“Singing Is About Feelings” – In Conversation with CHOA, a South Korean Singer

K-pop holds a specific place in the Korean music industry, and if one wants to survive in such a place, they have to make sure that they won’t become a star for just a single season. Unfortunately, this often happens to idols who decide to leave their groups to focus on solo careers or at times, to deal with the burnout of being in the K-pop business itself. Having said that, there are a few strong singers whose decision of leaving their associated act has turned into their advantage. And one of those artists is the fabulous and talented CHOA, a former member of AOA.

CHOA began her journey as a K-pop idol back in 2012 when she joined the aforementioned girl group. After five years of being in the spotlight, the singer decided to leave AOA to concentrate on her well-being and take care of her mental health. After a 3 year hiatus, CHOA returned refreshed and ready to take over the music charts all over again, but this time as a solo artist.

Image © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment

Over the years, CHOA released a solo OST for Bride of the Century (2014), To All the Guys Who Loved Me (2020) and Lovestruck in the City (2021, Netflix). Back in 2015, the singer participated in King of Mask Singer and released Flame, her first single. She also collaborated with various artists, including Kim Tae Woo of g.o.d and Lim Seul-ong of 2AM. CHOA is one of those talented artists whose angelic voice can simply hypnotise you in seconds. 

Looking at CHOA’s singing career, there are loads of strong melodies to be enjoyed while listening to her songs. Even though CHOA hasn’t recorded a huge amount of music as a solo artist, she has delivered a mature, cohesive and well-crafted sound. With a rich natural depth to her voice, while also singing with a soft timber and perfect pitch, the singer has just released an incredible new single, Yesterday, for which she also filmed a music video with Timo Helgert, a well-known German visual artist. 

On the day of her single’s release [9th of April], we sat down with CHOA for a candid interview about Yesterday, her musical journey and how YouTube has helped her to establish herself as a captivating solo artist. 

Image © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment [Still from MV Yesterday]

What was the role of music in the early years of your life that made you want to become an artist?

Ever since I was very young, I used to love watching music programs with my older sister. I especially liked watching idol groups on stage. I thought celebrities lived in a completely different world from me, so I admired them, but I don’t think I dared to dream of being one. Then, around my third year of middle school, I saw some trainees from a big entertainment company and I could see that they were pretty and talented, but they didn’t quite live in a completely different world. I thought, ‘maybe I could at least give it a try?’ So, I looked up videos by myself and practised singing and then I went to auditions. Just the thought of auditioning made me feel closer to the singers that I admired. [I think] becoming a singer naturally became my dream.

You have just released a single called Yesterday. It is also your first single since your return. Those who have been waiting for this release will not be disappointed. The song is subtle, relatable and comforting. One can only close their eyes and listen to the song with an open-heart. Could you tell us more about the creative process behind it?

When I was active as part of my former group [AOA] and dreaming of being a singer, I liked songs that were fast, powerful and glamorous. But while I was taking a break for 3 years, [and] just living my own life, I learned to appreciate songs that are easy on the ears. I listened to a lot of songs that kind of permeated into my daily life.  When I was getting ready to make a comeback after a long break, I wanted to put aside ‘the desire to be the best’ which had taken a toll on me and sing songs that could gently work their way into someone’s everyday life. And that’s when I came across the song Yesterday.

Alongside Yesterday, you also released a wonderful music video on which you worked with an established visual artist, Timo Helgert. Could you elaborate more on how the MV came to life and what was behind the idea of using daisy flowers? How was your experience working with Timo? 

Timo is well known as an artist in Korea. I asked him to direct the overall music video. He could have just gotten the footage and then worked with that, but he actually came to the set from morning and stayed until the following day and even gave us ideas for each cut.  It is easy to see that he’s an amazingly talented artist that really works hard. He said he was staying in Korea a little longer and I had such a great experience working with him that I would actually like to work with him again. 

[And] The daisies featured in my music video are the flowers of the date of my birthday in March and Timo said they are his favourite flowers. When the music video was finished, the innocence of the daisies went so well with the mood of the song, so I was very happy. 

Image © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment [Still from Yesterday]

You have your own YouTube Channel and you also run an Instagram account through which you communicate with your fans. You recently did your first Q&A session on your YouTube channel. Is having a social media presence important for establishing yourself even more as an artist? 

My parents didn’t want me to be an entertainer, so I had to practice on my own without telling them. You could say YouTube was my school. I looked up things like ‘vocal covers’, ‘dance covers’, and ‘dance routines’ and learned that there were different ways of singing an original song and different types of choreography for the same song. It was like I had several teachers I was learning from. 

It made me happy to be able to help someone by doing a cover of a song and I think it’s great that you can try various challenges on YouTube in addition to singing. I’m not that comfortable taking pictures, so I hadn’t been uploading much on Instagram, but now I think people who know how to really express themselves on Instagram are impressive. I’m also trying to be more active on Instagram. I’m doing it more for fun than using it to establish myself as an artist. 

Would you say the music that inspires your work matches what you listen to when you are a part of an audience? Or are you a fan of other genres other than your own?

I love songs of several genres, but I don’t always like the most popular hit songs. I think I’m quite picky when it comes to choosing the songs I like. Yesterday is a song that I was so attached to that I kept dreaming about it while I was working on it. I hope people who listen to it are as drawn to it as I was. 

Looking at your current life, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?

Singing is about feelings, so I believe someone’s experience and environment has a lot of influence. I realised that being of help to someone after a long break, whether it’s through singing, acting, or being on entertainment programs on TV, is a meaningful thing. I would love to be of big help to someone as much as I was helped!

Image © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment

Looking at the South Korean music industry, is there anything you would like to change in the industry that might help artists get bigger exposure in the domestic and foreign market?

Competition in the Korean music industry has been extremely fierce in the past 10 years. Some K-Pop songs today that aren’t popular within Korea sometimes get to high places on charts in other countries. Korea has very little natural resources, so there’s a lot of human resources that are a result of human effort. I have pride in the fact that I was a member of one of the groups that were well known during a time when K-Pop was growing. I’ll continue to give it my all as I have always done and I hope more people will get to like K-Pop!

Has being an artist changed other aspects of your life? Who motivates you to work hard and stay on track? 

The president of the agency I’m back with now was also in charge of the auditions at the company that my former group was under. They’ve been with me since I passed my audition and supported me when I reached my limitations and left the group. And they recommended that I make a comeback while I was on a break. Having the opportunity to work as an artist from my debut until now is all thanks to them.  

On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?

A lot of people liked Don’t Be Shy, which was one of the songs I sang by myself. Out of the songs I did while I was in the group, I like Heart Attack. They’re both very different from my new single, Yesterday, so I recommend listening to them, too. 

Image © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment

Looking at the Korean music industry, and since you became a singer, have you suffered any ‘resistance’ or scepticism from within the industry? What would you say are currently your main artistic challenges?

I never thought that the Korean music industry couldn’t accept my music, but there was a time when I couldn’t identify with an artist’s music even though they were respected in Korea. After time passed and I experienced all kinds of emotions, the music by the artist that I hadn’t been able to identify with sounded different. After that, I realised it’s really difficult to become a singer that can be acknowledged by a lot of people when everyone’s situation is different and they all have different experiences. Something I feel I need to do is to see and hear as much as possible and understand what many people feel so that I can make music that resonates with them. 

Are there any singers, vocalists or other artists who inspire you musically?

Just as the weather today is different from tomorrow and the world keeps changing, different singers move me at different times. I look at the music charts and think about what kind of songs are touching people’s hearts and I think about what kind of songs I listen to when I’m driving. It’s different every time. I hope I can be a vocalist that can move someone’s heart even if it’s just for a moment. 

Looking at the current situation, what’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next year or so?

I’ll always try to remember to be grateful that I can help someone take a break through songs, TV shows, or YouTube! Thank you to the readers who spent their precious time reading about me!

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Featured image © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment

*We’d like to thank Great M Entertainment for their assistance in the interview and to CHOA who kindly took the time to answer our questions.

Music Video © Courtesy of Great M Entertainment

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts, and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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