“I learned English by listening to slang,” Se7en announces over a lunch of upscale pizza and soda. “I learned the curse words first from the stage hands and then later on I learned what they meant.”
Everyone in the room erupts laughing. “Isn’t that the way it always is?” his hip publicist muses.
We dine on the 40th floor of the Viacom building in Times Square with glorious windows under which laid all of midtown. When asked why his camera sat pointed out the window all morning, Se7en’s personal friend replied that he was taping the view. The view is immediately forgotten however as Se7en magnificently sweeps into the room wearing his signature fedora, fresh from a visit to MTV.
When asked if he will do the interview first or have lunch, Se7en smiles, eyes the unopened pizza boxes, and after much prodding from his gang, finally decides that lunch will come before the interview. “Have a slice of pizza,” he offers me.
So here I am, having lunch with a man who had won nine Korean Grammys at an age when most kids were getting ready to graduate college. Only four years later, in 2007, he would overtake Japan selling out arenas and being honored at the Japanese MTV awards. Now, two years later, he is ready to conquer the United States.
He recently partnered with Lil’Kim in making his transition to the states. Their video “Girls” has already received substantial buzz in the hip-hop community. About Lil’Kim he says “she is very tough on the outside but sweet inside.”
A true showman, Se7en radiates the easy confidence and charm of a man who had been on the stage since the age of fifteen. As he eats, he casually makes chit chat with me. I chat back although I do my best not to stare. It is difficult as his hat and sunglasses highlight his strong handsome jawline. He speaks with animation. He asks me where I am from and I tell him Queens, then wondering if he was familiar with the five boroughs immediately correct myself, and say Shanghai.
“I know some Mandarin,” he confesses shyly. “Ni hao ma?”
“Wo hen hao,” I reply reflexively. I am very well.
He smiles. “I know that and ‘Wo ai nimen’!” I love you all. He waves to an imaginary audience with his free hand and then takes another bite of pizza.
“What would you say is better, your English or your Japanese?” his friend asks.
“I haven’t spoken my Japanese in years,” Se7en laughs and then remarks incredulously, “I had to learn it all in two weeks.”
When I later ask him about the trials and tribulations of learning the English language, he tells me that he practices up to 2-3 hours a day with a tutor. Then he thinks for a moment and nervously fiddles with a remote control as though he’s unsure of how to make the endeavor sound harder. Indeed, although his vocabulary is not yet broad, his pronunciation is flawless. Finally, he tells me that he also has a place in LA where he is currently living that has been a great help.
When I ask him what he thinks of New York, he tells me that he loves New York City and the nightlife here. His entire demeanor changes as the topic goes from language to leisure. He breaks down into helpless laughter when the New York night scene is mentioned. Apparently at some point during the prior night he had coerced his entourage into doing quite a few shots.
“I had to call him at nine this morning to make sure he woke up,” one of his friends adds.
“He just kept pouring and pouring. It’s all his fault,” another says.
So the question of whether Se7en is really a nightclub ringmaster as his music video advertises has been answered. He is as wild on his own time as during camera time. Although his full American album has not yet been titled or given a set release date, I find myself welcoming a true “bad boy” Asian superstar. Although Se7en had been set to debut in 2007, he tells me there was no delay. In 2007 they had intended to release a single but later decided to make it into a full album. Now, it appears his American audience has much more Se7en to look forward to than ever.
As I close up the interview, I wish him well and tell him I’ll see him later that night. He agrees and shakes my hand in a firm grip. I ask him if he’s nervous and he looks confused. I tell him that the invitation said that he was giving a concert that night.
“Maybe I’ll sing a song or two,” he says haphazardly, as though he gave out award-winning songs as easily as tic tacs. “But it’s mostly a party.”
Credits: Chang Yu for photos, Christine Miguel for research and background information.