In 2020, K-Pop is a worldwide phenomenon, but that wasn’t the case back in Tablo‘s school days.
When Tablo was around 12 or 13, he attended a “very strict” private boarding school where he shared a dorm room with eleven other students. The student who woke up first in the morning would get the privilege of choosing which music everyone would start their day with.
Tablo’s taste in music greatly differed from his roommates’, and they had no understanding of K-Pop. At the time, the word “K-Pop” didn’t exist. Before the 2000s, it was more commonly referred to as Gayo (가요).
I was into two different types of music at the time: American hip-hop and Korean music, neither of which is Meatloaf. And other people who were in the room, some would play alternative rock, but I was obviously the only person playing K-Pop. And at the time, we didn’t even have the word K-Pop, really, so to them it was just really foreign music.
One day, Tablo woke up first, and he decided to share the song “Hayeoga” by Seo Taiji and Boys with his roommates. This was met with “racist” bullying.
I woke up earliest one day, and I played this song, and I had hoped that people would like it. This guy who loved Meatloaf came up and turned it off, and said some, you know, very unnecessarily racist things [ . . . ] and so did some of the other kids that were in the room.
This bullying might have made some people change their tune, literally, but not Tablo. “I have a defiant spirit,” he said. “so that made me want to do it even more.”
Tablo defied his bullies by getting up the earliest every day to play Korean music. Eventually, this led to a fight, and Tablo’s teachers took his bully’s side.
Every morning, I would deliberately wake up earliest, even though I was tired as f**k. I would just wake up, and I would play a Korean song on purpose. And one day [the student who liked Meatloaf] walked up and took the [cassette] tape out, and he chucked it out the window. Obviously, a fight broke out. The teachers at the time sided with him. I’m not going to say it’s race related, but that’s what it felt like at the time.
Because of these experiences as a Korean kid living abroad, Tablo says he became “protective” of Korean music and his “Koreanness”. “People that are Korean overseas are more passionate about their Koreanness,” he explained, “because it’s constantly being tested.”
Back then, Tablo had no idea that he would one day be making the music he admired so much, but he credits these past experiences with influencing his career path. He said, “That made me fall in love with Korean music more.”
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