Tan Kee Yun
The New Paper
Nov 13, 2015
Surviving a freak accident can alter one's career perspective.
Just ask Korean-American musician and model James Lee, who suffered severe wrist injuries in June when a restaurant door crashed down on him.
That sudden forceful impact left him hospitalised for nearly two months and resulted in him giving up his instrument, at least for now.
The 27-year-old bassist of Korean rock trio Royal Pirates told The New Paper yesterday in a sombre tone: "It was a life-changing accident. I'm still in the process of recovery and doing my best to make things positive."
According to his manager, full details of the accident and how it has affected his role in Royal Pirates will be shared publicly later this month in conjunction with the band's album release "so as not to worry fans".
Lee was in town to promote his new ambassadorship for fashion brand dENiZEN alongside local Mandopop singer Kelly Poon and to do a commercial photo shoot.
Lee, a Los Angeles native, saw a silver lining in his ordeal. His accident was a timely wake-up call to "stay true" to himself and not succumb to K-pop trends.
"When I first moved over to Korea (in 2013) for Royal Pirates' debut, I did feel the pressure to become a K-pop idol," he said.
He recalled that in their 2014 music video for the song Drawing The Line, he wore a flamboyant black dress as part of a "high-fashion concept".
Looking back, Lee called the outfit "one of the biggest mistakes in my life".
"I totally regret it, please don't watch it," he said with a laugh.
"At that point, I had no idea what suited me and simply went with the flow."
He added: "Through my accident, I've come to realise (that) you've got to be yourself and you can't let pressure shape you. You've got to go out swinging.
"I have to approach life with tenacity, ruthlessness and fearlessness.
"If I cave in to (the demands of) others, I'd just be a puppet and I certainly don't want that.
"In the beginning of my career, I've made a lot of sacrifices, but I'm done with sacrificing. Right now, it's my way or the highway."
So there's no way you will catch him gambolling on stage a la boy bands Exo or Infinite.
"I know myself best, I am a horrible dancer," he joked.
Fans of US reality modelling competition series America's Next Top Model may recognise the 1.9m-tall Lee from his guest appearance on the show's 21st season last year, five episodes of which were shot in Seoul.
In one episode, he was part of a photo shoot with the female contestants. He also appeared in the finale.
"The producers were looking for Korean models and I guess they felt I fit the bill," said Lee.
"It was a great experience, I got to meet (host-creator-supermodel) Tyra Banks. She's very charismatic, very sweet, too.
"As soon as she saw me, she went, 'Let's take a picture!' That's pretty wild for me, as I grew up reading her life story."
Describing his personal style as aligned with Denizen's - "comfortable, casual and relaxed" - he is keeping modelling as a sideline, while music will always be his top priority.
"Music and modelling have different appealing factors, but if I were to be totally honest, it's only when I'm doing music that I can go without sleep, not eat, and not go to the restroom," he said.
"Music is my first love. As for modelling, sometimes it's my secret lover!"
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