Kim Jong-un lookalike spills on making music with Joanna Dong, doing impersonations and his post-summit plans
You won’t believe what else this man has been up to
You won’t believe what else this man has been up to
The Trump-Kim Summit has come to a close, and peace on the Korean peninsula is on the horizon. But the real winner of the political affair—arguably, besides host nation Singapore—has got to be Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump impersonators Howard X and Dennis Alan.
Restaurants, tech companies and hotels alike have enlisted their services to create buzz around their brands during their time here in Singapore amidst the media blitz. There’s even gonna be a Trump-Kim afterparty going down a day after the actual summit with the two of them making an appearance.
We tracked down the elusive Howard X to know more about the man behind the impersonations, had an hour-long chat with him and found out about the Hong Kong native’s Singapore connection via Singapore Idol finalist and Sing! China star Joanna Dong, as well as what he actually does when he’s not busy catching up with the North Korean leader’s latest get-up.
What’s the best part about being fake Kim Jong-un?
It gives me a platform to say what I want and get my point of view across. People care about what you have to say even though you may not be entirely qualified. People care about the lookalike because they’re the next best thing. That’s why we could charge people $40 for a photo [at Bugis Junction]. That was for the express lane which had like 50 over people in it, plus the hundred or so in the $10 line.
I’m sure doing this has its downsides.
No warnings or threats?
Yeah, from your [Singapore] government when they detained me for two hours at the airport. They tried to intimidate me and tell me not to go to Sentosa and stuff. They asked me a whole bunch of stupid questions, but one that stuck out was, "What are your political views?" I was like, that’s none of your business.
Don’t you ever feel like you’re in danger or anything?
Well, I was actually assaulted by North Korean agents at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics when I went in front of the cheerleaders. It made big news. I was waving the North Korean flag, dressed as Kim, and when the girls saw me they were just shocked. They were laughing and some of them tried to hide their laugh. So the North Korean agents didn’t like it and they attacked me. They were very smart about it too. Instead of throwing punches, they were kicking me so the cameras [couldn’t capture it] because I’m surrounded by people. I ended up with a few bruises on my legs but it was worth it.
If you were to meet the real Kim Jong-un, what would you say to him?
First of all, I’d tell him to go get a different haircut, it’s f*cking horrible. It’s terrible, man. And then I'd tell him to open his country up, close the concentration camps, so that maybe he can be that guy who puts his country on the right path. It’s a system he inherited right, so now that he’s in power, he can change it.
Have you been to North Korea?
No. I can’t go in. They know about me. If I go there I won’t come back. I’ll probably get a job as his double though.
I’m sure he already has some.
Yeah, but then they have to feed them. I can’t even catch up. I’m already trying to hit all the buffets.
What do you do besides impersonating Kim Jong-un?
At the moment, this job as an impersonator makes me the most money. However, producing music is still what I like to do, and I still do it, just that I’m more famous for being Kim Jong-un. I actually made a music video for one of my songs acting as Kim Jong-un. It’s called 財神到, a Chinese New Year song. In Hong Kong, there’s this tradition during Chinese New Year to make really silly, politically incorrect films. Right after Trump got elected in 2016, for 2017’s Chinese New Year, I made a video for that song I produced. It’s arranged in a Brazilian way, but with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un impersonators acting in the music video.
So you make music videos too?
Yeah, have you seen the one with me f*cking the bomb? It’s really good and really satisfying. So I worked with a Russian rave band named Little Big to do a music video for their song LollyBomb and because of that, all the Russians know me. I’ll be at the World Cup by the way, with fake Vladimir Putin.
Music has been so big for you. How and why did you start doing Kim Jong-un impersonations?
It started in 2011. Kim Jong-un came onto the scene and when he did, I thought, "Shit, this guy looks like me". People around me started saying the same thing as well, so I thought I could make some money out of this. So on Apr 1, I uploaded a photo of me with the haircut and the suit, and called it Kim Jong-un lookalike on Facebook. Within two days, it went straight to the top. I was the only guy doing it. And at that time, he was busy launching rockets. Then within two weeks I had a job in Israel making commercials. McDonald’s hired an Obama impersonator so their competitor there hired me to say f*ck you to McDonald’s. It was really funny and went viral within Israel. There was one job after another and it hasn’t stopped since then.
How about your music career? What’s it like?
I’ve been a drummer since I was nine. I always wanted to do music because I didn’t care about anything else. I just wanted to do music, and I graduated with a Bachelors in jazz performance from Australia. And as soon as I graduated, I was a performing musician. Then in 2009 I started to produce an album. I wanted to do something that’s never been done before. I lived in Brazil for two years. I really loved it and I wanted to bring that culture to the Chinese people. So I made Bossa Negra, a Brazilian album sung in English and Chinese. That Chinese part has never been done before. Then in 2010 I met Joanna Dong. I saw her clip of a Mandarin adaptation of Summer Sumba and her voice is really good. She can really swing. I don’t know why she wasn’t big enough sooner. So I decided to work with her and we took seven years to make this album.
I can’t believe people never knew that.
Yeah. And this year, I was actually nominated for Best Album Producer at the Golden Melody Awards, the Chinese version of the Grammys. We got voted in by the judges into the nomination with the highest marks, but someone made a complaint saying we should be disqualified because the album has old tracks from the album we released in 2016. The rule is that if there are more than half an hour of new material, it qualifies. But when I submitted it, I forgot to submit the USB with the new bonus tracks, even though it was sold to the public with the USB. So because of that we got disqualified. It was already announced that we were voted in at that point too. So that means we’ll never know if the best album really won.
What’s your next record gonna be like?
I don’t know if there’s going to be one. I never recovered the funds from producing Bossa Negra. It costs about US$120,000 to make and I only got back about half of it. We had about two million downloads in China but they only gave me a cheque of US$800 for that. That’s how streaming is. You can’t make your money back from streaming. For tours, we have to fly the whole 13-piece band over from Brazil so we only do it if it’s sponsored and we were only sponsored a few times by the Brazilian government and once by The Venetian Macau.
How about starting another band?
Well, I thought about starting a band with just impersonators. Me and Dennis (fake Donald Trump) are both musicians and we could have a band just singing political, parody songs.
So if you had to choose—jazz or Jong?
I don’t think I have to choose. Why can’t I be Kim Jong-un playing jazz? Maybe that’s the band I should put together. But I definitely like making music much better.
The above interview was edited for clarity.