Not too young, too protective, not too boring I've lost count of the number of times pH-1 has uttered 'too.' The Korean American musician is hazy on the exact terms to describe many aspects of his life. He even falls back on the three-lettered emphasis when describing the fragrance he spritzed on before our interview, MCM's Eau de Parfum. 'It's not too, too macho', he decides, 'not too strong, like, Abercrombie.'
Despite his ambiguity, Harry, as he introduces himself, clearly knows exactly who he is. (Hence his stage name, pH-1 a fun fusion of his English and Korean names, Harry Park and Junwon.) From his living room in Seoul, he gave me a glimpse at how he sees himself, his aesthetic, and his work ethic in his own words a first for an American magazine.
Of course, figuring out what makes pH-1, well, pH-1 on and off stage was a journey for the 31-year-old. In fact, pH-1 is what I refer to as a 'patchwork person.' Instead of picking a single career path and sticking to it, he's pieced together several different trades, living several different lives as a college student, dancer, app developer, and dental assistant.
Finally realizing his true ambition, pH-1 moved back to Korea to pursue it. (Although he was born in Seoul, pH-1 moved to America when he was a teen.) Over the past four years, pH-1 has been consistently releasing vibrantly catchy music under Jay Park's label H1GHR MUSIC, which recently became the new home to JAY B. He's become known as Korea's king of musical collaborations whether or not he likes it teaming up with the likes of Junny, Hoody, Chung Ha, Whee In, and Yerin Baek.
'I'm a people pleaser', pH-1 admits in the most definitive terms he shares throughout our interview. 'I can't say no to people. That's been very bad for me because I said yes to a lot of requests that were not beneficial to me, per se. So I'm always trying to fix that problem.' For these same reasons, though, pH-1 felt drawn to becoming an entertainer.
In the beginning stages of his musical career, pH-1 says he cycled through different stylists, makeup artists, and hairstylists as he tried to find the sweet spot for his aesthetic. For 'Malibu', he slipped on an embellished suit and round, rimless glasses, while 'Like Me' flipped between laid-back-yet-sleek street style, a Canadian tuxedo, and a retro barbershop-inspired getup with a white coat and all. His hair hopped along for the ride with various lengths, hats, and natural-leaning hues.
These days, pH-1 now knows precisely what to ask his beauty and wardrobe teams for. 'I came to the realization that what fits me best as a person and as a musician is a clean, neat type of look', pH-1 remarks, pointing to his outfit now: a striped cream-and-gray linen dress shirt, simple, small silver hoop earrings. 'I'm not too flamboyant in any way', pH-1 continues. 'I don't like to over-exaggerate things, even in my music.'
He's right about that. Listening to pH-1 talk is much like playing his music his words flow together in a relaxed, unrestrained, fluid way. Nothing about neither his speech nor songs grate on you. Both are the epitome of easy listening. They flow through your ear canals like a babbling brook rather than a barreling wave, even his most rap-heavy songs. Don't believe me? Put on 'The Purge', a song he hopped on with several other H1GHR artists, and you'll notice his voice is calm amongst a storm.
Noticing he's very clear, crisp, and consistent with his sartorial choices, I ask him if that means we shouldn't ever expect pH-1 to, say, dye his hair purple. He doesn't immediately shoot down the idea of a bold dye job. Instead, he stumbles over it.
'I don't know; I guess, I don't know', pH-1 repeats a couple of times. As he does so, his whole mindset changes before my very eyes as he realizes experimenting with a more audacious look would be a major learning curve. It would be a move that requires tons of courage on his part, but it's not out of the question. 'I need to break out of my comfort zone', pH-1 decides. 'I have to try a different look, which might not be too familiar to me.'
Through it all, the color orange has long been a common thread through pH-1's performances an intentional choice on his part to brand himself.
In 2018, pH-1 was a contestant on Show Me the Money, a Korean competition show for rappers hoping to gain broader recognition (and a ton of money). 'I needed a strategy', he recalls. 'When people see me, when people see pH-1's performance, how can they remember me? How can I stick?' So pH-1 melded his signature sing- rap style with orange accents. Every episode he appeared on, orange did too in the form of beanies, socks, T-shirtsyou get it. For his final round, pH-1 even performed a song called 'Orange.'
After his time on the show, pH-1 continued incorporating the bright, attention- grabbing color into his brand. But why orange out of all the shades of ROYGBIV? He easily could have gone with neon green, electric yellow, or fire-hydrant red. Perhaps it's the color of his aura.
'I don't know if I believe in auras', he says, shooting down my theory. 'I don't know too much about that.'
However, I do, thanks to my friend Susanna Merrick, who is a spiritual healer that helps people dress and align with their true selves based on their aura. People with orange auras, from what I know, are confident thrill-seekers who thrive on attention. They are also straightforward and prefer tangible results. With that in mind, I'm confident pH-1 would glow before Susanna bright orange.
As for the true origins of pH-1's trademark hue, orange represents how pH-1 sees himself. 'To be honest, orange wasn't necessarily my favorite color', he admits. 'I thought really hard on what color represents who I am. My personality is not too outgoing, but at the same time, it's not too boring. For me, orange is not too strong, like red or neon green, but it's not too toned down, like brown. It's got character.'
On Spotify, pH-1's bio hilariously reads, 'it's good for your skin.' No dermatologist could confirm his music has those powers, I imagine, but this is coming from a man who goes to one once a week. Anything is possible.
Wait, I should back up yes, someway, somehow pH-1 has time in his busy schedule to swing by the dermatologist on a weekly basis. Turns out, meticulously treating his skin goes hand-in-hand with the non-stop work. 'I'm a musician; I'm an artist. I'm always on camera', pH-1 explains. 'I like to look presentable, hopefully, and I like to take care of myself.'
Usually, pH-1 treats himself to laser treatments. Although he's not exactly sure what they're doing and what they're called, he's hoping, he says with his fingers literally crossed, they minimize his freckles, acne, and dryness. At home, pH-1 supplements the lasers with a hydration-packed routine.
After brushing his teeth and washing his face in the morning, pH-1 slathers on a hefty amount of moisturizer. (He's not picky about the brand he reaches for, but if you need a rec, I'm personally a fan of the Superegg Sound Renewal Moisturizer these days.) Then, pH-1 spritzes on the Civasan Meso Spray, a hydrating, energizing face mist he holds up to the screen to show me. Throughout the day, he reaches for it again two or three times to keep his complexion nourished and dewy.
At night, pH-1 continues his hydrating regimen with a sleeping mask (otherwise known as a night mask), like the Saturday Skin Yuzu Vitamin C Sleep Mask. 'It's kind of thick, very wet cream', he explains through a laugh. 'I just put on layers of it basically until my face is drenching. I can't sleep on the side. I just look at the ceiling, but it feels really good the next day. You just feel super moisturized.'
Beyond his face, pH-1's skin has several stories to tell. His arms, hand, and even neck are decorated with doodles, words, and numbers that are meaningful to him. The most recent addition, pH-1 mentions, is a cartoon version of his toy poodle, Holly, that was handpoked by his tattoo artist sister. He absentmindly points to on his bicep even though he's wearing a long-sleeved shirt.
At the moment, pH-1's favorite tattoo is the burning Back to the Future DeLorean he shows me right on his forearm, just below his rolled-up sleeve. Not only is it an ode to his fascination with time travel, but it is also a permanent reminder that because it's broken, you can't go back to the past. Admittedly, pH-1 has a tendency to fixate on all the ways he could have done certain things better.
'I like to think because I've made these mistakes, I'm who I am now', he says. 'But if I were given a chance to go back, I'd definitely want to change things not about my career, but with people, relationships.'
Unprompted, pH-1 starts listing off all the ways he could have been a better friend, a better boyfriend in the past. He could have chosen his words more wisely, spent more time with them, and been more caring, more mindful of their emotions. 'I was too protective of my own feelings', he laments. 'I'm so caught up trying to guard myself that I kind of push away other people. I'm always trying to try to fix that, but it's not easy.'
'Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.'
But when it comes to his work, pH-1 is kinder to himself. A saying his mentor shared with him during his web developer days in his 20s often comes to mind: 'Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.' He tries to tell himself to move on, and do better next time.
This adage is also the reason why pH-1's discography is so abundant, and his career propelled so quickly. 'When I'm making an album, if I think it's good or great, I just release it', he reveals. 'It can never be perfect. Even though I might think it's perfect, to some people, it might be garbage. It's all relative.'
Taking in all these contradictory sides of pH-1 makes me wonder what his Big Three must be. Oh wait, I accidentally shared that aloud, and pH-1 has no idea what I was talking about. 'Do you know what time you were born at?' I ask without fully realizing how personal of a question this could be considered. 'I think 4 a.m.', he replies just as nonchalantly. 'OK, I'm going to look up your birth chart', I tell pH-1 before quickly adding, 'I hope you don't mind.' 'Go ahead, go ahead', he encourages with a smile.
Indulging me in my astrological personality analysis of him, pH-1 points out the MyersBriggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test is huge in Korea right now. His is INFP meaning pH-1 is an introvert that relies on his intuition and feelings to make decisions and relate to others and he believes in it a lot more than astrology because MBTI is based on questions he's answered, not predetermined by the stars. Fair enough.
Plus, pH-1's rising sign, which represents the first impression people usually have of you and how you see the world, is also in Cancer. (Mine just so happens to be too.) The artist has long attached being a homebody to his personal brand. He has a whole song and mini series about it, as well as a tattoo of the word on his arm. Cancers are notoriously deeply connected to their homes as a safe space, crave routine, and very protective of their emotions. Now, pH-1's whole schtick just makes sense.
His moon is also in a water sign: Pisces. This aspect of birth chart determines how you react to situations internally and how you see yourself when you're by yourself. In pH-1's case, his Pisces placement leads itself to his empathy, generosity, inquisitiveness, and old soul vibes. (As a matter of fact, many musicians have Pisces in their charts, including, but not limited to, Rihanna, Wonho, Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo, and Bad Bunny.)
However, Jeon does point out that ph-1 has a stellium (aka a cluster of planets in the same sign) in Leo, so there's no need for pH-1 to have an existential crisis over this discovery I've made. He still touts the fiery creativity, confidence, assertiveness, and attention-seeking ambition of a Leo, Jeon says. (Lest we forget our orange conversation.) This explains why despite being an introvert, pH-1 mentioned to me that he wants attention because it fuels his people-pleaser tendencies. The predominance of both fire and water signs 'create a huge contrast between how he appears and his personal energies', she adds.