If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, they have become precious lifetime pals with Tiffany Young, one of the brightest hopes among K-pop stars trying to bring more than bling to a solo pop act gaining universal appeal.
With the stage name, Tiffany, identifying more with a certain jewelry company than the famous '80s teen pop star, Young is doing her part to put a drop of stylistic pop into the K-pop cultural mega-mix solidified by BTS, the breakout boy band from South Korea.
Not only was she named best solo breakout artist in a socially voted category for the iHeartRadio Music Awards this year, but her recent live version of “Wrecking Ball” caught the attention of the song’s swinging, ball-breaking hitmaker, Miley Cyrus. (See “A few of my favorite things” below.)
Young’s game plan includes wooing the rest of the United States, where the San Francisco-born artist, who began her music career with South Korean girl group Girls' Generation, started her first major solo headlining tour of North America in her hometown on Oct. 25. The 18-city itinerary for the Magnetic Moon Tour includes a Nov. 16 stop at Trees in Dallas.
So what can an audience expect to see when that magnetic moon lands in Dallas for the first time?
“You get the moon, you get the lights, you get the looks, you get the pearls and diamonds and a lot of glitta,” an ebullient Young says with a laugh during a phone interview with the Observer.
The glamorous Young isn’t kidding, either. She aims to please throughout her continental journey to deliver a sparkling act that not only includes pure pop songs and dazzling dance moves but also brings people together while “embracing the light and dark.”
“One can’t do without the other,” she says of her style. “And it might seem like a common theme but I hope that’s what really connects. … I just want to be able to make that space for the fans to feel secure and safe to talk about all things. And not be judged and, most importantly, to dance the night away.”
Feeling footloose and fancy-free, Young fills her tour bus with two dancers, two musicians, hair, clothes and makeup technicians and a crew responsible for leaving a crowd moonstruck. As she says, it takes a village.
Of course, “Magnetic Moon,” the name of her infectious single released in August to coincide with Young’s Open Hearts Eve concerts in Seoul and Bangkok, is a prominent onstage prop.
Then there are the colorful outfits, which Young wants to personalize for various tour stops after narrowing her selections from 40 to 18, using a dry erase board in the back of her bus while asking her team of entertainers/advisers questions like, “OK, what should we wear at this venue?"
“I’d have to say my favorite thing to wear onstage is glitter,” Young reveals with another laugh while continuing the dream theme. “Anything glittery, sparkly, with a lot of texture and dimension so it’ll make me look big and, like, it gives off this energy. [For the Oct. 27 show in Vancouver], it looked kind of like a very sparkly … do you know that feather look Elton John wore with glasses? I looked like Elton; feathery Mozart meets Elton John with sparkles, so I want to bring more of that energy."
Fully aware of the popularity of the NFL’s Cowboys (especially when they’re winning), Young is considering a blue-and-silver glitter scheme for her Dallas performance. Just imagine Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott spreading their wings with stars in their eyes.
Young seems to shimmer and shine as much as her extravagant wardrobe.
Young has the proper frame of mind to walk toward an attainable success.
“Five years down the road, I want to look back on my career and know that I’m both a passionate and compassionate artist,” Young says.
After splitting half her life between the U.S. and Korea, she's ready to achieve realistic and worthy goals without expecting to conquer the world.
“I can’t believe it’s only been a year and a half since I started music here in the U.S.,” says Young, who remembers moving from San Francisco when she was 3 or 4. “And it’s been quite the growth process both as a human being and as an artist. I think I’m learning a lot about taking my time and surrounding myself with people that I look up to and that I want to be like.”
Born Stephanie Young Hwang on Aug. 1, 1989, she later adopted the name Tiffany, which was the initial name choice of her mother, who died when Young was only 12.
Young says her life as a professional musician (first becoming a member of Girls’ Generation in 2007 after moving to South Korea, then as a solo artist in 2016) has presented “equal hardships and challenges … starting out as a young girl, moving halfway around the world without any parents or family.”
Yet Young believes those circumstances — that reportedly include a severed relationship with her father — also made her more responsible and independent.
“I got to transition into a solo artist with a little bit more ease,” Young says. “But being a solo artist here in the U.S., it’s a wonderful time for K-pop and I’m just always honored that I’m a part of K-pop, and K-pop will always be me. But I’m also really, really digging and finding new creative ways to share my story.”
That includes branching out into musical theater (her first lead role was as Carmen Diaz in a Korean adaptation of Fame), films, TV shows, fashion and, perhaps most significant, songwriting.
She believes her first artistic attempts, probably around 2013, were “spontaneous” moments with friends. “And I don’t even want to listen to those songs ever again because I was just testing the waters,” Young admits. But after working in the studio with “some of my favorite producers and writers” that have included Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Khris Riddick-Tynes (The Rascals), Fernando Garibay (Lady Gaga) and Kev Nish (Far East Movement) on songs like “Runaway,” “Peppermint” and, most recently, “Magnetic Moon” and “Run for Your Life,” Young is brimming with creativity and confidence.
“Watching the masters go to work I think was very eye-opening, and I’m lucky to have these mentors help me write and craft my songs,” Young says. “It got so much better over the [past] two years, and it’s motivated me to want to keep writing. And it’s also kind of opened my eyes into wanting to help and write for other artists and eventually me produce as well.”
Saying the iHeartRadio Music Award she received in March temporarily left her “speechless,” Young now asserts, “It was a moment for me, not only myself, but for K-pop, for Asian artists in general. Those are very motivating and inspiring moments to keep going. … I hope there are more opportunities for other Asian artists as well.”
Stating that her ultimate goal is to make a full-length album after previously releasing two solo EPs (2016’s I Just Wanna Dance, 2019’s Lips on Lips), Young says she has already written and recorded around 30 songs, taking advantage of her home’s close proximity to the studio.
“I’m just making sure I am living in the moment,” she adds. “I hope to be an artist that’s unpredictable, that’s unexpected, and I’m gonna keep myself on my toes. And it’s an interesting time where before I was only scheduled to release one song a year or two songs a year. But I’m grateful. And I will try to put out music every chance and opportunity I get.”
Her recording process isn't all work and no fun. “I go to the studio in the morning, kind of brainstorm and sketch, probably have dessert, I have some ice cream and some wine; I’m not sure which one, it depends on the day (laughs), and then I write, structure and basically sit in front of the mic and record them as I go,” Young offers.
Not exactly easy for a renaissance woman who keeps trying to improve herself by going to acting school, taking auditions, hosting TV shows in Korea and creating passion-for-fashion projects like her 48-page RFYL gallery photobook.
Without a target date in mind for an album release (“I want it to be as perfect as it can,” she says), Young knows what’s next on her to-do list as soon as the tour wraps up Nov. 21 in Los Angeles, her home base for the last two years.
“I think I’ll give myself a vacation. And then start planning for new adventures for 2020,” the artist says, adding that she's leaning toward taking time off in Paris because her sister lives there, but also enjoys Pilates, yoga and going to the beach when she’s not making music.
The ready-for-the-roaring '20s Tiffany is certainly familiar with her '80s namesake, who pumped new life into “I Think We’re Alone Now” back in the day. Who knows if they’ll ever collaborate, but Young — exclaiming “she’s iconic!” — seems quite thrilled that the two can share the same first name … with the company that Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn helped turn into a pop culture symbol of wealth.
“It’s a big name to live up to, and then there’s also the diamonds,” Young says, laughing one more time. “So I’m just trying to make a name for myself as well, representing music and being shiny and fabulous."
This new Tiffany should be easy to spot. She’s the one always looking on the bright side.
Tiffany Young: A few of my favorite things
Movie this year: “Oh, so hard. I really like Joker by [director] Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix. I’m really a huge comic book fan as well and we never had a Joker origin story. And the way that it was portrayed in such a relatable, human way, I really loved that’s how the story was told. And [Phoenix’s] performance. It was like the silence and the space in his performance really, really, the pacing and the tempo of his performance was incredible. … You could tell that I totally got into it. … It’s not easy to watch but sometimes you need to look at it … and find understanding and compassion in that film that’s beautiful and dark. It’s scary. … It was great. And a happy movie, I would have to say Aladdin. I know it’s on the polar opposite end but I am a huge Disney, [songwriter-film composer] Alan Menken fan, and I really, really liked this new rendition of it." (laughs)
Theatrical or film musical: “Aladdin I watched this time on Broadway. And [last year] I watched The Iceman Cometh, the play on Broadway with Denzel Washington, and that was pretty interesting."
Binge watch program: "RuPaul’s Drag Race or Rhythm + Flow."
Workout song: “At the moment, ‘Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels’ by Todrick Hall. It’s so energetic and it makes you walk really, really confidently. When you’re working out, sometimes you don’t want to work out. And it’s always nice to have a really, really motivational song, and Todrick just makes me feel fabulous.”
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Sports team to watch: “I like watching and like being part of the party but I get competitive. When I was growing up, I watched the [Los Angeles] Lakers play religiously. And that was like back in 2005. And I haven’t been able to keep up [recently] because of when I was in Korea, so who knows. I think I might get into it.”
Cover song to perform: “Right now, I re-created a dance version of ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus. And that’s my favorite one to perform right now." (Note: Cyrus recently gave Young a heartwarming shout-out on Twitter after seeing a clip of her Magnetic Moon Tour performance.)
Post-show snacks/refreshments: “Pizza and ranch would be my go-to. And on my healthy days, it would be coconut water and fruit. Polar opposites, once again. No middle for me.” (laughs)