It's time once again for another episode of...
When I interviewed Sarah Wolfgang (ex-Tahiti) I also conducted another interview simultaneously with Cheonsa, an unknown just starting out on the long road that is attempting to enter the world of k-pop. The thought behind doing both interviews was that I felt it would be interesting to get the perspectives of people on both sides of the k-pop process - those who are leaving it behind them, as well as those who are trying to enter. Due to the closed-door nature of the k-pop industry, it's incredibly difficult to secure interviews with people while they are actually part of that system (as I've found out), so I'm hoping that by highlighting people while they are on either side, I can provide some insight by showing how perspectives can change. Here's Cheonsa's interview - enjoy!
Hi, how are you? Answer in as much or as little detail as applicable.
HELLO! I'm great~ Although generally speaking I'm always great. So, maybe more so then usual?
Please tell us a little bit about Cholee & Cheonsa. Just some short biography-type information.
Cholee & Cheonsa is a a duet group that's of my friend and I. We're actually only 18 and 17 (respectively). The two of us live in the US and have been friends for a few years. As you probably know, I enjoy k-pop as does Cholee.
The plan for the group is to start off singing covers & making videos/cover music videos. After we are more comfortable and have some sort of fan-base then we'll begin the process of creating our own music. Neither of us speak Korean but we can both read and write it. So we just have to learn to actually understand it and work on pronunciation.
While we will have photoshops together, the summer (maybe longer) will mainly be spent for our training. Both of us have different things to work on as well as some of the same so we hope to bring it up to levels where we are okay with releasing something. I, personally, plan to release some covers very soon in the mean time.
What was the initial drive that made you want to start a group? Obviously love of k-pop is a factor, but what was the trigger where you went from just liking k-pop and being a fan into wanting to make a serious attempt at the style yourselves?
That is actually a few things. I've always loved to sing. Does that sound typical? Anywho, usually the people when I'm around know what they want to be and it'd be something in a "usual" field. Others don't know. My mom was never in the "usual" occupation field. It felt like nature to choose something that wasn't typical. Since about 5 I've known the main thing is to sing. They've been other ideas like a lawyer or a doctor, but always a singer was number one.
Another reason is that I always see online collab groups and forums dedicated to the genre & cover the music and/or dances. That's when I've starred trying to learn dances & also joined some of those sites. And since 2012, when I started joining collaborations, I've greatly improved vocally. I just thought that it was about time I tried to put myself out there as an artist. Of course, I've tried making cover groups but at times the members always kind of disappear. So I said why not go solo or go debut someone who I know & can trust to not drop it after a month or two.
The biggest for me is probably race. I don't really enjoy bringing this up but it's a goal for me. Neither me or Cholee are Asian, let alone Korean. Our names are just nicknames among friends that we use and an alias for me. We are both African-American. I think if k-pop really wants to expand then they should definitely look to non-Asian/half-Asian potential which has happened in cases of ChoColat, SKarf, Michelle Lee, & many more. I think it should be based on talent THEN looks & race (but not saying they aren't important). And I do have talent, it just needs to be fine tuned.
Then just the style in general. I love much of the style in K-Pop. I think it's both cute, sexy, and mature depending on who you're talking about. I also think that it's not hard to imitate. You can easily find pieces that match the style or theme as well as clothing that matches what you see in many music videos even if it isn't the actual piece. Just simple to obtain especially for covers.
They have. And, as I've said, it's not easy. They are newer and still have time, but many K-netizens do reflect negatively on the artists purely for not being 100% Korean or Korean at all.
It is a positive and a negative. The positive is that they have enough courage to enter an industry where being a different race, even if only a tiny bit, is mostly frowned upon. I especially look up to Michelle Lee for going on KPop Star & making it as far as she did. And even more for debuting despite the comments that some people have thrown at her. I also look up to SKarf and ChoColat for debuting. It's sad people look down on these females just because of something so small.
Which brings me to the bad. There will always be negative comments. People will always find something to complain about when it comes to these artists. Well, really when it comes to any k=pop artist. It's just nature. You can't like everything about everyone. If these things were thrown at me, I would try my best to not take them heavily. But that's what I say now. When it does, we'll see. I hope to be strong as many other artists are/look.
The Korean idol system is notoriously harsh in many ways. If the opportunity ever presented itself, would you consider getting involved with that kind of system directly via signing to a Korean agency, or would you prefer to stay on the outside?
This has actually come across my mind a few times.
If I were to sign to a company in Korea, I would definitely try to have some terms added into a contract if they were not there already. One thing would be some creative control. I would like to occasionally be able to use my work. But if I were to leave, then I want to keep what is mine. Another would be protection. There are accounts of sasaengs and antis doing the insane things to artists. I want to be sure that if something were to happen to me, that they would take care of me or that they will try to prevent it from happening. I've also thought of signing to a major label versus a smaller label. The upside of signing to a major label is that the odds of being known and better promoted are higher than with a smaller. But with a smaller the odds of me being ignored are lower. Bigger companies have groups that you rarely see promoted. They usually do their biggest artists. In reality though, I believe it all comes down to the quality of what is offered to me if they decided to sign me.
If I were to stay independent, then a lot would be harder. Promotion would be hard. Getting myself out there definitely would probably be the biggest hurdle. I have actually talk to my mom about it. That's a negative along with releasing material. Usually there are people for that but I'd have to do it myself (with help of course). The upside is that I can choose what music and lyrics I want to sing. There's really no one to say that I can or cannot do something. I get to use my own judgement and actually give fans what they would want.
There's also the probability of signing outside of Korea, but then it would kind of be a mix of the ups and downs that I have listed.
The dilemma with contracts with an established label of any size comes down to negotiating power. How do you reconcile the desire to be treated fairly as an artist with the reality that if the label doesn't want to provide you with creative freedom/protection/whatever, that they can just ignore you and sign up one of the other thousands of hopefuls?
Of course I will feel heart broken. You win some, you lose some. Sometimes you have to make choices depending on what your needs & wants are as well as the needs and wants for those involved. Whether that's money or any of the things I listed previously. When it comes down to if, I'll consult with my mom. I fully believe in the saying that mothers know best. If she thinks it can be negotiated or a compromise could be reached, then we'll try until the other party stops making offers & accept ours or when they retract the contract. If they retract then we can mourn over it but there are others. If she believes that it would be best to go on what they have is good enough, then I'll most likely will sign if my heart feels right about it. Honestly, in my opinion of course, you have to give up something to be an artist. I'd be giving up staying with friends & family to go to another country and produce work most of them have never ever heard of in a language farthest from their mind. It'll be my goal to show them I can make it and that it was worth it, and that might mean signing away some freedoms.
Can you describe the type of music that you intend to be making? Do you have any kind of vision of what it will sound like, or specific influences in mind at this stage?
I'm greatly influenced by older pop groups. I also really like traditional music and rhythms. What I want to do is create music that incorporates the older artist and new artist styles as well as create music that incorporates the traditional aspect. I don't really see that much and I think it'll be something nice to here in k-pop. I look up many Hello! Project groups for this. They seem to do it quite a bit. I also really want to incorporate more retro/vintage sounds into the music. Usually it's just for a single concept but I want to do this on a regular basis.
Tell us about your musical training. Do you play instruments? Are you self-taught or schooled? Also do you have any audio engineering or production knowledge?
I have two acoustic guitars! And every time someone asks if I can play, I have to say no and everyone (myself included) start to laugh. It's apparently funny. But I am trying to learn. I guess you can say I'm self-teaching. I have the lessons and what not but with usual school work it's not exactly easy to work in. So that's going to be part of my training over the summer. I want to take a Berkley summer program so that's always exciting.
As for production knowledge, I do know the process of creating the music and lyrics, putting them together, going into a studio to record, and then putting together what you have. This was part of a 10 week program that took place for 3 hours, 3 days a week. So I have actually gone through the process and even have performed on stage! That was nerve racking but it felt good when someone came up after and said they were looking for me because they enjoyed my song. Yes, 10 weeks on one song! Some squeezed two in but many only got one. Now I see why artists are so tried. Fitting that in a shorter schedule or fitting more into that schedule plus dancing & rehearsals. I plan on going back though. It was a nice experience.
I can play so I think you should give me one of your guitars.
You can definitely have one. Two is just a bit much when you can't play.
How do you think you would cope with a hypothetical (and if my sources are correct, fairly typical) idol promotional schedule of 2 hours sleep per night and no time off?
Oh, I hate sleeping anyway. And I have too much free time!
If you could change something about the idol system as it exists in Korea, what would it be?
Hm... Just one? I just thought about this carefully. I would change how the artists are promoted. Especially in bigger companies. Some companies have great artists, yet they only promote the most popular or do more promotions for one and less for another. I can think of three companies with amazing groups - new and old - but they just don't promote equally against artists. I believe the groups have amazing members yet the companies just do not give them any/enough spotlight. They'll pop up, do some promotions, then go away. You won't hear from them for about a year and a half or more but their seniors or newer groups will have two or three releases a year. It's not really fair to me.
What kind of aspects do you believe companies are factoring in when they make these types of decisions about promotions?
I can think of a few. One being popularity. I think that probably plays a big part. Groups like that everyone has heard of at one point or another are usually the biggest and one I think everyone can think of is SNSD. They are known as the "queens" & are known as "Asia's Biggest Girl-group." They promote pretty much year round and release two or three things in a year. Whereas f(x) is popular, yet not as much and they promote between once a year & maybe even less.
Another is what they are trying to go for. Say a company has two groups where one has a sexy concept and one has a cute concept. The company may decide to promote the cute group more than the sexy because that's what they want to sell. So the sexy group would get less to no promotions compared to the cute group.
And of course, money. Money has always been and will always be a factor. Whatever artist/group has made the company the most money, will be the artist/group that they promote the most.
The interesting thing to me is that f(x) release either a mini album or a full album every year without fail but by the standards of every other commercial music genre in the world, that's considered highly prolific. Very few western artists have a release schedule anywhere near that busy, however in k-pop, it's a common complaint that groups such as f(x) who pop out only one comeback per year are being deliberately neglected. Why do you think this is?
I do. Companies release great teasers and hype it up, but when the actual content is released, some people feel let down. Whether it be from a different concept shown, a different song played, or just not as "cool" as it has seemed. I have probably felt this way once or twice.
Tell me your k-pop biases. No interview would be complete without this!
Ohh. Biases? Okay. Let's see how many I can list. Then maybe explain one in particular.
For females there's Michelle Lee, Ferlyn (SKarf), Hyoyeon and Seohyun, Amber, Jiyeon, Bom, Jia, Gayoon, Ailee, Yoonji, G.Na, Nana, Jimin (AoA), Choa, Way (Crayon Pop), Miryo and Gain, Nari, and Myeongji (Tiny-G).
For males there's JB and BamBam (GOT7), Kris, Lay, Luhan and Tao from EXO, TOP and GD, C.NU, Zelo (BAP), G.O, Hyunseung, Siwon, Aron and Ren (NU'EST), Key, Minho, and Woohyun.I have a lot. I'm not even sure that's all of them. I usually don't list them. Now I know why. But I really like Hyoyeon and Jia because of how great dancers they are. I want to be able to move like them and still look pretty.
|Ferlyn Wong (ex-SKARF - she was still in SKARF at the time of this interview)|
Which one did you want to explain? Or was that Hyoyeon and Jia?
That was Hyoyeon and Jia. I also like their singing. ^*^
Is there anything that you want the opportunity to say to my readers that I haven't asked you about?
Well, about Cholee & Cheonsa, there's not an official debut date set. But it may be early or mid 2015 depending on how things pan out.
Just a few random facts about myself would be that I'm leaning 4 languages at once, I was vegetarian for three years, and I like to eat a lot. :)
I'll be thinking of you if an idol company signs you up and puts you on that brown rice and salad diet! Good luck with it!
Oh gosh. I don't know how I'll handle that. It'd probably work for two weeks before I either get tired of it or it stopped working.
I caught up again with Cheonsa briefly a few months after doing this interview to see how she was progressing. I also wanted to show her the interview that I did with Sarah Wolfgang and see if she had any thoughts about it. Here's what she said:
To be honest, it made me think a bit differently. It's probably the most honest interview I've read that an ex-trainee (even ex-idols too) did. A few things caught my attention specially, like how things are sometimes over exaggerated or how trainees are shut off from the world for example. It's interesting to hear how Sarah didn't know if her vocals were on in the songs or not because of how altered the voices were. It just goes to show how much editing is involved.
Has your project has made any progress since we last talked?
As far as my project is concerned, it has sadly not happened. My friend and I have lost touch since we last talked. But on I've been more focused on practicing vocals, dance, and language as a result. I've also been doing collaborations with online coverists so that I can asses how I sound with others and to figure my range better. Next year I'll be old enough to audition for companies without parents permission so I'm working forward towards that. So although it didn't happen, it did allow me to focus more and get in contact with others.