T.O.P is the stage name of South Korean rapper and actor Choi Seung-hyun who is best known as one of the five members of the K-pop boy-band 'Big Bang', which also includes his rapper friend G-Dragon and singers Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri. Despite emerging out of the K-pop industry notorious for producing unoriginal, trained bubblegum groups, he and his band brought in rap, R&B and dance elements into pop and have been praised widely for their individuality. The group not only became popular in Korea, Japan and neighboring countries, but also earned recognition worldwide, charting on the 'US Billboard 200' and earning awards at MTV 'Europe Music Awards'. He simultaneously pursued a solo career, often collaborating with his band-mates and other artists. He also ventured into acting, appearing on the South Korean TV series 'I Am Sam' and 'Iris', and played lead roles in movies such as '19-Nineteen', '71: Into the Fire', 'Commitment', 'Tazza: The Hidden Card' and 'Out of Control'. He further expanded his career by debuting as a furniture designer, collaborating with the brand Vitra, which earned him the 'Visual Culture Award' at the 'Prudential Eye Awards'.
Childhood & Early Life
T.O.P was born as Choi Seung-hyun was born on November 4, 1987, in Seoul, South Korea. He is very close to his mother and has an older sister named Choi Hye-yoon.
A very shy and sensitive child, Choi Seung-hyun felt so miserable working with his peers that he often skipped school and came home. He eventually majored in Musical from Seoul Art College and started attending Dangook University in Theater & Film in 2008.
During the time he was in the 4th or 5th grade, he listened to the American rapper The Notorious B.I.G. who inspired him to pursue rapping. He danced and rapped with his neighborhood friend Kwon Ji-yong, who later became his band-mate G-Dragon.
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T.O.P started rapping during his teenage years, taking up the stage name TEMPO, and became a popular underground rapper following the release of his song 'Buckwild' featuring NBK Gray. In 2003, he won KBS Radio’s 'Rap Battle' contest.
He had lost contact with his middle school friend Kwon Ji-yong, who had moved away to pursue his musical goals. In 2006, Ji-yong, who was a trainee at YG Entertainment at that time, contacted him after the company showed interest in forming a boy-band.
He recorded demos with the help of Ji-yong and sent them to the CEO of YG Entertainment, Yang Hyun-suk, who called him for audition for the proposed boy band. He failed at the audition initially, as he was considered "too chubby" to become an idol. However, determined to be a part of the studio, he shed 20kg weight in 40 days and secured the spot in another audition six months later.
His senior at YG Entertainment, singer Se7en suggested the stage name 'T.O.P' for him and he was included as one of two rappers in the group of six artists forming the boy-band 'Big Bang'. The group included his friend and fellow rapper, Kwon Ji-yong (G-Dragon), along with Taeyang, Daesung, Seungri and Jang Hyun-seung, even though the latter was dropped before the group officially debuted.
The initial training regimen of the band was documented on television for publicity. However, their first album, 'Big Bang Vol. 1', which released on December 22, 2006, was received with mixed reviews. It featured his first solo song 'Big Boy', for which he wrote the lyrics and also composed music.
They next released the EP titled 'Always' on August 16, 2007. The lead single of the album, 'Lies', became the first number-one hit of the group and was named among South Korea's "most memorable songs" by 'Billboard'.
The lead singles of their two EPs, 'Last Farewell' from 'Hot Issue' and 'Day by Day' from 'Stand Up', lived up to the expectation 'Lies' created. While the former topped online charts for 8 straight weeks, the latter became one of the most successful singles of all time in South Korea.
In January 2008, the group ventured into the Japanese music industry with their first Japanese EP 'For the World', which was later followed by their self-titled debut Japanese album, released on August 19, 2009. The group's second Korean album, 'Remember', was released on November 5, 2008, and contained two singles that ranked No.1 and 2 at the Gaon Music Chart.
In 2010, when his band was on hiatus, he teamed up with G-Dragon to release the album 'GD & TOP', which contained his debut solo single 'Turn It Up' as a bonus track. His band made a comeback with the 2011 EP 'Tonight', and their next EP, 'Alive' (2012), which became the first K-Pop album to chart on the 'US Billboard 200' list.
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After the band went into a three-year long hiatus, he released his solo album 'Doom Dada' on December 16, 2013. 'Big Bang' made another strong comeback in 2016 with the album 'MADE', which contained eight singles including five chart topping tracks.
In mid-2007, T.O.P featured as an actor for the first time in the music video of the song 'Hello' by Korean singer Red Roc. Soon after, he officially started acting with a major role in the South Korean television series 'I Am Sam'.
He played one of the three leads in the South Korean-Japanese suspense film '19-Nineteen', which also starred his band-mate Seungri and released in 2009. That year, he was cast in the role of a mysterious assassin named Vick in the critically acclaimed spy TV drama series 'Iris'.
He earned praise from critics for his role in the 2010 war drama film '71: Into the Fire'. He reprised his role in the film adaption of 'Iris' for Japan in 2011 and starred in the lead role in the South Korean spy thriller film 'Commitment' in 2013.
In 2014, he was cast in the lead role in the gambling film 'Tazza: The Hidden Card'. Most recently, he played the lead alongside actress Cecilia Cheung in the German-Chinese action thriller 'Out of Control', which is scheduled to release in China in 2017.
'71: Into the Fire' has been T.O.P's most critically successful film to date, for which he has been named 'Best New Actor' multiple times. Among his albums, 'MADE' from 'Big Bang' has been the most successful, selling over six million copies in China alone.
Awards & Achievements
For his film '71: Into the Fire', T.O.P received two awards at the 31st 'Blue Dragon Film Awards' in 2010 and two more at the 'BaekSang Arts Awards' the following year. His band 'Big Bang', received two awards at the 2011 MTV 'Europe Music Awards', apart from the numerous awards and nominations at regional award shows around Asia.
Personal Life & Legacy
On June 5, 2017, four months into his two-year mandatory military service, the police started prosecuting T.O.P for smoking marijuana with former aspiring idol Han Seo Hee. The following day, he was hospitalized after being found unconscious due to anti-anxiety medicine overdose.
In order to stop T.O.P from leaving school, his mother and his teachers went so far as to hide his shoes. However, that did not stop him, as he started going home barefoot.