Editors’ Notes Eric Nam’s career path is a unique one. Born and raised in Atlanta, the singer-songwriter and podcaster first became popular in the land of his parents—South Korea—as both a variety show host and, eventually, a K-pop idol. For his first proper album, the English-language Before We Begin, Nam’s intentions were twofold: expand his US audience and broaden his musical vocabulary. He mixes ballads (“Wonder,” “How’m I Doing”), cheeky love songs (“You’re Sexy I’m Sexy”), and flossy pop and R&B (“Come Through,” “Congratulations”). But it’s the English versions of two earlier Korean hits (“No Shame,” “Runaway”) that Nam hopes will help replicate his overseas success—a process the Boston College graduate likens to “reverse engineering,” he tells Apple Music as he walks through each of the album’s songs.
Come Through “I got fixated on the idea of finding someone at that initial moment of ‘Are you the one?’ We were trying to conceptualize what that would sound like. I visualized myself at a bar, really lonely, and that moment where the bell on the door jingles. She walks in and you’re like, ‘Wow, are you the one?’ It’s about physically and metaphorically wanting somebody to come through that door. It’s an almost melodramatic soap opera moment, almost cheesy, but we made it lyrically and sonically sound cool.”
Love Die Young “I had just done 12 shows across Europe in 18 days and I got on a flight to Nashville to start writing and I didn’t want to write anything. That exhaustion and burnout had me thinking a lot about if I just stopped working, if I retired, if I, god forbid, dropped dead. It got me to thinking: How do we write about exhaustion and burnout, but do it in a way where it’s a dramatic love song? I equate love to not just be romantic but also in life, when it comes to work and passion and dreams and ambitions. It’s all intertwined. I think as we were writing it, it was like, ‘Please don’t let this passion and love die young. I want to do much more, but I physically can’t.’ It’s pretty much what this song is about. Then we get visual in the words: ‘Flowers in your hair now on our grave/A little bit of pressure’s all it takes.’ I wanted to play with this idea of flowers in a lover’s hair, and now those exact flowers are on the grave of you and I. While I was singing it, I imagined flowers falling to the ground in sync with the melody. Then you hit the chorus and hook and you realize how much you loved that person or that thing. It was a very, very cathartic experience to get my state of being and emotions out into the world through a very sad love song.”
Congratulations “I wrote that in February 2018 with Rabitt, Shae Jacobs, and Boy Matthews. I wanted to write a breakup song that wasn’t like, ‘I miss you and us so bad,’ but ‘Hey, I’m actually I’m glad we’re done. There’s a reason we broke up. It didn’t work out, but I’m glad we’re calling it quits.’ How do we do that without sounding completely like an asshole, but also recognizing it’s a completely liberating feeling? It took a lot of imagination and storytelling.”
You’re Sexy I’m Sexy “It’s a song I’ve had in my box of demos for a few years. It’s something that I’ve kept because I immediately loved the guitar riff. At first, I thought it was the dumbest, cheesiest title, because who says, ‘You’re sexy, I’m sexy’? I remember my team was like, ‘I don’t know. Are you really going to do this?’ It’s fun and feels almost frivolous. Beyond the obvious easy-love thing going on in the lyrics, I feel like the song empowered people to call themselves sexy. I never thought of myself as sexy, and I don’t think the average person does either. There’s something about this song that gives you confidence to say, ‘I’m hot, I’m beautiful,’ and that’s something the world could use a lot more of.”
How’m I Doing “This was the last song added to the album. I wanted something that was a little deeper in intensity and emotion but different from ‘Love Die Young.’ I felt like, in relationships, I was always apologizing. ‘I’m sorry. I’m too busy, I can’t make this. I literally can’t be there all the time and can’t do everything you want me to do.’ That puts a strain on relationships, and this constant checking in, ‘Are you OK?’ I also realized the importance of dealing with yourself. Am I good? Am I bad? Am I being honest with myself? It’s important to do.”
Wonder “I wrote a song with Emily Weisband and Alysa Vanderheym, originally called ‘Burnout.’ The song literally had the words ‘burning out’ and lot of visual fire and flames. Then they said, ‘We have a song we think will be really great for you.’ When I heard ‘Wonder,’ it was so powerful, but people couldn’t imagine how it would sound with a guy on it. It’s too feminine, it’s a girl song. There was a lot of gender-normative discussions that happened. The lyrics are great—so relatable and can apply to everybody. Everybody wonders what happened or what could have happened, that retrospective thing about relationships that fail and go bad. This is a song that embodies and speaks to all those thoughts.”
No Shame and Runaway (English Versions) “The English versions are completely different from the Korean versions. The Korean version of ‘No Shame’ is called ‘Honestly’ and it’s ‘I love you but I think we’re done.’ ‘No Shame’ is ‘I wish I could hurt you the way that you hurt me.’ ‘Runaway,’ in Korean, it’s ‘Let’s run away, let’s fall in love, let’s be together.’ In English, ‘Runaway’ is ‘If you leave me, don’t ever come back. We’re through.’ They’re polar opposites in emotion.”