Today, stardom is easily sparked, and just as easily snuffed out. Sandara Park, also known as Dara, made her claim to fame before the world got so fickle. In 2009, she debuted in the South Korean girl group 2NE1 with members CL, Bom and Minzy, and in the years to come, the quartet would dominate music charts around the world with their bold look and sound.

2NE1 was unlike anything that the K-pop world had seen before, and Dara was the group’s wild card. Her sweet voice and youthful image belied her unconventional style choices. Her stick-like, “palm tree” hairstyle in 2NE1 and BIGBANG’s music video for Lollipop still stands out as one of the most daring looks that any South Korean celebrity has ever donned.

Even after 2NE1 disbanded in 2016, Dara has continued to do things differently. Going beyond the path of a typical K-pop idol, she forged a new chapter of her entertainment career in the Philippines, where she had been based before signing to YG Entertainment. She remains one of the most influential South Korean celebrities in the country. To the rest of the world, she is an unmistakable face of K-pop’s second generation, its so-called Golden Age. She and the rest of 2NE1’s former members remain a force to be reckoned with, as seen at their reunion at Coachella in 2022.

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview

As a testament to her versatility, Dara has also taken on acting roles in both South Korean and Filipino films and television shows. She has become a fixture at Paris Fashion Week, owing to her experimental approach to style. Last year, at the age of 38, she also marked her return to music with her first self-titled solo album, which was followed by the single 2 Proud, made in collaboration with Black Eyed Peas’s

There is a name for the phenomenon that Dara has proven herself to be: an icon.

“I think I first felt [like an icon] when I debuted in the Philippines when I was 20 years old,” she reflects in her interview with GRAZIA Singapore. “It was so new and weird that I didn’t really realise it at the time, but I think I feel it more afterwards.”

Indeed, Dara is more than comfortable with the label today. “Being an icon is a great feeling and an honour,” she says. “But I think it takes a lot of hard work and passion to become an icon.”

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview
ACNE STUDIOS jacket; NANUSHKA via NET-A-PORTER dress; PEDRO The Demi Bag; PEDRO Chalk PEDRO Icon Leather Heel Mules; MONICA VINADER earring

Hard work and passion: those are the two things that Dara clearly demonstrates today, even after having a two-decade career in entertainment. In 2024, the South Korean star is preparing to show a whole new side to her during her concert at the Waterbomb Singapore music festival. Her fans, especially loyal ones from 2NE1’s fandom, Blackjacks, will certainly have something to look forward to.

Just don’t expect Dara to rest on her laurels anytime soon. Below, the South Korean star tells us more about her mission to try new things—be it in music, fashion, or acting.

On Sandara Park (EP), you had some experience with production and songwriting. What else would you like to explore in the creative process?
SP: When I made my first solo album, I worked with various people without an executive producer to create various songs, and although I still can’t write songs on my own, I commissioned songs based on the story I wanted to tell and the image I wanted to show on stage. I also participated in the lyrics, so I tried writing lyrics for the first time, but [there’s a lot more] to writing lyrics than just writing. In the future, I want to be more involved in writing lyrics, so I want to think and study more about how to put everything I want to say in those short lyrics.

Who are some artists you would love to collaborate with? 
SP: There are actually a lot of artists I would love to collaborate with. One of them is [Korean-American hip-hop artist] Yoon Mirae, who I’ve loved and admired since I was a trainee. I’ve always imagined what kind of music would be created if my vocals were combined with her cool rapping, so I’m definitely going to ask her! I hope it will happen one day. I want to be a soft hip-hop female warrior!

Since going solo, what have you discovered about yourself as an artist? 
SP: I had to overcome a lot of things from the moment I started performing alone after always being on stage with my members. I had a lot of fear and pressure to fill the stage by myself, but as I continued to perform alone, I realised that I’m a charismatic person (laughs). The seniors and managers who saw my performances told me that even if I’m alone, I’m still 2NE1. So now I can go anywhere with confidence.

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview
ACNE STUDIOS dress; MOSCHINO bustier vest; PEDRO Chalk PEDRO Icon Leather Sandals; LXK earring, ring

You’re known for being a style chameleon. Why do you like experimenting with fashion?
SP: I don’t know, I have a very quiet and reserved personality, and I don’t usually express it, but I think it comes out in my styling and hair, and I think it’s a stress reliever. I get a lot of pleasure from seeing a new version of myself. I only give it my all on stage.

You’ve had some bold beauty looks, including your iconic “Vegeta” hairstyle that you sported at Coachella and Paris Fashion Week in 2022. What made you decide to bring back that look?
SP: We’ve always styled our hair and makeup to match the music because we think music and fashion are one and the same. When 2NE1 did a performance of I’m the Best at Coachella, the Vegeta hair was the most iconic hairstyle for the song and the best way to represent it, so I did it again. Then we did it again during Fashion Week because we thought it would go so well with the Vivienne Westwood outfits and the brand, and we were so happy with how well the two looks worked together. 

What do you enjoy the most about attending Paris Fashion Week?
SP: The first time I went to Fashion Week, I was confused and everything was new to me. I think I came back because I didn’t really enjoy it. But every year since, I’ve gotten more relaxed, and I’ve been able to really enjoy the shows. It’s a gathering of people who love fashion from all over the world, and it’s so fun and exciting! It’s so fun to go and watch people, and it’s so fun to see the different looks. Every time I go, I make friends from different countries. Fashion designers remember me and say hello, and it’s so fun to say hello to them too. It’s so much fun to go to Fashion Week now because it feels like I’m going to a playground in my favourite field and it’s so relaxing!

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview
TORY BURCH dress; MONICA VINADER earring, bracelet; stylist’s own tights; PEDRO Cognac PEDRO Icon Leather Hobo Bag, Chalk PEDRO Icon Leather Heel Mules

How has your style evolved in recent years? 
SP: I think my style has changed a lot lately. When I was younger, I was mostly into streetwear, like a little boy, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve naturally moved towards more feminine clothes and mature styling. When I was in 2NE1, I couldn’t handle different looks because I didn’t want to show too much skin. Nowadays, I’m more open-minded so my stylist says it’s very easy and fun to dress me up.

You also popularised the shaved hairstyle for women. Would you ever shave your head again?
SP: [Laughs] A shaved head and a semi buzz cut are somehow very different, but it’s still a shaved head. I really like the semi buzz cut style and I think it was really pretty, and I could definitely do it again, but I don’t think it’s fun to do such a drastic look twice, so I’d rather find a style that I haven’t done.

Today, K-pop girl groups do not shy away from making unconventional style choices. Do you think that you played a role in that, with your daring style as a K-pop star? 
SP: I think it has some influence, but honestly, I don’t think there are many juniors who have done as unconventional a style as me yet—which is a shame, because I wish they would take more bold challenges like me! It can be funny in some ways, but it’s also really cool, depending on how you look at it.

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview
DOLCE & GABBANA blazer, skirt, gutter, stockings; PEDRO Black PEDRO Icon Leather Hobo Bag

What impact do you think that 2NE1 has made on K-pop and beyond?
SP: I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but even as trainees, the members were different. They were already amazing performers, but they worked harder than anyone else, and when I saw them voluntarily practise and prepare for the stage without taking a day off throughout the year, I was really inspired. I think that’s why they weren’t afraid to try new things, not only in terms of their stage skills but also in terms of their own colours and fashion. The four of us together made the puzzle complete, and because people could feel our passion, we were loved by fans and many seniors and juniors. I think 2NE1 inspired many juniors in K-pop as well.

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming concert for Waterbomb Singapore?
SP: The thing I’m most looking forward to at Singapore Waterbomb is definitely reuniting with Singapore Blackjacks on stage again… I’m going to be in tears. Also, it’s the first time I’ll be performing songs from my solo album, so I’m really excited and looking forward to it! I hope everyone enjoys it.

Looking at your career so far, what is your proudest achievement?
SP: I think I have many achievements that I am most proud of, such as the miraculous things I have done in the Philippines under the name Sandara Park, and the dreamy things I have done with my colleagues in 2NE1 when I was back home. These are all very important and I’m proud of them. But what I feel these days is that in addition to the great successes I’ve achieved, I’m also very proud of myself for the difficult moments I’ve had on my own—the works that didn’t make it to the box office, and the hard work I’ve put in in the field of entertainment that I’m not good at. I believe that these various experiences will be a great strength for me one day.

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview
DION LEE dress; PEDRO Cognac PEDRO Icon Canvas Bucket Bag 

Singing, dancing, acting, modelling, hosting: You’ve done a lot throughout your career. What else would you still like to explore?
SP: I think there’s still a lot I haven’t done. As a solo singer, I only have one album each in the Philippines and Korea, and I think I still have a lot to show. In terms of acting, I would like to be more mature and try again in a drama or film some day. In the past, I’ve mainly played college students in their 20s, so I would like to show mature characters and music that fits my age.

What are you looking forward to in 2024? 
SP: In 2024, I want to enjoy the album I released last year even more with my fans. I think it will be a year of preparation for 2025, and I want to enjoy the content of Dara Tour on my YouTube channel and do various things that I couldn’t do last year because I was too busy.

What can you confidently say “I Am The Best” for? 
SP: Enjoying the stage and having a good heart—two things I can confidently say I’m the best at!

Sandara Park Dara 2NE1 GRAZIA Singapore cover June 2024 interview
DOLCE & GABBANA blazer, skirt, gutter, stockings; PEDRO Black PEDRO Icon Leather Hobo Bag