Ted Park isn’t the type of guy to forget his roots — if anything, they’ve propelled him forward through adversity, and will continue to propel him toward his approaching stardom.
Catching up with him over the phone the day after Thanksgiving, the first topic of conversation was me and my holiday. It was an unconventional way to start an interview, but it was fitting. The adventures of Ted Park, who now lives in New York, have been anything but conventional thus far.
Despite the deeply melodic, Top 40-ness of his music, Park has been anything but a mainstreamer or an insider. Born in Madison, Park moved to his family’s ancestral home of South Korea at the beginning of seventh grade. Monolingual in English, Park was accepted as an Americanized novelty at first, but then eventually brushed away.
“They wouldn’t really fuck with me like that,” Park wistfully recalled.
Depressed and out of place, music became at outlet for his younger self. At first he consumed hip-hop and pop, really everything, on a mass scale. Then, citing an inclination for writing bestowed upon him by his academic “pops,” Park began to write his own music as an adolescent.
The wide array of music Park listened to became a deep pool of inspiration from which he formed his striking sound. Park said he considers his music to be a mix of R&B, pop and hip-hop, and himself a singer-rapper. On his tracks he blends the catchiness of the first two with the energy and swagger of the latter.
On tracks like “Hello (Who Is This?),” he tells a story — coming home and meeting up with an ex-beau — in terms general enough to apply to anyone, but with the charisma to make it feel authentic in its sentimentality. Ted Park doesn’t sell emotions like some artists do — he evokes them.
Following a move back to Madison before high school, Park began to see signs of progress in his growth as a young artist. No longer panned by himself or others, Park recalls the moments when people actually began to enjoy his music.
Potential doesn’t pay rent though, and neither does a few thousand plays and a few hundred Soundcloud followers. At the same time as Park was getting a taste of a real music career, he said his living situation in Madison began to deteriorate.
Citing the allure of going out and chasing the dream, and the factors that led him to feel like he was being pushed out of Madison, Park dropped out of high school to go all-in on his music — but really in himself.
Suffice to say, the bet didn’t pay off at first. In fact it looked like Park had bet it all on black, with the ball on red. The years that followed consisted of Park making one step forward, only to get knocked two steps back.
Eventually he found himself in New York, where he met an investor named Saho at a hotel party at the end of 2015. Always wanting to invest in an artist, Saho knew Park was the one he’d been looking for after hearing his music and getting to know him more.
In the months that followed, the pair would see their money dwindle away into studio time, promotional fees and all the avenues artists must send their money down with no guarantee of return before they make it big. Still, throughout all of it, Saho retained his faith in Park, seeing to it that he had food and a place to stay — even if it was in the slums, Park said. All the while Park was plagued by the knowledge that his mother was badly ill in South Korea, he said.
The latter, Park said, formed the conditions for one of his first songs to garner attention from the likes of Complex, a New York based culture magazine.
“I was down about my moving back to Korea, I really missed her. She told me she wanted me to make music that made people happy and wanting to dance. I wanted to make something uptempo to cheer myself up and to make music for my mom, friends and listeners to bring up. We had been going through some shit you know. I just wanted to make brighter shit.”
Now in 2016, he and Saho were nearly homeless together, Park said, when record labels finally began to start reaching out. In meetings, he said, they were impressed by Park’s sound and following, but noted his lack of that one elusive hit.
Park, now motivated more than ever, returned back to his roots in Madison to find it. For once, something came easy. On his first night back, Park met back up with one of his mentors, DJ Pain 1. Chilling at his crib, Pain 1 played Park a beat that hit him like a bolt of lightning.
In the space of a few hours Park wrote his lyrics, and the two had a track recorded named “Hello (Who Is This?).” Initially experiencing a slow start, the track soon got picked up on Spotify’s “Fresh Finds” playlist and made it’s way onto radio stations across the country before shooting to the top 10 of Billboard’s Viral 50.
Park got his break, and soon he got his record deal with a major label.
Nowadays he, Saho and his full team are back on their feet and thriving in New York City. He’s playing successive live shows for the first time, including one at the historic Webster Hall on Dec. 10, and has a pile of unreleased tracks he’s dying to release, now equipped with the push a record label can provide.
He has his eyes forward, but hasn’t lost sight of the past. His next main goal, Park said, is to provide Madison artists with an easier path than he had, “an outlet,” he said.
Park wants nothing more for the Trapos, the 3rd Dimensions, the Trebinos and the Sierra DeMartinos to join him on the wave he’s on. Maybe, if he truly succeeds, he’ll be back with them in Madison one day, if it gets the national spotlight himself and others demand.