- K-Pop star Eric Nam was told that seeking professional help for his anxiety would be a bad career move.
- With the app Mindset, he’s aiming to break the taboo around mental health within the Asian diaspora.
- The multi-hyphenate is also a TV host, podcast producer, and creative at DIVE Studios.
Eric Nam is a true multi-hyphenate. As a K-Pop star, TV host, creative director, business owner, and podcast personality, Nam has become a force in the entertainment industry. In 2016, he was named one of GQ Korea’s Men of the Year. Now, he’s using his platform to uplift and usher in a new generation of Asian American stories.
When he’s not a tour musician, Nam is working behind the scenes as a creative at DIVE Studios, a company he founded with his younger brothers Eddie and Brian. DIVE Studios is a platform that delivers exclusive content from a diverse collection of creators, hosting multiple podcasts from various artists in the K-Pop space, including Eric’s own podcast, The Daebak Show.
Nam’s career trajectory and rise to stardom has been unconventional. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, the child of first-generation Korean immigrants. The oldest of three sons, he’s said he’s always existed in a middle ground between identities: he’s Korean, and he’s American, but he’s also Korean American, which in itself is its own unique identity.
“We’re foreign in the States and we are too American in our parent’s homeland,” Nam told Insider, alluding to the “perpetual foreigner” trope that is often placed upon Asian immigrants. “We never feel fully accepted.” He said his identity as an Asian American has heavily influenced how he approaches his career.
His music career started on a TV talent show.
Eric graduated from Boston College in 2011 with a degree in International Studies and was offered a consulting job at Deloitte post-graduation.
A few years later, he decided to take a chance on his own dreams, instead of living a life that was expected of him by others. He left his safe consulting job to move to Korea to launch a music career, competing in a talent show that eventually led to a record deal. In January 2013, he debuted with an EP.
The journey hasn’t been easy. At times, the music industry was not on his side. “I had a lot of emotional distress when I was starting my career in Korea,” Nam explained. He experienced symptoms of anxiety and
when he first moved around the world, but his label warned him that it would be a bad career move to seek professional help. He said this experience encouraged him to be more candid about the importance of mental health.
Ten years later, Nam has become an independent artist, but the change has been a new challenge. “Being an independent musician is really hard,” he said. “It sounds sexy, it sounds cool. But it’s so much work.” He recalls a time right before going on a tour where he had to come up with $100,000 to deposit for a bus. “I had to figure out a way to get that money otherwise I couldn’t go on tour.”
By learning and sharing how to overcome the obstacles that come with navigating the industry alone, Nam has been given the unofficial title as a leader to younger artists in the field. “There are a lot of kids and a lot of other idols who I feel like I’ve become a great confidant to,” he said.
With Mindset, he is encouraging others to speak up about their mental health.
Currently sandwiched between two legs of a world tour, Nam moderated a discussion with students at Johns Hopkins University about mental health in the Asian diaspora. His newest venture has been Mindset, an app he founded with his brothers, where artists can candidly talk about their mental health journeys to create a dialogue around topics that are considered taboo within the Asian community. With this goal in mind, the platform is reimagining the way Asian stories are being told.
“I wanted to create a platform that would allow artists to speak freely in a comfortable setting about whatever was going on,” Nam told Insider. At its core, this was the motivation behind the new venture. “We want to be friends and allies of artists as much as possible because this industry is cutthroat.”
Nam explained that he believes there hasn’t been much of a community fostered within the Asian American space in the past. He said that because of the expectation of competition that is often placed upon Asian American youth, speaking openly about struggles can sometimes be treated as a sign of weakness. He hopes to change that stigma with Mindset.
He wants Mindset to be one of those sacred spaces where Asian Americans are able to come together to tell their stories, without fear of judgment. “I think [we are] just now understanding how to verbalize this and to unite around this experience.”
“There’s enough room in the world for all of us to thrive,” Nam told Insider.
In a world where we have an Asian American superhero, an Asian American Vice President in office, and an Asian American centered story that’s number one at the movie box officewe’re seeing more opportunities for the AAPI community to continue to grow and tell new stories without tokenization.
“There can be more than one Asian American pop star, there can be more than one Asian American director, actor, or CEO,” he said. “We’re not monolithic. There’s such a rich history and culture behind every single one of us and I hope we keep telling these stories for three, five, 10, 50 years, and forever to come.”