“I have already done my job, which is to express myself”: How POPO J Found Contentment
The rapper opens up about how overcoming a period of low self-esteem led him to make a thoughtful and personal second album.
For those who have never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them? How would you finish the sentence “POPO J is ___” or “POPO J’s music is ___”?
It’s like taking a walk at a park on a random sunny day. “POPO J is like a friend of yours;” “POPO J’s music is like beams of sunlight in the afternoon.”
What is the story behind your stage name?
I’m a slashie; I have two jobs. I’m a police officer in Taiwan and make music in my off-duty time. That’s why my stage name is “POPO,” and “J” stands for my English name, James.
What three words best describe your new album, GOOD LOOKING?
“Self-affirmation,” “Authentic,” [and] “Good-looking.”
How did you choose the GOOD LOOKING cover art, and can you explain what all of the images on it mean?
The cover art was created by my friend Kaynken Chen and his girlfriend, Uning Kuo. We shot many pictures and made a music video during the same day. Ｗe rented a portable toilet for shooting, because we wanted to ironically express that the term “good-looking” isn’t necessarily used to describe appearances. While portable toilets are usually dirty, we used a lot of flowers to decorate it. My face is covered by some other things, and we wanted to tell people that in this day and age, appearance is not as important as they think.
You have previously described going through a period of change and recharging between your first and second albums. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? What was that in-between time period like?
After releasing my first album, I participated in a TV program in Taiwan named MTV The Rappers, which was the first hip-hop TV show in Taiwan. After the show was broadcast, I gained lots of attention and even became one of the most popular rappers from the show. But in this period of time, I started doubting myself and lost all confidence. I felt like an imposter, like all the good things were just caused by fortune instead of my rap skill and technique. I started cultivating confidence and self-affirmations from within, so I started making this sophomore album.
What advice do you have for artists who are feeling stuck like you used to feel?
Feel it first without any judgment, then keep creating. Your thoughts can affect your actions, but actions can really change your thoughts, too.
Please share some information about the songs on GOOD LOOKING: a fun fact, a story behind it, whatever you want to say about each one!
The intro of the second song is actually the sound of a printer, recorded by me with my phone.
The outro of “Live Life” is a speech given by Sam Harris. He’s a neuroscientist, writer, and philosopher. The part I sampled is the best part to me; those words hit me so hard.
“LMF(Love Myself First)” was written in August 2022, when I felt depressed and lacking in motivation. I tried to express those feelings with this song. After finishing the song, I found my way through and empowered myself gradually, and it really felt so good to feel liberated by expressing my genuine self.
The last song has a bar that means “I still walked to the studio after a car accident had my legs broken. You always lose multiple times before you win once.” I wrote this bar after I got off the bus to the studio and my legs hurt because of a car accident that had happened a couple of days ago. I just sat on the ground - a literally down-to-Earth rapper, LOL - and took my phone out of my pocket to write the lyrics.
How did you choose “LOCKED IN” as a pre-release single off of GOOD LOOKING? Were there other contenders?
This song is about my mindset during the making of this album. I think it is much more aggressive than the album’s other songs, so I chose it as a pre-release.
What has the reaction been like so far to your new album, and is the feedback different compared to your first album?
To be honest, to speak as a product manager, I think it is underrated so far! But I always see my career from a long-term perspective. I believe it will blow up someday if I keep creating. It just takes time to compound. On the other hand, as an artist, I kind of don’t care about the play counts, as I have already done my job, which is to express myself. Since this album is about my interior thoughts, I think my audience can really feel it. The feedback I got from them is authentic and thorough. That means a lot to me, because I always want to connect deeper with my audience, to make them resonate more with my songs. At this point, I guess I’ve achieved my personal [definition of] success. I really appreciate and am so grateful for the supportive audience.
What goals do you have, both for this album and your longer-term career?
My goals are to be able to write songs until I can’t rap, make enough money that I can quit my police job, and, most important of all, find a good balance between chasing goals and living life.
Lastly, is there anything else you want to say about yourself or your music?
Anyone who’s reading this: I recommend you to listen to my music and read my lyrics. It might bring you some good vibes, encourage some new thoughts, or [offer] motivation. I always appreciate it if you take the time to listen to my music! All love.
Check out GOOD LOOKING here!
Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity. Photos courtesy of POPO J.