Brian Joo is known to many as one half of Fly to the Sky, an R&B duo that was a big hit in South Korea in the early 2000s. And with Fly to the Sky making a bit of a comeback, many more people are discovering and rediscovering this idol. However what led to his success? And is there much more to him than his R&B career?
Brian Joo was born in the USA to Korean immigrants. Although he was born in LA, California, he grew up in Absecon, New Jersey. His parents still live in New Jersey where they work at casinos in Atlantic City.
His music career began whilst he attended Holy Spirit High School, where a friend secretly signed him up for an audition with Brothers Entertainment. It is not clear whether this was in part a prank, or a genuine attempt to get an amazing voice out there. However after only a few months training, the then 17 year old Brian Joo was flown to South Korea, where he and Hwanhee joined forces to become Fly to the Sky in 1999.
Fly to the Sky was marketed as a grown up version of K-pop. But critics were quick to label them part of the K-pop mass-produced teen idol phenomenon, focusing on a medley of different styles, but especially bubblegum pop and techno, which were popular at the time. However the rapping element, which was present from the start, was refreshingly good, leaving fans clamoring for more. In 2002, with the release of Sea of Love, they began to focus entirely on their R&B music, becoming South Korea’s very first R&B duo.
All this was tough work, but Brian Joo was not prepared to give up his studies. Forever a diligent student, he completed high school and went on to attend Rutgers University. This double life slowly took its toll on him as he leapt from recording in South Korea to lectures in the USA. Eventually deciding that it was important to focus on his career, he transferred to Dongguk University to complete his studies in Theatre and Film whilst still recording and performing with Hwanhee.
Although Brian often sang and rapped in the duo, he felt that his own vocal skills were seriously overshadowed by Hwanhee’s. This left him dissatisfied and feeling inferior. He recalled producers giving Hwanhee high praise, whilst only telling him “good job” for the same recording session. The resentment built, not towards his friend, but towards the environment he was in and the people around them.
Around the same time, rumors began to spread. Brian recalls hearing that their relationship was not as close, and had some tension between them. He tried to give some time for their relationship to recover, but he found his anxiety and anger only deepened. Brian was heartbroken to lose someone who had been such a close friend to him for a decade, and felt at times that his life was not worth living.
In August 2009 Brian and Hwanhee agreed to split up Fly to the Sky and work on their own solo projects under different labels. Their eighth album, the last one before the split, was recorded separately, even though they were singing duets. They did not see each other’s faces. After the split Brian found himself becoming even more depressed, turning to drink at times and becoming afraid of his increasing number of suicidal thoughts. It was only later on, through a video letter, that Brian explained the pain he had been going through and that they were able to come together as friends again, away from their professional relationship.
He released his solo album in 2006, making use of the same medley of skills which made Fly to the Sky so successful. It was hugely important to Brian to show that he could be successful for his own talents, rather than riding on Hwanhee’s coattails. It was also important to him to enjoy the rhythmic aspects of music which appealed to him the most. Brian was always a bigger fan of rap and stronger beats than Hwanhee, and his solo career really allowed him to explore these interests and develop his passion. Originally he intended to record the album entirely in English, but in the end time restrictions affected him too much, and only one track was in English on the whole album.
Always branching out, Brian Joo spent much of his solo career expanding his horizons as an artist and as a person. He appeared in a mini-series, had his own US tour, and performed as a principal cast member in the musical play Loving the Silent Tears, in LA. In 2013 Brian Joo competed in The CrossFit Games Asia Regional after a year of training.
In 2014 a surprise announcement was made: Fly to the Sky were getting back together. Despite being on hiatus for 5 years, Brian and Hwanhee had remained close friends and were excited to be working together again. Although both have grown and developed as artists over their solo careers, Brian was more than willing to drop the rap element from Fly to the Sky, feeling that as an artist he is much more varied than that.
Despite the rumors surrounding himself and Hwanhee which stemmed from their close friendship, Brian Joo insists he is completely straight. However he has to all public knowledge remained single for nine years, despite having the odd date made public. In 2015, Brian revealed that he hit on Gummy (Park Ji-yeon, South Korean singer born 8 April 1981) without knowing that she was in a relationship. Brian Joo wife rumor is just a rumor.
Brian Joo has expressed an interest in breaking into the American music industry as well, having seen some other Korean stars succeed. But he held back waiting for the right moment to arrive. He has been looking beyond music too, though. He has showed a keen interest in developing an acting career and has stated it is his goal to become a Hollywood star. However as of yet he has only made appearances as himself in mini-series and web series. Ultimately his goal seems to be to bring his career back home with him to the USA, but if and when he will achieve this is still uncertain.