For years, Korean-American singer-songwriter Eric Nam reverse-engineered his songs. He wrote the lyrics in English, then translated the words into Korean to sound more familiar to listeners in South Korea, where he is based. But the U.S.-born artist has taken an entirely different approach to his latest project. Before We Begin, released earlier this month, is Nam’s first all-English album since he debuted as a pop soloist in 2013. With tracks ranging from a vulnerable expression of his experience with physical and mental burnout this year — writing “Love Die Young” was “a process of rehabilitation and catharsis,” he says — to a lead single that celebrates the feeling of an unhealthy relationship ending, the album marks Nam’s first step in shedding the label of a “K-pop artist” and positioning himself as a pop artist in the U.S. market.
Nam grew up in Atlanta. Though he dreamt of being a musician, Nam instead embarked on what he calls the “Asian parents’ dream” — graduating cum laude from Boston College and then receiving an offer to work at Deloitte Consulting in New York City. But Nam uploaded song covers to YouTube for fun, and when they were noticed by the producers of an American Idol-like competition show called Star Audition: Birth of a Great Star 2, he was invited to travel to South Korea to participate. He was in the midst of a gap year in India before starting his job, and, seeing a chance to grasp at his dream, Nam said yes to the opportunity.