHit give me an offer! But yeah, absolutely [I’d accept an offer from] SM or YG. I’m actually going to Korea for two months in April, I’m going to go to all the entertainment offices, in particular BigHit, I’m going to try and find Jimin, try and find BTS and try to speak to them! I’ve got some songs that I’m working on, so I’m going to try to film them in Korea and perform them in Korea. I’d definitely like to work with some k-pop artists, maybe to have one featuring in my song. I’d love to go to all the entertainment offices and find some k-pop artists to collaborate with and find some record labels that would support me with that. I’m going to try my best when I go to Korea!
BTS are probably an exception to some degree, but generally k-pop artists don’t have any creative control over how they present themselves. Given that you’re someone to whom individuality and self-expression is very important, how would you reconcile that with being involved in the world of k-pop where often [as an artist] your creative expression ISN’T up to you?
I understand that in Korea the artists have very little control. When they debut as artists for the first few years they don’t make any money at all, because the record label takes all the money to repay for their training. It’s a very very tough market and there’s a lot of tragedies that happen in the dark side of the k-pop industry. There’s a lot of abuse that happens, there’s artists like SHINee’s Jonghyun who unfortunately took his life, there’s tragedies that happen behind the perfect facade, and for me I hope to break those boundaries. I have full creative control with my music, it’s on my own record label, I have full control over that and I think that’s very important as an artist. It makes it a lot harder when you’re doing it as an independent artist, but I hope that when I go to Korea, I can help k-pop artists do their own thing, maybe they can sign to my label, and give them a fair cut of the royalties, and support them as much as possible because the vast majority of k-pop artists really have no control whatsoever. BTS have really hit the big time so they have a better deal than other artists, but they’re locked into a contract until 2026, so their whole lives are controlled basically. They live together, they don’t get much money, they don’t see their families, so it’s a very tough industry and I hope to be able to break down those boundaries and make the k-pop industry more fair to artists.
Is there anything you’d like to say or anything I hadn’t touched on that you’d like to mention?
No, that’s absolutely perfect, that’s covered everything really, it was great!
Thank you very much for talking to me, I really appreciate it! I’ll link you the Chad Future stuff, because he tried to do a little bit of what you’re talking about, including a few collaborations with Korean idols, probably an interesting case study for you to have a look at to compare and contrast to what you’re doing.
Oh wow, okay! Thank you very much!
OLI LONDON LINKS
Thanks for reading this interview! Are you, or do you know, someone involved in the world of k-pop who would make a good Kpopalypse Interview subject? If so, get in touch!