08:22 - 9th May 2014, by Tom Smith

Wherefore Art Thou ROMEO

"You won't believe me, but my fans are my Juliet," says a suited, softly spoken Park Jung Min. He's one of South Korea's rising international stars, with fame that spans far beyond his home country. In Japan, he goes by a different name altogether, something much more exotic to the Japanese ear - ROMEO - and judging by his largely female fanbase, there's little surprise why.

Park Jung Min originally sprung to fame as one-fifth of hit Korean boy band SS501. The name, pronounced 'Double-S, 5-oh-1', was far more than just a random series of letters and numbers. The double S modestly stood for 'Superstar Singer', and the combination of 5-0-1 represents the notion of 'five united as one'.

Before joining the band, Park studied acting at Kyonggi University, where future group-mate Kim Hyung Jun was also in attendance. Despite being in the same year, the two's first encounter would surprisingly come after they had graduated. Kim had missed a lot of university due to training, as he'd been scouted by talent agency DSP Media. To make it as a future K-pop idol, he'd have to undergo vigorous training exercises and routines.

Meanwhile, Park managed to get scouted much earlier. He was just 13 when agents from two of the biggest talent agencies were chasing him for a future career; DSP Media (Sechs Kies, KARA) and S.M. Entertainment (TVXQ!, Super Junior). He decided to choose DSP, and in 2005, made his debut with Kim as a member of new pop sensation SS501.
SS501 won numerous rookie of the year awards the same year as their debut, and they earned it! In the space of six months, they had already released two mini-albums and fan clubs were established in Korea and Japan. In fact, they worked a little too hard and had to take part of 2006 off while bandmate Heo Young Saeng recovered from emergency laryngeal surgery. In the meantime, the rest of the band continued to record their first studio album, and also lent their vocals to the Korean version of animated Finding Nemo cash-in, The Reef.

2007 brought with it SS501's true breakthrough. Their first album, S.T 01 Now, had hit shelves in Korea at the end of the previous year, and they were now concentrating their powers on conquering Japan.

And conquer they did. Debut single Kokoro went straight to number five in the charts, and also became an ending theme in the anime Blue Dragon. Soon, the boys were featuring in a number of dramas and films as actors, further expanding their audience across all of Japan's major media - all they were missing were manga iterations of themselves and pachinko machines plastered with their shiny, smooth faces! They went on to win 'Newcomer Award' in the Japan Gold Disc Awards with their Japanese self-titled debut album, becoming the first Korean artist to receive the award.

Speaking about his time in the two countries, Park comments, "I haven't noticed many differences between Japan and Korea. If I had to find one comparison, I have to say Japanese fans seem to be very shy when they get the chance to talk to me."

While his band's musical career continued to strengthen, Park took some time to focus on his acting career, and landed the role of Grease's infamous leather clad greaser Danny Zuko in Seoul's stage production of the classic musical. This was followed by his first lead role in TV drama Human Theater 2010, playing himself - something he'd had a lifelong experience of.

"Being a pop star is not so different from acting. When you're on stage [singing] your performance is like acting, right? The two jobs are not so different."

Park Jung Min was the first of SS501 to launch a solo career too. In 2011, he released his first EP Not Alone worldwide, which entered charts across Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Unfortunately for him, working internationally caused some contractual problems for the star, resulting him changing his artist name in Japan to ROMEO.

ROMEO was a much darker representation of Park's personality, both in image and in musical concept. Now his music style had a rockier edge than before, and his stage presence had been reworked to suit the new atmosphere. Perhaps the role in Grease rubbed off on him.

"Although ROMEO started in Japan, the feedback received was really positive. Now ROMEO's not restricted to Japan. I want people to know how I grew up, from my years as Park Jung Min the idol, to Park Jung Min the artist."

Park Jung Min the idol, along with his K-pop band SS501, have their discography partly available now digitally on iTunes and Amazon MP3. In the meantime, he promises to return for another world tour, soon.

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