Jessica Jung is all business.
Her comfort zone is a plane seat, where she writes the airy song lyrics that made her a global K-pop star, training for her celebrity from an early age. “My fans saw, they watched me grow,” she says.
Fame can blur boundaries. She makes friends with her stylists. She promotes products and, with them, herself. It can be hard to come back to the core of it all, the art-making, though what she does for a living, aside from running the businesses built from her brand, is entertain.
“I am always aware of audience,” Jung says, whether it be for her music videos in the five years since she was “forced out” of the South Korean girl band Girls’ Generation (SNSD), or her advertising campaigns for her Blanc & Eclare fashion brand, or the curated glamour of her celebrity for 8.8 million Instagram followers, or her reality show with her sister Krystal, or her appearances at New York Fashion Week.
“You know, I’ve been working since I was so young that it’s just in me,” Jung says of living her life in the public eye. “I don’t try too hard. I do know what they want to see and what should remain private. ... They want a lot of music. They want to see me traveling. They want to interact with me and my lifestyle, who I am friends with, that kind of stuff.”
When asked about privacy, Jung says, “It’s just a given. Even as a trainee, everything is so secretive, so private. You’re taught to keep private, not to reveal your feelings, your relationships — like, no boyfriend — and stuff like that. I learned to deal with it.”
Subjects she did not want to discuss included her dating status, though she is rumored to be in a relationship with Tyler Kwon, the chief executive of Coridel Entertainment, one of her representatives. “I don’t really want to talk about that,” Jung says of a romantic partner, “just because it’s a sensitive topic in Korea and throughout Asia. It’s still like that, culturally, kind of.”
Kwon has been photographed with Jung across the globe and spent an hour, as he jokingly put it, “lurking in the back” during a phone interview for this story.
“Some people do reality shows in their house, reveal their closet and every part of their house,” Jung says. “I keep my house private, my family private and possibly, if I can, my relationship private.”
Jung was born in San Francisco, but her parents moved their preteen daughters to Seoul after the girls were scouted by a South Korean talent agent.
“My mom was always very supportive. I don’t think she knew exactly that I would become a singer or an actress or a designer,” Jung says. “Before, she wanted me to be an international lawyer or an anchorwoman. But yeah, I think she’s happy now.”
She and Krystal “are just very different,” Jung says of her younger sister. “I never knew until I started working with her.”
In an interview that made waves with K-pop fans, Jessica said she and Krystal would film a second season of their show, “Jessica & Krystal,” in the United States, that would focus on how they spend their leisure time — picnics with friends, naps on the couch — everything they gave up in their shared hope to become icons.
“Definitely, I didn’t really get to hang out with my friends growing up. I was kind of missing out on school, and I didn’t get to go to the dance parties or that kind of stuff,” Jung says, laughing.
On turning 30, Jessica says she has no regrets about spending nearly two decades on the circuit, supported by her mother.
“My mom was 27 when she had me. You know, I do sometimes think of that — how did my mom do it? Twenty-seven is so young,” Jung says. “I do imagine having a kid, but later. I want a daughter, and I want to play dress up. I want her to be a little princess.”
That sentiment is fitting, perhaps, especially considering that “Little Princess” and “Ice Princess” are among the nicknames her legions of fans have bestowed upon her.
Jung spends her birthdays with her fans, but in the years since her sudden exit from Girls’ Generation, she has been “concentrating on myself and focusing on myself, traveling alone — now that I am a solo artist, when I travel, I am more relaxed and happy, and I’m not irritated by anything. Everything is smooth, and I’m in a good mood.”
Looking forward, she says, “I am embracing my age, actually. I want to grow into a woman that can inspire people and be happy where she is. … Honestly, I try to put my happiness first. If I am happy, my work quality is better. I learned that not too long ago.”
Even with the support of a manager, representatives and other assistants, Jung stays organized enough to juggle multiple careers, all with one aim: fame, and the many fruits it yields, even though it sometimes means being too busy to eat.
“Now I have a say in what I want to do. I have a say in my music and even for my brand. I produce things that, generally, I like,” Jung says. “A long time ago, I didn’t have that.”
Still, she credits her success to years of training to sing and dance alongside other performers. “It could be frustrating at times, but you learn so much from being in a group and [being] tightly managed,” Jung says. “That’s where I learned everything.”
She made her debut as an actress a decade ago, starring as Elle Woods in a South Korean theater adaptation of “Legally Blonde.” In the past few years, she has made appearances on TV shows and was featured in the Chinese romantic comedy “I Love That Crazy Little Thing” (2016), though her dealings in China have led to ongoing legal disputes.
But she keeps going, always. Having made music that “was very uplifting, very bright and bubbly, now I kind of want to do something different, something I haven’t done before,“ Jung says. “Something more about becoming a woman and having a stronger message.”
Her next evolution, she says, “would be like expanding my fan base.” She has her sights set on accessing the Australian and European markets.
“Koreans are very innovative. It’s a very fast-paced place,” says Jung, who goes by Jessica as well as Soo-yeon. “They switch it up and try to do new things; they learn and evolve.”
Yet, at the same time, the traditional and commercial demands of South Korean culture have produced a woman who, having profited from living life onstage and on screen, does not want to claim her partner, name her parents or discuss her spirituality in public for fear of alienating her fan base.
“I am Christian-curious. … I go to church,” Jung says. “Growing up, I never had a religion. The thing is, I am also not comfortable talking about religion. It could be sensitive.”
Fame demands discipline, drive and a certain amount of isolation. “I accept the fact that I need to cope with these kind of things,” Jung says. “If I think about it too much, or get irritated about something, in the end, it’s just bad for me.”
When asked what the next decade holds for her, Jung says: “What I ultimately want is to grow with my fans. As I become a woman — I am a woman now — as I become more mature, I want my fans to be mature with me and learn everything with me and grow.”