In the weeks leading up to his group Epik High’s new album Strawberry, 42-year-old Tablo has been marketing the project with the zeal of a chronically online millennial. “I’ve been making memes since before memes existed, for a good 15, 16 years,” he says, explaining why he’s chosen to whip up dozens of them to promote Strawberry across his Instagram and Twitter accounts. “I have hundreds of memes ready to go. I’m ready.”
Tablo and bandmates Tukutz and Mithra are architects of Korean hip-hop, and Tablo’s tech nerd-dom may have helped them get there. “I think it’s one of the reasons why Epik High has had longevity. We were one of the first artists in Korea to be on Twitter, to put our content on YouTube.” And when we asked him to send a list of videos he recently watched, he took the request literally. “I’m assuming that other [Watch History guests] curate it. Maybe that’s what I was supposed to do, but I went straight into my actual history. These were five that I had literally downloaded from YouTube.”
From a crypto collapse to K-pop newcomers, here are his top picks.
1. “Sam Bankman-Fried Interviewed Live About the Collapse of FTX”
Mashable: Hey Tablo! You went to Stanford I’m wondering if your interest in FTX is a result of a subconscious affinity with Silicon Valley.
Tablo: Hey! Yeah, it’s possible. When I was there I went out of my way to distance myself from all the tech stuff that was going on around me. My first year roommate, Steven Chau, was one of the early people at Google. He helped make Google Maps and invent Street View, and then he moved on to [product management] at Uber. At the time, Google was setting up a table in the Stanford quad and giving out flyers that said “use Google.” That’s how early and exciting it was. But I had already defined myself as an artist. I was very aware of how entrepreneurial Silicon Valley was, and I was worried that my artistic side would naturally conform. These are thoughts that only an 18-year-old would have. Like, “I don’t want to be like swallowed up by this startup world and become a billionaire.”
Yeah, God forbid I go with my roommate and do this Google thing and make millions of dollars. I need to protect myself from that and become the poet or whatever I’m meant to be. Luckily, it worked out, but I do regret it sometimes. And I think it’s seeped into me because I have a huge interest in tech.
I watched this [interview with failed FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried] in its entirety, waiting to get on a plane in Bangkok. What I was interested in was that this guy was clearly lying. And he had literally destroyed the life savings of ordinary people. When I heard that the New York Times was going to do an interview with him, it sort of messed with my brain. I was like, “I have yet to see a single interview of the victims, all of the people who were affected by this.” But this guy was all over the media.
I felt like, “Are we gonna just keep listening to this guy lie? OK, let’s see how they approached this interview.” It was fascinating watching him in front of an audience from a sociological, human level. Leading up to this interview the headlines about this dude were glowing. Instead of “this many people got hurt [by this exchange],” the headlines were like, “the failed dream of a young man.” How are these headlines even real? Innocent until proven guilty applies both ways. You can’t have glowing headlines that sympathize with someone.
It’s a little bit of like, did you keep up with what happened with Theranos?
Of course! WeWork and all of those companies
The myth of the founder that was supposed to be a genius and then fucked it all up. Maybe that’s a result of the media attention paid to previous fraudsters or scammers.
I don’t even think the word fraud or scam cuts it. This guy just literally took people’s money and used it as his own. So he just stole. Theranos, WeWork, Bernie Madoff — these people are in our collective cultural consciousness. There’s this fascination I have about why we’re fascinated. I’ve had this theory [that we’re] interested in the fall of people we deem to be stars because the perfect examples don’t really teach us much. Law abiding citizens going for their dreams and living happily ever after — that’s what everyone wants [for themselves], but I don’t know if there’s much to learn from that other than being inspired. But there is a lot to learn from watching people fall. Our most most loved or stories are about heroes falling. Even in the Bible, Lucifer, all the Greek heroes. Now we get it in real life, in documentary form.
2. “Bob Dylan San Francisco Press Conference 1965”
If that’s one type of press conference for one type of idol, Bob Dylan’s press conference is a similar format but a completely different type of dialogue. What intrigues you about it?
This is a video that I watch every six, seven months. Bob Dylan is very at odds with everyone else in the room. He’s there to promote his thing but unhappy to be there. You can see him sort of detached, watching this and laughing at it. I liked this press conference so much that we did a parody of it introducing our new album [on the track “Strawberry”(Opens in a new window)].
What about Bob Dylan were you trying to emulate?
I think it’s less about emulating. I identified with [Dylan] because I have been in rooms like that where I was put on a stage and people are treating me like I’m of some importance. But at the same time, I’m feeling a lot of disdain [from them]. In those situations, some people panic or get angered or frustrated. But usually I laugh. In my life, in my career, I’ve gone through absolutely horrible things. It’s really hard to find humor in it, but I somehow do. I think that’s my natural disposition. That’s what I recognize about what Bob Dylan is doing in this press conference. He’s the only one in that room aware of the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
The poet Allen Ginsberg, Dylan’s friend, is in the audience. It was interesting to me that Ginsberg acted almost like a co-conspirator, lobbing funny questions at Dylan and laughing along with him. They’re in on the joke together. Just like you and Mithra and Tukutz. You have your own people in the room that get you.
That’s a great point. I think I watch it to remind myself to never take myself seriously. Young Bob Dylan was, at least in my eyes, the master of that. He’s often in rooms where everyone is overly serious about his art, and the guy at the center of it is somehow able to recognize how ridiculous it is. Epik High has always been like that. And sometimes I need to remind myself to keep that going. Because that’s the only way you’re gonna stay sane in a world where Sam Bankman-Fried is sitting in shorts, chillin’ on an island [and being interviewed by the New York Times]. We need to always recognize how surreal and how ridiculous it all is.
3. “The Real Danger Of ChatGPT”
How do you feel about a potential future where songwriters use AI tools like ChatGPT to write music?
There’s a video I posted to my Instagram where I asked ChatGPT to write a rap in the style of Epik High. I posted it because it was funny but, of course, it’s not great. Something ChatGPT wrote is not going to be as good as if I write it. But we have to be aware that these things get exponentially better. I posted the video with a caption like, “I quit my job today.”
Science fiction is only a fiction until it becomes actual science. To not be replaced, you’ve got to figure out some way to utilize [AI] where you’re still a part of the equation.
The way I approach technology is: The minute you know about it, it’s a waste of time to sit around and discuss whether or not it’s good. Because it’s there. We have to discuss how to handle it. Chat GPT is going to fundamentally change the way we communicate and create, and it can’t just be a cheat.
I would rather anybody doing creative work at all say “how can I use this to heighten what I do?” instead of “it will never be as good as me.” Because it could be. Science fiction is only a fiction until it becomes actual science. To not be replaced, you’ve got to figure out some way to utilize [AI] where you’re still a part of the equation.
And I mean, some people are just terrible writers. They’re gonna need some help.
4. “11 Great Movie Monologues”
I would talk to you about that for another 20 minutes, but I have to move us along. Tell me about the 11 greatest movie monologues.
It’s funny that we’re talking about this right after Chat GPT. Classic monologues, well-written soliloquies, and dialogue have always been a favorite genres of mine. I always was interested in writing, and I imagined that I would become a filmmaker or a screenwriter at one point in my life. And it was because of these great speeches, both in the real world and the fictional world. I’ll listen to the YouTube video as I’m cleaning the house. All I’m doing is vacuuming, but a monologue comes on and I’m like, “I’m vacuuming with a purpose!” There are all kinds of these compilations on YouTube, and I watch them frequently when I need some kind of encouragement or assurance.
I noticed all 11 were men. I need one from a powerful woman!
It just tells you that we need better written female characters, right?
Absolutely, and you said earlier that you used to want to write scripts.
I’ve been working on one for a couple of years. It’s a scripted show with Scooter Braun’s company based on my experiences, my story. Maybe later if things work out I can tell other stories as well.
Would you also compose the music for that show?
I mean, if they wanted me to.
It might be nice to hear how someone else interprets your story.
Right, that might be cool, too. I recently did the music for a Korean series that’s going to be on Netflix, though I don’t think I can say the name yet. I’m more interested in making music for another person’s project.
5. NewJeans (뉴진스) “Ditto” Official MV (side A)
My watch history is basically videos I watched alone at an airport or videos I watched with my daughter. What I really liked about this NewJeans project is that there’s a larger story that they’re telling [about] a young person that is feeling alienated. It very poetically expresses what someone of that age is going through. My daughter will be entering that age pretty soon. She’s 12 right now, and she was like “Dad, you’ve got to check out this video. The story of the girl in here really got to me.”
I love that people that are still innovating. Whatever perception we have of what K-pop looks and sounds like, they’re clearly widening the envelope. And I’m hoping to see more of this. Judging by the video, I think they’re literally working with like a short film kind of [director]. One of the artists that wrote on “Ditto,” The Black Skirts, used to be an artist that was signed to me. I love that someone who people would think is like an indie musician who’s distanced themselves from K-pop is writing on a K-pop song. In another NewJeans video, one of the members is Siri, and that sequence is amazing. I think there’s someone [behind it] that is also aware of things that are unique to current times.
Have you looked into the lore of how the group’s music videos connect?
My daughter explained it to me. I was like, “Oh, this [project] has a worldview.” A lot of the money behind K-pop and a lot of the people making decisions seem to underestimate young people, which is ironic because that’s where their power and wealth comes from. I sense a little bit of that disrespect because the some of the content that they’re putting out… I’m not saying it’s bad! It’s good. Everything in K-pop is done well. But I can see that whoever was making decisions is underestimating the 12-year-old, like my daughter, or the 15-year-old teenager, thinking that this is the extent of what they want.
I feel like [the NewJeans team] respect[s] that my 12-year-old daughter can think about issues like alienation and anxiety and technology and the deeper lore behind things. They don’t think that just excellent dancing and singing and pristine looking videos are going to be enough.
I would argue that’s what made BTS so successful. So much of it was down to their storytelling of friendship throughout death and loss. It’s really wild as I’ve been reporting on this over the last couple of years to see some other companies not catch on. When I talk to them, they really don’t get it.
They don’t get it. And when they see that that [strategy] works and try it, you can totally see they don’t actually get it. So it becomes this horrendous mess of not understanding what it is. BTS is a great example. They were able to deliver visuals and music and lyrics in a way that allowed their fans to feel like they understood that they were complex beings. That factor is underestimated by a lot of others in the industry.
That’s sort of what made Epik High what it was. When we first launched into the stratosphere, I think it was because of that whole thing, the lore and the thinking involved. I have always perceived my audience — no matter what age they are, no matter who they are — as complicated and complex as I am. And that my content needs to be as honest as I can be. I always have people around me asking, “Will they get it, though?” And I think that’s the worst question to ask. Of course they’ll get it — they are alive, aren’t they? Anybody that’s living a life is super complicated and complex and is capable of so many different emotions. They’re just not given an opportunity to feel them.
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