EXCLUSIVE: Backstage with Sandara Park

By Anjie Blardony Ureta

Posted at May 04 2014 04:35 PM | Updated as of May 05 2014 12:36 AM

2NE1 returns to Manila with “All or Nothing” tour

Sandara Park has truly gone a long way but she has lost none of her endearing "krung-krung" charms. Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment

SEOUL -- Fifteen minutes. That was all I had to interview former Kapamilya turned K-Pop superstar Sandara Park of the phenomenal girl group 2NE1.

Braving the icy weather of post-winter Seoul to watch 2NE1’s All or Nothing world tour launch, I had resigned myself to the idea that speaking with any of the girls would be next to impossible, especially with such short notice. But since the 12-city tour was headed for Manila, I felt compelled to at least try and take a chance.

With the help of the local concert producer, I went ahead and fielded my request. The initial response was as expected: The girls were extremely busy and there was no time to squeeze in an interview. But then a second email arrived – Dara can meet us briefly after rehearsals on the second night. It was nothing short of a miracle and I grabbed that fleeting opportunity, thanking the music gods for making it happen.

Less than three hours before the show, it was still unusually calm backstage at the SK Olympic Handball Stadium where the concert took place. Along the winding corridors that led to the interview site, dancers and staff moved casually about as muffled conversations and occasional bursts of laughter rang behind closed doors. In an incredibly surreal moment, I even caught a glimpse of 2NE1 leader CL in an oversized black t-shirt, stepping out of her dressing room while munching on a piece of bread!

At the VIP lounge, Dara arrived clad in her black-and-gold costume and braided hair, welcoming this writer with her warm and amiable smile. She appeared incredibly younger than her 29 years, looking just as fresh and vibrant as she did during her Star Circle Quest days a full decade ago.

Even more remarkable was the fact that she still spoke Tagalog fluently and with the same characteristic lilt that Filipino fans have always found endearing.

To break the ice, I handed her a small packet of dried mangoes as the customary pasalubong from home. Her eyes widened as she clutched the humble gift as though it was something utterly precious.

“Paborito ko ‘to!” she shrieked as she thanked me in a manner so disarming, it made me wish I had brought an entire crate. It left a mighty good feeling to know that fame has not spoiled the nation’s favorite quirky girl.

New songs, new image

2NE1 lights up the stage in their All or Nothing world tour. Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment

According to Dara, the concept behind All or Nothing was just as the title suggested: a crucial turning point that is approached with a do-or-die attitude. “After five years, we’d like to showcase a new and improved 2NE1 – one that’s more mature, more daring, with new music and moves. We really pushed our boundaries and went all-out this time.”

For her part, Dara’s image overhaul called for showing off her scrumptious abs, achieved through a strict diet and exercise regimen. “Working out was fine,” she said. “It was the dieting that was difficult because I had to give up some of my favorite food, like ramyun. Nagutom ako!”

She also revealed her recently acquired guitar skills, strumming away in Seoul during the acoustic version of "Come Back Home." Will she reprise this for the Manila show? “I want to,” she replied with a diffident chuckle, “but I need more practice, especially with the F-chord!”

Then of course, there’s that naughty “lap dance” portion while performing their hit single, "I Love You" – a routine that was such an unexpected detour from the girls’ fierce image, it had fans shrieking from both sheer delight and shocked disbelief.

“Ganun ba ka-daring ang ginawa namin?” she murmured coyly with a slight blush. “Siyempre gusto namin ipakita ang bagong side ng 2NE1... Pero sa concert lang namin gagawin ‘yan at para lang sa mga fans.”

Anniversary celebration

All or Nothing in Manila goes onstage at the Mall of Asia Arena on May 17 -- an auspicious date that coincides with 2NE1’s fifth anniversary since debuting in 2009. Not surprisingly, Dara revealed the timing wasn’t entirely by happenstance.

“During the planning stage, they showed us the tour schedule and I saw that May 17 had been blocked off. Sabi ko dapat sa Manila ito! Napaka-special ng araw na 'yan at gusto ko talaga sana makasama ang mga fans namin sa Pilipinas.”

Dara added that their “group birthday” was so special for her and teammates Bom, CL and Minzy, they would mark each anniversary by exchanging identical gifts like rings, bracelets or pendants. Last year, she gave everyone matching pink sneakers (which they can’t wear that often because “masyadong cute”).

“We don’t celebrate in a big way,” she disclosed. “But we always make time to get together for dinner, just the four of us.”

Things will change drastically this time around as AON Manila promises to be their most extravagant anniversary ever. While they had visited the country twice, this will mark 2NE1’s first full concert here.

“Performing in Manila is a dream come true for me,” Dara remarked with unconcealed excitement. “Hindi ako makapaniwala… We miss our Filipino fans so much… 'Yung mga tili nila, iba -- sobrang saya!”

'Pambansang Krung-Krung'

Quirky Dara in one of her goofy Twitter posts. Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment

Without a doubt, Dara’s lifelong bond with the Philippines has remained strong and widely recognized. Fans all over the world have become familiar with her Tagalog messages on social media when conversing with Filipino friends, her fondness for sinigang na hipon and Chicken Joy, as well as her trademark greetings “Mabuhay” and “Mahal ko kayo!”

Going beyond lip service, the self-proclaimed “Pambansang Krung-Krung ng Pilipinas” has shown her affinity with the Filipino people when it mattered most.

At the height of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation, she and brother Sanghyun (a.k.a “Thunder” from the boy band MBLAQ) immediately launched an online campaign to raise funds for rehabilitation efforts. In their video appeal, the siblings urged the public to donate generously in helping the country they affectionately called their “second home.”

Wrapping up our quick chat, I asked Dara if she planned on doing anything special to mark her homecoming – which happily coincides with her tenth year in showbiz after being discovered by ABS-CBN in 2004.

Calling to mind her double platinum recording as a teen star, she playfully quipped: “Hmmm… siguro sa encore, puwede kong kantahin ang In or Out! Kung may mag-request lang naman at kung gusto nila!”