“I can't believe it's only been 14 months,” Tiffany Young says as she settles in with MTV News. “And I'm just going. I'm so inspired. I'm having so much fun.”
Going, inspired, and fun — there really aren’t three better words to describe the artist’s life since returning stateside to jumpstart her solo career after finding global success with K-pop phenom Girls’ Generation. In that short window of time, Young has released six music videos — the latest for her current single, “Magnetic Moon” — won an iHeartRadio Award, completed a mini showcase tour, planned an upcoming North American tour, written more music than she ever has before, and after sneaking in a few Asian tour stops, she’s landed in Anaheim, California, for D23 Expo, Disney’s major fan convention that happens once every two years.
Young still can’t believe she’s here; the joyful anticipation in the room is birthday-like. For as long as she can remember, Disney has held a space in her heart. After leaving her California home for Korea at the age of 15 to pursue her K-pop dreams, the parks became a sanctuary of sorts, offering a comforting place for her and her bandmates to really unwind, be that in Japan, Florida, or anywhere in between. (Her fans, Young Ones, are well aware of her lifelong love for all things Mouse.)
This time, though, things are different. She’s not here to revel in all the unrestrained glee packed into one giant convention center. She’s here to perform as part of Disney’s True Original Summer of Music, a showcase that celebrates 90 years of Mickey Mouse and his influence on culture. (OK, there is still some reveling. “I was just greenrooming with Mickey, and how many people get to greenroom with Mickey Mouse himself and celebrate his 90th anniversary?” she marvels.) As such, she’s whittled her repertoire down to the four songs that most embody the woman she is today: “Magnetic Moon,” “Born Again,” “Runaway,” and a Korean rendition of The Lion King classic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”.
Slipping in that bit of her identity just made sense to Young. Not just because “Mickey Mouse is a universal language,” but because she knows how impactful cultural representation can be. “As much of a Disney fan as I am, it's a moment, not only for myself, but for K-pop artists. And it is a moment for... just everybody and every young woman and man of color who can continue to dream to be a part of Disney,” she said, nodding to Disney’s diversified revival of all their classics. (Young’s favorite, at the moment, is the new Aladdin, which she also loved a whopping six times in its Broadway form. “I was like, ‘I'm going to watch it in the front, I'm going to watch it on the side, I'm going to watch it above.’ I like to take it in as first person perspective and then for production,” she said. “Like, what if I were to play Princess Jasmine?”)
It also brings to mind an interesting parallel between Disney’s global dominance — seen in its massive box office success and its 12 parks in six cities around the world — and K-pop’s current explosion. Although the genre has been steadily consumed abroad for decades, its impact on the U.S. music scene has become undeniable in recent years, with groups selling out arenas, dropping collabs with mainstream artists (such as BTS and Halsey’s “Boy With Luv” and Blackpink and Dua Lipa’s “Kiss and Make Up”), and smashing YouTube records, all of which practically demanded a brand-new VMA category spotlighting the genre. Just like the stories in Disney’s library, K-pop transcends language.
“I thought that I had to move halfway around the world, just be there full-time. I was there for 12 years. And to have it be in real-time, without having to be in another language, just hearing Korean and K-pop on mainstream radio and on TV,” she says, “it's beautiful, it's inspiring, and I hope this new chapter of my career will add onto that as well.”
Leaving the carefully plotted world of K-pop in Korea for uncharted territories in the U.S. wasn’t easy for Young; it took getting over some nerves before she was really able to relax into her new lifestyle. Songwriting helped. In the past, performing songs written by other people kept a part of Young closed off. Now, that added layer of vulnerability has awakened new levels of emotional freedom within her, with unrestrained time in the studio showing new sides of herself that she didn’t know were there.
She’s still learning to dig deeper, with every new song she writes. The payoff, so far, has been enormous. “I feel empowered,” she says. “I feel like the woman I wanted to be on stage. Like I'm talking and moving the way I pictured myself as Young Tiffany, and it's wonderful.”
Going solo has reminded Young what took her down this path in the first place: her dream of helping others heal through music in the same way that music lifted her soul after losing her mom at age 12. Infusing her music, moves, and performances with elements that feel authentic to her own journey has kept her in a constant state of “nervous-excitement,” but the long hours are all worth it to Young.
“Storytelling and the art, it's going to help you heal while healing others, and I think that's the magic,” she says. “You shouldn't be afraid of the hurt and pain that has gone on in your life because the moment you walk deeper into it and let the emotions take over, that's where you feel love.”
Young won’t lie; it is exhausting being constantly on the move and introducing these new parts of herself to the world. But she’s been finding exactly what she needs to re-energize along the way — and it’s not just thanks to her stellar glam team. “I feel happy. As crazy it may seem... Like I'll go home and it's really quiet and I'm just like, ‘Wow, I just performed for like 5,000 people today,’” she says. “I can't not be thankful. I think that's what it is right now. It's gratitude. Gratitude is what's making me glow inside.”