By: Hannah Waitt
We all know that the entertainment industry is not the easiest career path to succeed in. Imagine traveling to a totally different country where you don’t know the language, the culture, or anyone who lives there, and trying to break into the music industry in that country. This is exactly what Toyanna Rae, more commonly known by her rapper alias, Toy, is doing. Four years ago, Toy traveled to Korea alone with “nothing but a dream and a suitcase,” and today, she gets stopped on the streets by fans asking for pictures and autographs.
Toy sat down with moonROK last week to tell us about her journey as an artist, her time on the popular audition show “Show Me the Money,” and what it’s like to be a foreign artist in Korea.
Can you give us a self-introduction?
My name is Toy and I came to Korea 4 years ago. Originally I wanted to get into YG Entertainment. I never had any singing or dancing or rapping experience in America, but I was like, “I’m gonna get into YG.” So I emailed them and sent them an audition and I failed, but I was like, “that’s okay, I’ll just come to Korea and practice and I’ll audition again.” So basically that’s what I did. The first year I was here, I was teaching from 2pm to 10pm, so I couldn’t take any sort of lessons at all, so I just studied Korean in the mornings by myself and then went to work. The year after that I started taking dance lessons and voice lessons, and was still studying Korean. My second year here I did the first season of “Show Me the Money” and made it into Top 21, so after that I decided to stick to the rapper side of things and stopped singing as much.
So after Season 1 of “Show Me the Money,” what was next for you?
You know, if you have a dream, you do whatever you need to do to get to it. So even when I first came to Korea, I found out that Hongdae is where all the hip-hop artists go, so I moved to Hongdae, which is how I first met Geeks. I basically just asked them, “Yo, do you know where the train station is?” and they were super friendly and we ended up eating dinner all together, and that was pretty much it. After that I would meet them every weekend in Hongdae, and this was before they were really famous, so I was going to their street performances, and then they moved into clubs and then into actual performance halls, and because of that, I got to meet everyone in underground – Swings, San-E, Supreme Team – so everyone started to know who I was. From there I just started passing around my rap samples. And then “Show Me the Money Season 3” happened. I originally had no intention of doing Season 3, but Mnet asked me if I was auditioning again and I decided, okay why not? I heard that Season 2 was basically making famous rappers more famous. Like Swings was on Season 2 and he was already famous, but he just got more famous. So for me, in my mind, that’s not a real competition. What it’s supposed to be about is making unknown artists known. But then Season 3 turned out to be different so it wasn’t bad.
Why Korea? Why not try your luck in the US or the UK where you know the language and the culture? What is it about Korea that attracted you as an artist?
When I went to university, I was studying medicine, but I was really into music. It got to the point where I couldn’t concentrate on anything except for music, and that’s when I realized that music is what I needed to do. Back then, I had a lot of friends who were Asian at my university, so I was looking on someone’s blog, and I found the music video for Taeyang’s “Wedding Dress,” and I was like, Oh he’s pretty dope, he’s pretty handsome, and he can dance and sing… So I started looking up other related artists like Jinu Sean and 1TYM and I was like, Huh, this is not too bad… and ended up really liking the music.
Also, I’m a pretty conservative person, and in America all these big artists come out on stage with barely anything on, and I didn’t want to be in an industry where I felt pressured to become that way. 4 years ago when I came here, Korea was sort of known for being more conservative, so I felt like I could do it. In my mind, I didn’t think it would be this hard. I was just like, “Mom and Dad, I’m moving to Korea!” and they were like “Where are you going to live?” “I don’t know yet…” “How are you going to make money?” “Didn’t think of that one either…” So I got a teaching job and came right over here. It was actually a lot different than I thought it would be. Korea is very homogenous. When I came, I realized that there were only Korean people here. But knowing that all these people at YG like Teddy and Choice37 could speak English, I thought it was all doable. Anything is possible. So I just hopped over here with a dream and a suitcase.
So, I was snooping around online, and there are a lot of complaints that you don’t come out on the show enough.
A lot of complaints? Really? I didn’t know that!
Yeah if you search “Show Me the Money 3 Toy,” all the comments are like “I wish we had seen more of Toy,” “Why didn’t Toy come out as much on this episode,” and all that kind of stuff. So can you kind of talk about how the editing works and what the actual filming process is like compared to what everyone sees on TV?
So, not just “Show Me the Money,” but like every show in general, usually has a storyline before they start the show. Basically kind of a script. And it changes here and there, but I think that some of the people who did well on the show are part of the storyline, so they made it to a certain point. But other people, like me, weren’t part of that storyline, so I kind of had to start from scratch. I think that’s one reason [that I didn’t come out as much on the show] – because I wasn’t a part of the storyline.
I think another problem was that I was cool with every rapper on the show – I didn’t have beef with anyone. On “Show Me the Money,” if you start beef with someone, you automatically get more airtime. And I was even told that too; that if I want more TV time, then maybe I should make some drama happen. But like, even if I did write a dis rap, I have nothing to say about anyone because I’m honestly on good terms with everyone. And I would rather keep that and come out of the show with connections and friends than make up some crap.
I think another contributing factor to why I didn’t get as much airtime is that on Korean TV shows, foreigners are never number one. Never. Ever. I went into the show knowing that, so I knew I wasn’t going to come in first place, no matter what I did. A lot of famous people came out this season as well; Vasco, Bobby, B.I, Jolly V, Kisung, Snacky Chan… you know all these famous people came out, so I think that the decision there was “well if we have all these famous people on our show, then we’ll get more viewers.”
The fact that they drew contestants from YG Entertainment’s B Team also sort of served to bring in a whole new demographic of K-pop-loving viewers who might not have necessarily been into underground hip-hop before.
I agree. If you think about it YG got more TV-time than anyone because they also had Master Wu and Tablo. They’re the biggest entertainment company in Korea, so obviously people are going to watch. And even people who don’t care about rap are just like “Oh Tablo is gonna be on TV,” or “Bobby is gonna be on TV,” or “B.I is gonna be on TV, so I’ll watch the show.” And that affects the voting. Because they may have no idea what hip-hop is or know what good rap is, but they just see their favorite idol, so they vote for them. That’s why a lot of the time we actually had voting problems because fans wouldn’t watch the performances, or listen to the raps, they would just vote. That was the thing that was just confusing everyone, but you know, they’ve got fans.
So a while ago, Brad of Busker Busker did a big interview with VICE that became pretty controversial because he admitted that Superstar K made the contestants go on diets, they had to get botox, they had their phones taken away from them. Did you have to deal with any of that?
Actually, no. There was actually none of that on “Show Me the Money.” The only thing really was that we weren’t allowed to reveal anything about the show since we film ahead of time, so we just weren’t allowed to upload photos to social media after we made it past a certain point. There was one time that I uploaded a picture of my team – of me and Dok2 and the Quiett and Bobby – and I got a call from Mnet saying, “You need to take that down, you signed a contract,” and I was like “That contract was in Korean! I didn’t understand any of it!!”
Wait, so they didn’t give you an English contract?
You didn’t have like a lawyer or a translator or anything?
So they just give it to you and expect you to blindly sign it?
Yeah, we were filming that day, so right before we filmed, they just printed out the contract and gave it to me. At the time I was like, “This thing is long, what am I signing?” All they told me was that it basically said we can’t upload pictures and that if we wanted to do a solo performance outside of the show, we had to talk to Mnet first to get their permission.
But that’s all they told you?
Yep, that was it. And I was asking like, “Is there no English?” and honestly, no one on the show really spoke English this time. During Season 1 there was a girl working with the program who spoke English and would translate everything so I could understand it perfectly. This time around my Korean was better, but like contract-wise, that sort of language is way over my head.
Man, that’s kind of scary that you didn’t know what you were signing…
Yeah, I think they just never thought that a foreigner would get that far (laughs).
Did you ever feel marginalized on the show because of the fact that you are a foreigner or because of your race?
In general, I was alone most of the time. I think Koreans get really nervous about speaking English, so no one would approach me. And I was getting so frustrated because I was already a foreigner but that just made me feel like even more of a foreigner. So if I wanted to talk to someone, I would have to make the first move, no one ever approached me. Especially in the beginning Bobby and B.I really kept to themselves, but I knew that Bobby speaks English, so I was like oh I gotta make friends with that guy! So when I talk to him, it’s cool and it’s awesome, but I was like, “Why don’t you guys talk to anyone else?” And they were like, “oh… we’re just shy…” So in that sense, it was kind of lonely, but as I got further and further in the competition I got closer to Bobby, and even the PDs for our team. They really took care of me; they would send me encouraging messages and stuff. And then on the last episode I cried so much and the PD started crying and she said, “Toy don’t cry!!” and I said, “If you’re crying I can’t stop crying either!!” so they were actually really awesome and supportive. When it was first starting out, it was really hard though.
So you mentioned that a lot of things are in some ways scripted from the beginning; did you ever feel like your coaches afforded you less time and energy than your teammates because of the way that the storyline was supposed to go?
I think that every team had a plan. I think that with the big name rappers that came, no one was going to fail Vasco, no one was going to fail B.I, no one was going to fail Bobby, do you know what I mean? They’re the big names in underground, so in that sense, yeah, I think they already kind of knew who they were going to choose. As for me? I don’t think that people thought I was going to make it this far honestly. Season 1 I was allowed to rap in English, but this season I wasn’t, so it was a lot harder. I think everyone (including myself) thought that I was going to get cut a little earlier, but I didn’t, so in that way I think I might have messed up their plan a little bit. For me, being a foreigner who’s not 100% fluent in Korean, I kind of felt they would choose someone over me anyways.
Wasn’t it hard to know that no matter what you did you wouldn’t win?
Yeah of course!! It was so hard.
How did you motivate yourself to keep going despite that?
Honestly, I live off of the belief that nothing is impossible. Right now, there’s never been a non-Asian foreigner to debut in Korea, but I believe that it’s possible. That’s what keeps me going. I’m going to be the first to do it.
What was the hardest part about being on the show?
I guess the last round that I was on – being Top 12 and preparing to be Top 8 – and knowing that my producer supported my teammate more than they supported me. Those were the hardest three weeks. I mean, I always want to do my best and give my best in everything, but knowing that they supported my teammate over me just made me ask myself why I was even trying. I knew what the end result was going to be, so it was hard to keep giving my all when I knew all the odds were against me.
On the flip side, what was the most awesome moment of the show?
Hmm… a couple of things actually. The second round that I went to, Master Wu said hi to me. I had always been such a huge YG fan, and the fact that he knew my name and knew who I was, was just so insane. Then, when I did my first Korean rap, Dok2 came up to me afterwards and was like, “Yo, you speak better Korean than my dad,” and even Tablo complimented me on my Korean. And going into the next round Master Wu and Tablo both told me that they were really anticipating my performance. The fact that they were so supportive was amazing. Getting to Top 16 was really exciting, and then of course getting to Top 12. Making friends with everyone was really awesome too – Jolly V, Bobby, The Quiett, etc. Even though it was hard, I feel like the show helped me grow a lot.
Finally, what did you take out of the experience?
Don’t give up. Anything is possible. Following your dream is really hard. Especially being in a foreign country, it’s not easy. But who’s ever had it easy?
What are your goals plans for the future?
My goal is to debut in Korea, but I still have to work on my Korean. So my plan is to release a single in Korea, in Korean. That might take a little bit of time, so in the meantime, I’m working on preparing a mixtape. Most of it is going to be in English, but I also want to have a Korean version of a track. Once I get that together, I’m going to send it around to entertainment companies in Korea and in the States, get it up on Melon and on iTunes, and start performing.
moonROK would like to thank Toy for taking the time to talk to us and to wish her the best on all of her future endeavors! If you want to learn more about Toy, check out her Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!
Tags: Dok2 Interview Show Me the Money Tablo Taeyang YG Entertainment