Geum Yi

Battling modern day music industry, JiHAE lets passion prevail

October 22, 2015
Photo Credit: Jean Baptiste Mondino

Photo Credit: Jean Baptiste Mondino

By Brian Han

Brooklyn-based South Korean musician JiHAE comes off her latest album “Illusion Of You” already looking forward to her next project – a musical theater piece that will also be released as a record.

When an artist finishes a project, many would think the predominant feeling would be relief or pride, but for Kim it was something else.

“I’m sad,” she told the Korea Times. “I’m sad that it’s finished. It was a really long ongoing battle getting these songs done, but I finally surrendered it.”

Her songs got worked and reworked in studios from Los Angeles to New York which lengthened the process. It’s understandable that by the time they were ready for the public, she was moving on.

Given her history of growing up as the daughter of a South Korean diplomat, her inclination to move on to new places or ideas comes as no surprise. Her family moved often throughout her childhood and beyond, claiming residence in several different countries including Sweden, Nigeria and of course South Korea, where she was born.

Parts of her album would suggest that she’s ready to uproot once again. The opening track speaks directly about her desire to leave.

“Any day now New York City you’ll be my long lost love,” she croons over rhythmically contrasting guitar parts.

She goes on to illustrate associations of “pain and sorrow” with a city that provides a deep connection, and more importantly a place she can call home.

“It can be so draining, because it’s so intense,” she said in an interview with NPR. “I think there’s just way too many souls in a small space. And you feel everyone’s anxieties and stuff. It’s hard to leave it. But I want to stay in love with it, you know?”

Technically speaking, Kim is a South Korean citizen. She speaks fondly with a sense of longing for her home country even though she hasn’t been there in nearly a decade.

“One thing about me is that I am proud of my roots,” she said. “Whenever I see someone or something from South Korea succeed, it makes me happy.”

Now that one of the country’s most visible cultural exports comes in the form of K-pop music, it only seemed fitting to hear her thoughts on the growing popularity of the genre.

“I’m definitely not up to date on it, but the culture around it focuses a little bit too much on teen stardom,” she said. “I get it. It’s a business. But what about real education on Korean culture, the quality of value systems and all that stuff?”

To be fair, her music has little if no resemblance to K-pop. Instead her low, sultry voice is not something K-pop fans would expect out of an Asian female singer.

But that unique combination makes her image and sound much more impactful.

Along with the vision of executive producer Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, that voice drives the album from start to finish.

Working with high profile names wasn’t always part of the process though.

JiHAE has built a strong following over the years, but she admits that even so, life is never easy as a musician in the 21st century.

“We’re in a world where everything’s turning to streaming and the norm of what an artist gets per play is 0.003 cents,” she said. “That’s the norm! That’s just ridiculous.”

“You have to do it for the love of it and you can’t have high expectations, expect high income or praise all the time. It’s a tough road.”

Back in 2006 when a deal with a major recording label fell apart for the second time, she contemplated walking away from music for good.

So what kept her motivated? A song. Now after almost 10 years, that song has made it onto her latest album.

“Everything including logic said maybe you shouldn’t be doing this,” she said of pursuing a career in music.” But I still determined that this was it and that song (“Lullaby For The Lonely People”) reminds me it doesn’t really matter.”

“I could live my life and do something that I don’t love to do, to buy something, to have a certain status or a house or a car or the American dream, but that’s not important to me. You have to do it for the love of it. That’s the bottom line.”