Just two years ago, the singer known as Tiffany (born Stephanie Hwang) was celebrating her 10th-anniversary with her group Girls’ Generation, the most successful K-pop girl group of all time. The octet dropped their sixth full album Holiday Night to commemorate reaching this milestone, which quickly ranked at number one on the iTunes Albums chart in 18 countries and within the top 10 in 35. The two leading singles, “Holiday” and “All Night,” made reference to the group’s past and future; while the first was a nice homage to their previous more bubblegum days, the second epitomized what a constantly innovating girl band of women in their late 20s looked like.
However, the 10th-anniversary comeback album and a promising more mature image soon turned into their last with the primary lineup. Three of the members decided not to re-sign their contracts with SM Entertainment, home to some of K-pop’s biggest acts like Red Velvet and EXO. Although the women have said that this is not the end of Girls’ Generation as a group, it’s certainly a new chapter for them. This especially rings true for Tiffany, as she was one of the members to opt out.
The California native decided to leave South Korea to fulfill a dream she had always talked about while in Girls’ Generation: coming back home. Just like her idol and former label mate BoA, who was the first Korean artist to reach success in Japan in the early aughts, she aspired to become a household name abroad and to return home a hero. Tiffany, who left for Korea at 15-years-old to chase the K-pop dream, wished to do the same. “[BoA] reached a bigger world with her music,” the singer told the Weekly at a coffee shop in Los Angeles. “That’s basically what I connected to and inspired me to move, learn a language, learn a culture at such a young age.”
After a decade of working in South Korea and building a worldwide fanbase, the 29-year-old decided to finally move back to LA and go to acting school. She signed with Transparent Arts, the record label of her longtime friends and past collaborators Far East Movement (they did the song “Don’t Speak” together in 2016). “I wanted to work with someone who really, really saw and believed in my vision, and Far East Movement had an incredible response when I remember asking, ‘So what do you think about me doing music in America?’ And they said, ‘We believe in change,’” she says. “Creating music comes from such [a] compassionate place for them, and I’m just so glad that I’m with such amazing artists and human beings guiding the way.”
A massive relocation and record label weren’t the only changes for Tiffany. She also changed her stage name to Tiffany Young, a nod to her Korean name Mi-young. And after releasing a few loose singles, the Korean-American singer finally made her long-awaited English language debut with the five-track EP Lips on Lips on Feb. 22. Known for a bubblier electropop sound with her work with Girls’ Generation and her previous solo Korean language EP, 2016’s I Just Wanna Dance, Lips on Lips turned off the dance music and explored deeper themes she hadn’t been able to fully address before in the K-pop industry. “The similarities [between my albums are] that [they’re] my most honest bod[ies] of work to the extent I [could] create. And I think the biggest change is being vocal and embracing being a woman and really kind of coming out full emotion,” she said.
She definitely brought out the emotion, alright. For her lead single “Born Again,” the ethereal pop tune referenced her rebirth as an artist. “I wrote the phrase ‘Born Again’ in the sense of embracing it all and being ok with it and accepting it and growing stronger versus ‘I’m going to forget about everything,’” she explained. Since embarking on her American career, Tiffany has opened up about past personal struggles with her family, depression, and even a physical condition. “I had severe scoliosis that I never got to talk about, and it kind of is the root to how I choose my clothes, how I sit, how I eat, how I breathe in air. And that was something that could’ve scared me and made me want to give up my dreams, but it pushed me to be stronger and to work so much harder,” she noted.
A standout track on the EP is “Runaway,” a 90’s R&B vibe throwback song written by none other than the singer-producer Babyface, who is also featured on the song. “Working with Babyface is an absolute dream; it still hits me every time I listen to the song. I’m such a fan, he’s such a legend. I was hyper-focusing on what it is I wanted to create, and what I love about his music is that he whisks you away into this fairy tale when you listen to his love songs,” she added.
Lips on Lips gave Tiffany unprecedented creative freedom, liberty she hadn’t been awarded to its full extent before. For “Not Barbie,” Tiffany wanted to deliver an empowering anthem for her fans. “I used to be so afraid/ Trying to play a role I can’t explain/ Now I finally see,” she sings on the track she co-wrote, a reference to her past, more restrictive lifestyle, where she felt she had to be perfect to adhere to society’s standards. Paired with a simple guitar melody, she touched on self-worth and embracing her own inner and outer beauty. “I wanted it to be a song for every woman, man, girl, boy, any human being,” Tiffany explained. “I never got to say that to myself and I’m so happy that I get to open up. Not just for me, but for a generation of young woman.”
That same verse starts out, “All these magazines/ Page after page and no one look like me/ ‘Cause we ain’t the same.” With the much necessary conversation around Asian-American representation in the media, Tiffany shares her experience on “Not Barbie.” “Representation is such an important part of art, of your identity, and why and how you like or are a certain way. Especially being Asian-American,” she explained. “It’s a time where everything goes and it’s such a wonderful time for Asian artists in general. It’s been a long time coming, and I feel like I’m just happy to be able to contribute.” By being one of the first Asian-American pop stars, Tiffany is slated to make history all over again, but this time right at home.
Being part of Girls’ Generation, Tiffany and the rest of the members achieved 16 number one singles, released 15 albums, sold millions of records, and played arenas all over Asia. But now, Tiffany is pursuing her American pop princess dreams and is excited over what’s to come. She announced last year she’d be going on a showcase tour through the U.S. and Canada, which started on Mar. 3 in Toronto and will be concluding this Saturday in West Hollywood at Troubador.
“I’ve been so blessed with where I’ve gotten to tour, what I’ve gotten to do, and that thought just inspires me to start creating brick by brick all over again,” she said. “You know, you rarely get second chances in life and I’m very, very fortunate all the time; from Girls’ Generation to letting me to create a sub-unit to [all the members of the group] supporting each other with [our] solo projects to coming back home. There’s nothing better than an intimate venue. Taking in and being so connected and in sync [with the audience]. I loved, loved doing the arenas, but I think it’s much more exciting [to play smaller venues] cause it’s been like 12 years and I don’t know what to expect. And that surprise is always gonna give you all those emotions before and after.”
Tiffany Young is wrapping up her Lips on Lips North American mini showcase tour with a sold-out show at Troubador on Mar. 16. She’s also nominated in the iHeart Radio Music Awards for Best Solo Breakout, sharing the category with four former Fifth Harmony members. The winner will be announced on Mar. 14.