Tiffany Young: From Girls’ Generation to taking charge

Zara Zhuang

| April 13, 2023

What hasn’t Tiffany Young turned her hand to?

She burst onto the K-pop scene in 2007 as part of Girls’ Generation, co-wrote two tracks on the massively popular eight-piece girl group’s 2022 studio album Forever 1, co-hosted South Korean music television programme Show! Music Core over four years, and made her K-drama debut opposite Song Joong-Ki in 2022. These days, the multi-hyphenate is just as busy: writing songs in the studio and holding creative brainstorming sessions while balancing being on set for the idol team survival reality show Peak Time, where she serves as a judge and guides groups of aspiring performers in search of stardom.

Ferragamo blazer and trousers. Photo: Grazia Singapore

“I’ve just been lucky enough to be a part of the Korean entertainment industry from such a young age,” the 33-year-old says. “Being a part of K-pop has really led me to expand not just into music but also hosting and doing a variety of things, literally.”

Yet, there’s still so much more that Young wants to achieve. “What I’m striving to conquer next is to be part of a film,” she declares. “I love, love, love the cinema and movies.” Musical films were what introduced her to music, she explains, and her recent interest in the cinematic arts runs the gamut from Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy and The Handmaiden, to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Godfather series. “Films have really been what helped me process any type of feelings or situations in my life, and I just love how they take you away,” she says. “And as much as I love a happy rom-com, I tend to be drawn to noir films and I would love to try out for something like that, on the darker side. But, you know, I would never let go of my dreams of becoming a Disney princess!”

Max Mara top and skirt. Photo: Grazia Singapore

None of this is simply wishful thinking. Though she is arguably better known for her music career so far—as Girls’ Generation’s lead vocalist, as part of the Girls’ Generation subgroup TTS, and even as a solo artist since the tail end of her contract with SM Entertainment, carrying on through her move to Los Angeles after she left the South Korean agency in 2017—Young has made a name for herself as a bona fide actress, most recently gaining a supporting role as an analyst in the 2022 revenge drama Reborn Rich, and snagging a turn as Roxie Hart in the 2021–2022 South Korean production of the musical Chicago.


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“Portraying Roxie Hart was really special to me because to be able to open my acting career through such an iconic role meant a lot, and it wasn’t out of pure luck or chance—I’ve been dreaming of that role for a very, very long time and that role itself involved a lot of hours, rehearsals and shows,” she recounts. “I’m grateful to be able to have the role and reprise it for a season and a national tour for a year and a half. I hope the audience takes away that whatever I do, there must be a special story behind the decisions and choices I make.”

One might expect venturing into acting to be a breeze for Young, whose magnetic stage presence has been sharpened through being on the demanding South Korean entertainment circuit and countless concert tours for over a decade, but the transition hasn’t been without its struggles. “The biggest challenge I’ve faced in this process is definitely the language barrier, as Korean is not my first language,” she admits. Even though she has lived in the country for years—she moved there from California at 15 to begin her training—she still reads plenty of Korean books and materials as part of her research and preparation. “No matter how many years I’ve been here, the language barrier is still hard, but I will keep going at this and I hope to find the right story that I can fit into.”

HallyuSG - Tiffany Young
Alexander McQueen dress. Photo: Grazia Singapore

Music and acting may well be two sides of the same coin for Young, who calls joining the cast of Reborn Rich fresh off a national tour of Chicago in South Korea “a full-circle moment”. “I’ve dreamt of acting for a very long time and have been waiting for the right story and moment to really get my foot in the door,” she explains. “I’d say it’s a full-circle moment because without my music training, I would have not gone to acting training, and without my acting training, I would not have been the songwriter that I’ve become today. And everything feeds into this whole circle of being a musician, performer and songwriter, and I’m very, very grateful for this cycle of learning music from writing songs to script analysis, to being on a set and then being on stage.”

And now Young is continuing that cycle, lending her expertise to mentoring the next generation. Prior to her judging spot on Peak Time, she appeared as a K-pop coach to trainees on the 2021 reality competition show Girls Planet 999. “It has been important to me that I join projects that connect to me and for me to be able to help younger aspiring artistes and idol teams. These are things that I really connect with and want to help with, using the experience that I’ve had,” she says. “Being on projects with people who have a clear vision, whether it be the artistes, creatives or producers—that is definitely why I have been a part of those shows.”


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Tiffany Young: From fifteen to forever

Young’s solo activities picked up particularly during Girls’ Generation’s five-year hiatus, but the band got back together to commemorate the crystal anniversary of their debut with the Korean studio album Forever 1, which immediately shot to number two on South Korea’s Circle Album Chart last August and went platinum in the country. Born out of “pure creative control and freedom”, and from the drive of wanting to give back to the fans who stuck with the octet, the 10-track record “was a monumental moment for us as a group and as human beings, because we got together out of pure free will and the passion to say, this is who we are right now and that we’re still here and we’re not stopping,” Young recounts. “It still [brings] me to tears.”

“I‘m proud of how many people connected to this album in their own way. It wasn’t about Girls’ Generation; it was about how we all grew up together and how we’re all still taking on the world one day at a time. This album was a very special moment for me, personally and professionally.”

Young credits her years as part of the long-running girl group with moulding her into the person she is today. “But at the same time, my solo career and my goals have been the same since Day 1,” she adds. “I wanted to do music because it helped me heal from a lot as a young child and that is still my goal today. I choose to do this and I am honoured to be able to do this: to connect, help and feel free while helping others feel free through what I create and do.”

HallyuSG - Tiffany Young
Ferragamo blazer and trousers; Alexander McQueen sandals. Photo: Grazia Singapore

“I feel very fortunate to be able to put out music at this time and age, especially with the 15th anniversary of Girls’ Generation last year. I also feel fortunate that it’s been creating so much more visibility and representation for the next generation,” she continues. “Growing up, K-pop wasn’t mainstream, but for it to become mainstream and having younger kids of all backgrounds and races be able to say ‘I dream of being a musician’—I think that is very special.”

Writing the new chapter of her career while shuttling between South Korea and the US, Young sees how her musical and visual concepts, and personal style and tastes, have been and will be influenced by her uniquely Korean-American perspective. “To be honest, there were time,s and there still are times right now, when I feel that I lack knowledge and understanding of both cultures,” she shares. “But when you look at what I create, you can definitely see both sides, my Koreanness and Americanness, and it took me a very long time to tell myself that I could be both, I am both, and I need to respect, love and honour that, as it’s going to translate into everything I do.”

HallyuSG - Tiffany Young
Saint Laurent top, trousers, bangles and heels. Photo: Grazia Singapore

“Growing up, I was scared, confused and often frustrated with living in both cultures and feeling like I’m lacking, because I couldn’t be one or the other. But surrounding myself with the right people and taking ownership of my career and myself as a human being, I found the bravery to move forward,” Young adds. “Right now I feel so, so blessed and thankful to be able to connect and understand, and have the curiosity and courage to create from that space of both cultures.”

Having lived through an adventure that most people can only dream of, Young is still struck by the moments and stories that “connect deeply with my heart, whether it be something simple and happy, or something that really opens my mind and heart to thinking,” she says. “I am learning how to be present and find gratitude in each moment, and there is really no other secret to keep yourself moving forward, personally or artistically.”

Mikimoto Jeux de Rubans double strand premium pearl necklace and pearl necklace; Bottega Veneta dress and gloves. Photo: Grazia Singapore

“I’m just truly humbled and grateful to be able to create, and the stories that are true to me and help me heal or help me carry on through life hoping that it will help my fans, listeners or the audience carry on with their lives themselves are moments that still drive me to do what I do.”

Photography | Kim Young Un
Creative Direction | Izwan Abdullah
Fashion Direction | Ian Loh
Styling | Kim Seban / Style Plus
Hair | Lee Boram
Makeup | Hong Umji
Producer | Sy Production
Photographer’s Assistants | Cho Ye Jin, Kim Ji Young, Kim Seong Su, Shin Ki Jun
Stylist’s Assistants | Manfred Lu, Jeong Ha Na, Shin Ggot Nim
Hairstylist’s Assistants | Zia

This article originally appeared on GRAZIA Singapore, your number one destination for the best in fashion, beauty, celebrity and lifestyle in Asia.


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