Singer-Songwriter Hyejin Talks About ‘What a Shame!’ EP and Asian Representation in Music

Singer-songwriter Hyejin first decided she wanted to pursue a career in music during her freshman year of high school in Seoul, South Korea. During that time, she had never imagined that one day, she’d be doing exactly that, only about 7,000 miles away in New York, U.S. Now, just two months after releasing her very first EP, WHAT A SHAME!, she’s found her place here in the States — writing songs with her music major peers and strangers from Discord, and poking fun at typical Korean American church boys in her new song “DAVID LEE.”

Growing up splitting her time between the two countries, Hyejin never felt like she truly belonged anywhere. Not being Korean enough for South Korea and not being American enough for the U.S., she was shy and soft spoken throughout her upbringing. And although she was born here in the States, she spent much of her childhood in Korea. Just as she decided to fully pursue her career, beginning to send demos to Korean companies and planning her future, her parents dropped some shocking news: they were relocating the family to California. Thankfully, the move turned out to be a twist in her favor. As Hyejin spent more time in the States, she began to really find herself, and eventually, it started to feel like the right place for her. “I really started developing my own sound as an independent artist, and then naturally, I went to college and studied music. It was kind of out of my control [in the beginning], but it worked out. It’s much more open minded [here], and I feel more at home here.”

Unique for her slightly pessimistic, anti-romantic attitude, the singer used music to express her innermost thoughts and emotions, which she oftentimes keeps logged in one Notes app note. “I don’t have a diary that I write in. I just keep a note on my phone that’s really long. It’s like every thought I’ve ever had, and it’s literally cursing people out in there, but I think that’s where I kind of go [when starting a song].” Regarding the songwriting process, the soloist revealed that, although she’s involved in the making of every song, she doesn’t typically make instrumentals on her own. “I don’t play instruments. What I do is, I’ll get loops from my producer that I’m working with. His name’s Leo, and he’ll send me stuff and I work on that.” Reminiscing on how she started working on her EP in her freshman year of college, Hyejin is reminded of the days she spent in her dorm’s bathroom. “I was in a dorm with a roommate, and I would typically write at night, so I would have to go to my bathroom and write. You have to sing it into the Voice Memo to record, and I wouldn’t be able to do that while she’s sleeping in the room. So, I would write in the bathroom, and take it to the studio later to record.”

Another part of her creative process is taking her time. Rather than sorting through a long list of songs to decide what would go in the EP, Hyejin and her team actually only made five songs. “[They] just kind of fit together. I think we did have like two other songs that we were going to work on, but we really didn’t make that many songs. It’s also because each one took so long, especially in terms of production.” Even though there were only five songs in the EP, it took over a year to complete. “We have a song called “U GOOD?,” and it took so long to make, we recorded vocals on that I think three times.” For the song “I’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE,” it took almost a full year to complete due to constant mixing and revision. The best thing about the short tracklist, however, was that it fit the goal of what Hyejin wanted to achieve with this EP: to introduce herself and her personality to the world. “I wanted to set a contrast in terms of like my personal persona.” She clarified that the Hyejin you see and hear in the music is not a faux persona, but moreso who she really is on the inside. “I genuinely have those thoughts. [My songs are just] like my outlet of expressing those thoughts I haven’t been able to before.”

Working on music has always been a collaborative effort for Hyejin, and she enjoys joining forces with her music major mates, such as her producer Leo. Often working together, the two even share similar ideas, such as wanting to create a re-release of the singer’s “I’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE.” She shared, “That was the first single off the project, and at the time, it didn’t really gain the traction that we wanted since it was one of my first times releasing music ever, so we wanted to re-release it. It’s also my favorite song off the project, and we wanted to kind of get a male perspective on it.” Trying to find the perfect male voice to add to the track, they turned to Discord. “We’re part of this Discord channel community of rising independent Asian American artists and Asian artists who are active internationally, and we got connected through there. We made an announcement saying that we’re looking for additional vocalists, and Kasper sent his verse within the hour of posting. We got a lot of submissions, but we picked the two that really stood out.” With Aleebi and Kasper now added to the track, “I’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE PT.2” was born.

Of the five songs on the WHAT A SHAME! EP, the one that did the best in terms of numbers was “SABOTAGE.” The song has now surpassed one million streams on Spotify, and while extremely grateful, Hyejin had no idea this would happen. “When we were writing the song, we thought we should just drop it. It underwent a lot of arrangement changes. The song starts with the chorus, but there was a first verse that we completely scrapped. Then, we had another second verse that I had to scrap. I think that’s what makes the song good now, but we were really unsure of how the song would be received.” In fact, the song they anticipated would be the song was another one on the EP — “ALL MY FRIENDS HATE YOU!” She said, “[This song was] initially supposed to be our lead single, but it ended up not doing as well as we thought. All my [music school] peers who heard it also thought, like, this is the one.” Not giving up on the track, however, there is hope of a re-release in the future, too. “Maybe in the future, it’ll do better.”

Most currently, Hyejin dropped her song “DAVID LEE” on May 19th, and hopes it can be a summer anthem for her fans. “It’s a very upbeat energy song, so it’s something that’s not really in my discography, kind of like an outlier. The song title itself is really jarring, and I would say it’s pretty weird,” she said, remembering the process of creating this specific song. “We wanted to create some sort of cultural commentary on those Korean American church boys who are like, very pretentious, and act as if they’re holy. They’re the praise band leaders, but they do all sorts of bad shit, and screw over girls and stuff, and I’m just so over it.” Making fun of all of these Korean American church boys that fit this description, Hyejin also clarifies that there isn’t one particular person named David Lee that it’s aimed towards. “It’s not about a person, it’s about a type of person.”

Even though she just released her new song, the young singer is always thinking ahead to her future, too, finding new things she wants to try. “I grew up listening to a lot of just R&B and Soul, so I never really strayed from that sound. But during this past summer, I definitely had an awakening. I just fell in love with a lot of rock music and singer-songwriter music, so we’ve been trying to incorporate more organic sounds.” Always working on her craft, this awakening has already motivated her, and helped her create her next track. “I have a song that’s very inspired by Radiohead and soft rock and alternative music that’s coming out in the summer. It’s called “My Favorite Pillow,” and it’s something I’ve never done before, but I really love it. It’s a sound that I really want to dive into more in the future.” For a sneak peek, she’s revealed a demo of the song a few months ago.

Moving forward in her career, Hyejin has a few short term and long term goals she hopes to accomplish. “Finishing my next project, which I hope will be a full length LP, is a big task I want to accomplish. I’m moving to London for a study abroad semester, but not by choice.” Facing yet another unexpected move in her life, the young singer is nervous, but determined. “I have to figure out how to finish this project because I’m not going to be in proximity to people I make music with, so that’s going to be a challenge for me.” Not only focusing on the music, she also worries about her diet. “I heard the food’s really bad!”

Looking further ahead, Hyejin hopes her music and her presence can become a beacon of hope to prove that a career in music is a very viable and sustainable option, especially to AAPI communities. “When I was going into this, I wouldn’t say it was looked down upon, but it was very skeptical. It was a lot of ‘Is she gonna make it? Is she gonna quit after a year?’ But I was very serious from the day I made my mind up.” Hoping to make this the new norm, she hopes her being in music can inspire others. “I really want my presence in the industry to solidify that it’s very normal that people who look like me are really good at music, too. You see a lot of white people in studios, so why not Asian girls?”

Wrapping up our time together, Hyejin was nothing but grateful for the support she’s already been shown thus far, but still hopes to continue growing. Recommending a song to anyone who may be listening to her for the very first time, the singer-songwriter chose her track “I’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE.” “We put so much love into it, and it’s the first song that I finished for the album. It’s also just sonically something that really aligns with what I grew up listening to, which was ballads, 80s music, and a lot of Whitney and city pop influences, so it’s something that really resonates with me.”

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