TIFFANY YOUNG IS A POP STAR A DECADE IN THE MAKING
By Ernest Macias Photography Sophie Hur Published January 16, 2020
Tiffany Young’s arrival to superstardom has been decades in the making. The 30-year-old Korean-American pop star doesn’t quite need an introduction for her legion of fans (7.7 million on Instagram, to be exact), but then again, Young’s constant reinvention makes her ripe for one. At the age of 15, the singer-songwriter left her native California for Seoul, where she lived alone and trained for two years in the hopes of reaching pop stardom. At 17, Young made her dreams a reality, becoming a member of Girls’ Generation, one of K-pop’s all-time most successful female groups. Young has tasted the heights of fame and all that comes with it: exposure, control, and the demand for polished perfection. All of that led her to leave Korea in 2017 to pursue a solo career in the US, on her own terms.
Young’s 2019 EP, Lips on Lips, introduced a new sound and a new vision with it, its lead single “Born Again” serving as a glistening anthem about rebirth and new chapters. Riding the success of the EP, the singer is basking in the process of self-discovery, something she didn’t get to enjoy during her tenure as a K-pop darling. From her home in Los Angeles, Young used some of her newfound spare time to get on the phone with us and answer a long list of questions lifted from Glenn O’Brien’s legendary 1977 interview with Andy Warhol. From her wigstensions to Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, Tiffany Young reveals the things she lives by—and her most authentic self.
ERNEST MACIAS: You spent a decade with Girls’ Generation, then you made the decision to come back home. I can imagine that that was a very big decision for you. What was the main drive behind that?
TIFFANY YOUNG: It was a big decision. It wasn’t even about our careers； it was about what we wholeheartedly wanted as human beings. For me, it was to come back home； for some of my bandmates, it was rest. I knew I wanted to take the time off to spend it on me and really go back into the craftsmanship of my art. I didn’t have time to take a step back throughout 10 years. It’s so important to make sure that you want to learn and question everything, including yourself, and find new things that speak to you. Most importantly, find a new way to speak about things that you were never able to. I’m happy that I got to come back home.
MACIAS: Let’s talk about this past year. You released an EP, Lips On Lips. Your fans are really excited about what your next step is. Are you working on a full album now? Is it ready?
YOUNG: I have been in the studio and I have recorded 30 songs. I’m going to head back into the studio right after this Asia tour. I am ready to go back into the studio and experiment with more incredible producers, search for the right lyrics and emotions. It can be a bunch of singles. It can be a few EPs. It can be a full album. The most important thing for me is that I’m going to let my music and creativity lead the way. Being back home, creating and living at my own will and pace has opened me up.
MACIAS: You grew up listening to K-pop in California. In the last decade, K-pop has entered the mainstream in the U.S in a huge way. How does that make you feel, as someone who started very early on and now is able to do it from home?
YOUNG: It’s still something that I hold so dearly in my heart. It is my DNA. I love that I get to show both the Korean and American sides of me, in terms of the music spectrum. K-pop is all about layers, details, and hard work. The craftsmanship of it is being recognized, whether it comes from the training process or the creative process. K-pop artists are coming into their own and expanding. I hope that what I’m doing is going to inspire younger K-pop artists to experience growing into their own. Growing up, it was so important to see somebody that you could connect to in the media. It’s not just about representation, even though that’s happening, but there are so many different stories that are being shared.
MACIAS: You’ve worked with your former bandmates since the split. You’ve had the girls in music videos, and there have been rumors about a reunion. Is that something that you’re still open to?
YOUNG: We all are, and I am always going to be open to it. I’ve been very openly enthusiastic about it. I’m always like, “Let me know, girl. When are we going to get back together?” Right now, it’s the first time we’ve ever been apart and we’re working on separate projects. It’s nice just to hangout.
MACIAS: What was your first ambition?
YOUNG: My first ambition was to be a Disney princess.
MACIAS: Which princess did you want to be?
YOUNG: I was obsessed with Ariel [from The Little Mermaid]. It came out in 1989 and the whole fish out of water story spoke to me. I was so mesmerized by that whole story. It still speaks to me that if you believe in love and you chase after a bigger world, it’s always going to be there for you to use your new voice. I went too psychological with it, but absolutely, I still love it. After seeing Beyoncé being Nala [in The Lion King], I am so open to being a Disney animal as well, so please, Disney, let me know.
MACIAS: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
YOUNG: I did a lot of extracurricular activities, a lot of dance. I did orchestra. I played the flute for a good amount of years, and I sang. Then, my hobby became my passion and my passion became my career.
MACIAS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to pursue a career in the industry?
YOUNG: Nothing matters except for the craft. Not your look, not anything. Oh wait, your health and obviously, your heart. You have to love it. Those are my three things.
MACIAS: Who do you think is the world’s greatest artist?
MACIAS: That’s a wonderful answer.
YOUNG: Mom-donna. My mom loves Madonna. When she was in her thirties, The Blonde Ambition Tour—I have never connected with her so much.
YOUNG: Mom-donna, you have young girls still living and dreaming of your legendary work.
MACIAS: What’s your favorite work that you’ve done?
YOUNG: It would have to be “Born Again.” It was the lead single off my EP, and I wrote it. It happened so fast. It was a very big turning point in my life where things were moving: “Do I want to do this? Do I not want to do this? No, you know what? I’m going to be as honest as I can.” The music video was simple. It was minimal. When I was shooting that video and recording that song, something about it felt so freeing. Watching the fans sing out to that song during my shows is also one of my favorite moments.
MACIAS: Do you prefer Pepsi or Coke?
YOUNG: Coke. My current obsession is Diet Coke Feisty Cherry.
MACIAS: I haven’t tried that. I’m a big fan of Diet Coke.
YOUNG: Can we go have one?
MACIAS: Of course! Do you dance and sing every day?
YOUNG: I do, at least in the shower. I have to say, I do. I think it’s a part of life. I think everybody should.
MACIAS: Do you change your clothes to make art?
YOUNG: Fashion is a very big part of expressing my art, and it’s been a very important part of knowing myself and also protecting myself. It’s kind of like armor for me. I’m in a superhero costume. I definitely change the way I walk or speak and move through what I’m wearing.
MACIAS: Do you think that people should live in outer space?
YOUNG: Absolutely. I just re-watched all the Star Wars movies.
MACIAS: You know what? I’ve never watched the Star Wars movies.
YOUNG: No? I am about to give you my Disney+ account right now. You need to.
MACIAS: Do you think the future will be futuristic?
YOUNG: I thought 2020 would be futuristic, and it’s kind of not. We’re actually getting more retro, so I guess we might be more retro. Retro-future?
MACIAS: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
YOUNG: I like to unwind and be with my dogs, go to the movies, or stay home and Netflix and wine. I’m pretty introverted on my days off. I like to stay in and be alone and read a good book. I’ve been reading a lot because I realized I’ve been overstimulated, visually. I need to find a different way to stimulate and entertain myself, and books are a great way.
MACIAS: What’s the last thing that you read, or what are you reading now?
YOUNG: Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. it’s an eye-opening book that everybody should read, both women and men.
MACIAS: What time do you get up in the morning?
YOUNG: I get up around 9:00 or 10:00 AM every single day.
MACIAS: Do you look in the mirror when you get up?
YOUNG: No, I don’t. The first thing I do is get coffee or water. I am not a person until I get caffeine. I wake up, and I make sure I drink a large cup of ice-cold water and then make myself some coffee. I am not nice until I have my coffee, which is why I probably don’t talk to anybody. Even when I was on the tour bus, I’m always like, “Don’t talk to me, she’s not here yet.”
MACIAS: How much time do you spend on the phone every day?
YOUNG: When I need to be on it, I’m pretty sure I’m on it all day because I do everything on it—from my emails to my bills to my YouTube to social media. I’ve been on social media a lot more, looking at mental wellness pages.
MACIAS: Which pages are you obsessing over lately?
YOUNG: There’s this one page called Rising Woman. There’s one page called The Holistic Psychologist. Then, there’s this really fun one called How Do You Adult. It’s so funny.
MACIAS: Do you think you’re a mother figure to anyone?
YOUNG: Yes, I am to my dogs. My fans have been calling me mother lately, and I’m actually kind of living for it. They’re like, “Mommy Long Legs” after the “Run For Your Life” video. I was like, “Oh my gosh, you can be so original.”
MACIAS: That video is insane.
YOUNG: So, I guess I am a mother figure.
MACIAS: Full circle. Mom-donna, and now, you’re a mother figure.
YOUNG: Mommy long legs.
MACIAS: Do you wear a wig?
YOUNG: I actually wear a wigstension.
MACIAS: A wigstension?
YOUNG: So, this is a new thing. I love wigs. I love extensions. On tour, my hair artist [Dalina Rebollo] came up with this thing called a wigstension, which does it all. It’s just so fabulous and so convenient. I guess that’s the new craze for me right now. It’s so natural, but still so snatched. I don’t even know if that makes sense.