Korean pop star returns to quiet life in Edmonds

EDMONDS — When Jay Park left South Korea in early September, hundreds of fans came to the airport terminal, pleading with him to stay.

The pop star gave a bow and said goodbye to the tearful fans, according to the Korea Times newspaper.

When he landed back home in the United States, no local news crews were on hand.

Park, who is in his 20s, has apparently returned to his parents’ home in Edmonds. The Korean-American is keeping a low profile after controversial remarks forced him from 2PM, a boy band that made him a star overseas.

The Internet has battered Park’s reputation and served as a gathering place for fans, who have signed petitions and hired a private plane to fly over Edmonds with a banner, asking “J. What Time Is It Now?” — a reference to one of the group’s hits.

About five years ago, Park went to a talent audition in the United States. He was recruited by JYP Entertainment of South Korea. He moved overseas and became a pop star in training.

Thousands of miles from home, he posted comments on his MySpace page. He called Korea “whack” and “gay” in 2005, when he was in his late teens, and said he hated Koreans. He wanted to come back to the U.S., he wrote.

No one paid much attention to the posts until Park became the leader of 2PM. The seven-member group’s popularity exploded earlier this year. They were all over Korean TV. They met the prime minister of Thailand.

Then the posts surfaced.

AllKPop.com, a New Jersey-based Web site dedicated to Korean pop music, has been covering the controversy.

Johnny Noh, the site’s founder, said anger at Park was stoked by complex issues of national pride. Park’s U.S. origins played into the resentment, while the comments, heavy with American slang, were misinterpreted.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Noh, 28, said. “They took it more offensively than they would anywhere else.”

After the comments came out, Park said he was leaving the group.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be a strong leader and older brother,” he said, the Korea Times reported.

Park’s abrupt departure rattled thousands of fans, particularly when the boy band announced it would carry on without its own version of Justin Timberlake.

A KOMO TV news story posted online about his return to the U.S. drew more than 1,000 comments last week.

“There have been a lot of rumors and speculation on whether the entertainment label kicked him out or if he left of his own will,” Noh said.

An online petition gathered more than 25,000 signatures to support Park. The petition called Korea “an extremely proud country,” and said people were treating the singer’s remarks irrationally.

Fans also launched a Twitter page, JaySkyMsg. They raised about $2,000 and hired a private plane. According to the posts, the plane buzzed over Seattle, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds last Monday, towing the banner.

Despite the hubbub, life in Edmonds has been seemingly quiet.

Neighbors who knew about Park’s fame said the singer’s family have been their normal, polite selves.

Last week, a young man who appeared to be Jay Park was walking out the door. He smiled before getting into a sedan with an older person, but declined to comment on the past month.

“I need to go to work,” he said, without elaboration.

Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, arathbun@heraldnet.com.

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