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A Journey Through the Kaleidoscope of Mark Tuan’s Artistry

Chinese-American artist and GOT7 member, Mark Tuan speaks about his solo releases, his vulnerability, and plans on making his mark on the silver screen

Divyansha Dongre Dec 09, 2021

"Everyone can expect a very vulnerable Mark." -Mark Tuan. Photographer: William Chan. Stylist: Sussy Campos

Mark Tuan wears many hats. From penning down his earnest thoughts as a songwriter to delivering phenomenal stages, curating capsule collections, and occasionally, strutting fierce poses as a model. If the musician were to jet back to his middle school days with a reel of every accord he has to his name, young Tuan wouldn’t be in the position to fathom his future triumphs. “I was just an ordinary high school kid that did not know what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Tuan opens up in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India. “But the opportunity came to me and now, there are so many things that I want to do.”

Born Mark Yien Tuan, the 28-year-old artist rose to fame with JYP Entertainment’s seven-member boy band, GOT7. How Tuan’s stars aligned, leading him to chase his newfound dreams is an anecdote for the books. Fated to add his unique color to the music industry, Tuan was scouted in 2010 by a JYP Entertainment employee in his hometown of Los Angeles, California. With no active intentions of pursuing the performing arts, Tuan—after receiving a nudge from his friends—enrolled for the audition. He cleared the auditions and received his golden ticket to the glimmery realm of K-pop. The multifarious artist then dropped out of high school and moved to South Korea to calibrate the performer in him. 

Alongside acquiring seasoned-like experience in vocal training, choreography and rap, Tuan pushed the horizons of his artistry through acrobatics and martial arts, setting up a strong foundation to support a promising future. “In 2010 I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be an artist yet,” Tuan expresses. “It wasn’t until around 2011 that I knew this is something I really wanted. But if trainee Mark saw the Mark of today, I think he would be proud and would want to work harder so he could be a better version.”

Tuan alongside his band members JAY B, Jinyoung, BamBam, Jackson Wang, Youngjae and Yugyeom, made their debut on January 16th, 2014 with their first EP, Got It, and over the next seven glorious years, Tuan played a crucial role in establishing the group’s sonic footprint. To be precise, Tuan holds songwriter credits on 20 GOT7 tracks and eight as a co-composer.  

Tackling a different thematic and emotion on every track, Tuan’s residency under JYP Entertainment shifted the spotlight to his introspective abilities and unique vocal colors. From pulsating synth hip-hop to suave R&B or pure pop bliss, Tuan never failed to deliver unforgettable performances, instantly carving a space in the hearts of millions. 

“I think for me right now my biggest goal is just to be happy doing what I am doing.”- Mark Tuan. Photographer: William Chan. Stylist: Sussy Campos

During his tenure at JYP Entertainment, Tuan also released two solo singles—the first one being a Chinese digital single titled “Outta My Head” on January 11th, 2020. The track marked a milestone in his life as it was his first official solo project, giving his fans a nuanced understanding of his vocal sensibilities and the stories waiting to emerge from the depths of his artistry. The same year, “Outta My Head” was followed up with Tuan’s second Chinese single “I’ve Never Told You.” 

After seven spectacular years under JYP Entertainment, GOT7 parted ways with the agency in January 2021. Marking the beginning of a new chapter, the septet released the heartening single, “Encore” with Tuan credited as the executive producer; “We will sing for you for the rest of the days too/ Encore! Encore!” 

Following the group’s departure from the entertainment giant, Tuan headed back home with an empty canvas that was waiting to be painted with his nonpareil artistic hues. Despite being skeptical about what lay ahead, he was keen on using this time to grow, “I did not have anything mapped out after moving back to America. I was still uncertain of what I wanted to do and wasn’t sure if I was going to continue to pursue music,” he confesses. “I have been pretty much just going with the flow and trying to grow in any way I can. This is a new beginning for me and it is just the start.”

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Adhering to the promise the group shared in “Encore,” Tuan released “One In A Million” on February 12th, 2021—his first collaborative single as a solo artist with Bangladeshi-American producer, Sanjoy. Around this time, he entered an exclusive contract with Creative Artists Agency (CAA)—one of America’s biggest talent agencies—to expand his digital footprint in the region.

This was truly just the beginning for the ambitious Chinese-American artist. Tuan made headlines once again—this time for his feature on 88rising’s OST for Marvel’s top-grossing film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Featured on the ninth track, “Never Gonna Come Down”, alongside South Korean singer-songwriter, BiBi, the single introduced Tuan to a wider audience, soaring the masses’ anticipation for his solo album. “I was offered the opportunity to be a part of it and I have always been a big Marvel fan so I just had to do it,” Tuan shares. 

Two months later, Tuan released his highly-anticipated solo single “Last Breath.” Co-written with lilspirit and OVRCZ, “Last Breath” sees the singer share his frustrations about being in a suffocating relationship; “I can’t hold it back, I’m suffocatin’/ You’rе controllin’ me and I can’t escape, oh no/ I wish I would’ve known about your evil plans/ Keep fallin’ for these childish games.” As previously reported on Rolling Stone India, Tuan creates a sense of urgency and hopelessness, all while explaining the trials of walking on eggshells. The strangulation is further enhanced by Tuan’s desire to breathe in peace—a mundane action for many, Tuan views it as some sort of elixir. 

The messaging of the track remains universal. Without dwelling much on the nature of the relationship, the track communicates the trials and tribulations of anyone who finds themselves in a suffocating relationship of any nature, romantic or platonic. ” The track holds a super personal message behind it to me,” he explains the thought behind the single. “The song is written in a way so that listeners could also feel the lyrics and relate to them on a more personal level.”

Distributing his attention equally between lyricism and cinematography, Tuan elucidates on the symbolism displayed in the music video. Given the track’s melancholic mood and intense lyricism, curiosity engulfed my senses questioning whether the track paid homage to his childhood; “The story behind the music video tells a different story than what the song is actually about,” he explains. Mirroring his lyrical approach, Tuan was keen on empowering listeners to interpret his art in a manner palatable to their interests and emotional landscape, “There are a lot of symbolic things behind the music video and I just wanted the viewers to see it and have their own interpretations.” 

Beginning this new chapter came almost naturally. While many artists have shared their struggles with formulating their unique sound, Tuan’s experience with “Last Breath” is a testimony to the confidence in his art, “There wasn’t a very challenging process when working on the single,” Tuan reveals. “Everything went by very smoothly and I’m just very satisfied with how the song came out. Once we finished writing “Last Breath” I knew this was the first song that I would want to release.”

For a track as intimate and thoughtful as “Last Breath,” I was curious to know whether Tuan had a golden verse from the single that remains etched in his consciousness. Contrary to what I had in mind, Tuan admitted to not having a favorite line; “It is very hard to pick my favorite lyric from this song. Every lyric in this song has a meaning to me so I wouldn’t be able to have a favorite.”  

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For what it’s worth, “It’s hard to inhale when you’re too close/ So I only breathe when I’m alone,” continues to echo in my mind. There’s that chilling sense of loneliness Tuan highlights here, which speaks volumes on how calmness and well-being are not guaranteed in a relationship. Sometimes, you need to exclusively commit to yourself—or in the words of Emma Watson, commit to being “self-partnered”—in order to truly experience freedom. 

Diving deeper into the recording process, Tuan briefly touches on how having just his voice (as opposed to six other vocals) on the record made him more aware of perfectionism; “I just knew that I wanted this song to come out perfect. We actually took more than one session to record this single. Now that it is only my voice on the song we had to make sure everything sounded right.”

After seven years of working in a group as sonically bold and diverse as GOT7, Tuan reflects on the differences between creating solo and group records: “I think the only creative process that is different is that when we worked on songs for GOT7, we had to think of what suits the group’s color,” he explains. “But working on my solo project, I’m just writing songs that tell my own personal story.” The solo journey has also been creatively liberating: “I am currently trying to create an album that tells my story so I think right now songwriting is the most liberating (creatively) to me.”

There’s a fascinating pattern in Tuan’s artistic approach. For many musicians, the cathartic process of writing and performing helps them come to terms with their experiences. Yet for Tuan, creating music that largely resonates with his listeners is his primal focus. “I think that creating songs that the listeners can relate to is something important to me because I want them to really feel what I’m trying to convey to them,” he unravels. Perhaps, this is the reason why fans continue to find solace in Tuan’s words whilst patiently waiting for the day his debut solo album makes some big waves. 

For this musical genius, the sky’s the limit. Aside from working on the concepts for his debut solo album, which he “didn’t want to share too much since it is still a work in progress,” Tuan expressed his interest in making a mark on the silver screen; “I’ve always said this, but I have wanted to give acting a try,” he adds. 

As an admirer of Tuan’s artistry, I carefully treaded the unknown territories of his upcoming solo album, ardent on knowing how the process has been for him; “It has been crazy working on my debut album. A lot of studio sessions, a lot of songs written, and a lot of thought going behind everything,” Tuan explains. “Everyone can expect a very vulnerable Mark,” he says about what the listeners can expect, instantly prompting my senses to prepare itself for an emotionally satiating record, which I’m pretty sure I’ll always find myself revisiting. 

As for what lies ahead, Tuan reflects on his journey before revealing his biggest goal, “I am lucky to say a lot of goals I had set for myself have been achieved, thanks to my fans. Now I just want to do the things I love to the best of my capabilities.” Dissecting his dream board deeper, Tuan seems hopeful for his future, picking happiness as his key goal; “I think for me right now my biggest goal is just to be happy doing what I am doing.” 

Right before wrapping up the interview, Tuan—being the humble and compassionate artist he is—conveys a message of love and support for his Indian fans, “I would just really love to go meet you guys one day!” he exclaims, “Until then, stay healthy and safe!” With that, Tuan laid the foundation of a path brimming with rich opportunities, artistic epiphanies and enthralling stories, slowly coming together to narrate the tale of an exquisitely gifted artist named Mark Tuan.

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