K-pop personality Kim Sejeong (@clean_0828) is a well-established industry icon, and for good reason. She’s been a member of at least two influential girl groups (I.O.I and Gugudan), was one of the highest-ranked contestants in the popular survival program Produce 101, and over time, she’s even broken into the mainstream world of acting, because it’s just that easy to place this natural performer’s technical capabilities anywhere that requires creativity.
Within the past few years specifically, Sejeong has taken plenty of time to explore her evident passions as an actor and storyteller where millions have grown to love her endless charms through dramas like The Uncanny Counter, or the juggernaut series Business Proposal. Which ultimately, earned the star rave reviews and several sought-after awards during its impactful run. Though considering her musical origins in K-pop, it was only a matter of time before we received a return to Sejeong the singer. Fortunately, she’s officially taken the necessary steps to reinvigorate her bountiful solo artistry with some of the most exemplary ideas imaginable.
On Sejeong’s highly-anticipated studio album Door, the singer-songwriter dares to challenge herself with new dimensions of musicality that are rare in the K-pop-sphere – though even when revisiting concepts she’s previously dabbled with, the industry ace makes an added effort to contribute fresh, new ingredients to her stunning pop persona. Because stylistically, the 11-track album welcomes these unique depictions of genres rooted in everything from jazz, to ethereal pop, gritty alternative rock, R&B, and even a reserve of influences from various indie sub-genres to support this progressive stage in her career.
Led with technical and demanding tracks like her pre-release single “VOYAGE” Sejeong returns to the spotlight with an instrumental-fused pop track that contains nodes of Irish music constructs, perfectly nurturing her first-rate whimsical vocals. However, on the album’s title track “Top or Cliff,” Sejeong opts for a strikingly fierce side with a hypnotic, blues-esque guitar backing and haunting R&B tenacity that can’t be replicated. And that’s only a taste of what Sejeong’s exploratory solo album has prepared when there are hidden gems like the eclectic b-side “Jenga,” or her pensive “Indigo Promise” that are simply waiting to be heard.
Now, as our new Vanity Teen digital cover artist, the K-pop legend and award-winning actor is opening up about her irreplaceable love for both mediums and much more.
Firstly, congratulations on your return to music — and considering it’s your first full solo album, there’s even more reason to celebrate! Was there a specific moment that ignited your desire to kickstart this project?
Kim Sejeong: I remember that I poured all my passion into writing the songs for this album. The time that I was writing one of the title tracks, “VOYAGE” is very memorable to me, as I was simultaneously filming the drama Today’s Webtoon when writing the song. As I was filming the drama, the most prevalent sentiment I had was that “everyone pursuing their dream is like a traveler.” I thought that even though the future remains uncertain, people still go on to pursue their dreams, which is much like embarking on a journey, a voyage. As I composed the song and wrote the lyrics, I distinctly remember channeling those emotions into the process.
You’re obviously such a natural artist that you’ve ended up in respected groups, you’ve found success as an actor, and now it finally feels like you’re truly getting to thrive as a soloist! Though, as far as music goes, what role does it play in your daily life?
Kim Sejeong: To me, music is like a notebook, helping me capture the special and unique moments of my daily life. What I usually jot down in my notebook, like resolutions or personal commitments, often evolves into music. When I write and sing about the path I envision for my future, expressing my thoughts and emotions it helps me sort through my inner world. As I journey through life with music, it feels as if I’m leaving behind footprints, step by step. That’s why I liken music to a notebook.
The new album is a very well-balanced and comprehensive showing of artistry from production to vocals, and as a listener, you can tell that a lot of thought went into it! That said, how did this particular assortment of songs come together? Were you compiling songs over time, following a thematic story, etc.?
Kim Sejeong: The album comprises songs that I wrote over three years, gradually accumulating as potential candidates for this album. At first, it was challenging due to the scattered topics of the songs, like “chats,” “the ocean,” and “travel,” and the album lacked one cohesive concept. However, though they seemed unrelated, they shared an underlying theme. Eventually, I chose the concept of “Door” to playfully incorporate its double-sidedness. Regarding the tracks, I aimed to showcase a variety of genres. I thought all these colors reflected my multifaceted identity as each genre symbolized a unique color within me. I intentionally excluded any tracks with overlapping genres or sounds from the list of candidates, which then completed the current tracklist.
It’s also crucial to note that you’re involved in the creation of your music because it adds another layer of respect to your long list of talents! How has Kim Sejeong the songwriter changed from your debut days leading up to this moment?
Kim Sejeong: Initially, I struggled with self-confidence so I often let others’ opinions guide my songwriting. But now, I focus on expressing my true emotions so that they can fully reach the listeners. As time goes on, I want to become a singer-songwriter with more sense of humor and wit than now.
As someone who comes from an Irish family with a bit of history listening to that type of music, I loved that you incorporated some of those influences on “Voyage” which isn’t too common in mainstream pop. What was your favorite thing about exploring this particular style of music?
Kim Sejeong: As you’ve mentioned, challenging myself to a less explored genre excited me. I had confidence in my ability to sing it perfectly, and I just loved all the instrumental parts of this track that I remember screaming out loud, expressing my delight as each new instrument was added to the track. I’m also a huge nature person so I love vacationing in nature. When I wrote and sang this song, it felt like nature unfolded before my eyes, bringing me a sense of joy and contentment.
“If We Do” is the dreamiest jazz club hit imaginable and for being such a soft moment, it shows the world how much of a commanding presence you have as a singer! Considering that you’re obviously a natural with this genre, what are some of your earliest memories when it comes to jazz music and the impact it had on you?
Kim Sejeong: Artists like SUNWOO JUNG-A, CHRISETTE MICHELE, and NIKKI YANOFSKY deeply inspired me to explore the jazz genre. I was instinctively drawn to the rhythms of Bossa nova, and listening to jazz vocal sounds fueled my desire to delve deeper. Watching musicians jamming on stage with scat vocals alongside beats and musical instruments fascinated me, motivating me to learn jazz as soon as possible in order to join in on the stage. Jazz helped me transform my vocal style so that it does not remain mundane.
You keep listeners on a magical ride by completely pivoting with “Top or Cliff” which has a subtle band energy and an exceptional R&B core! What would you say is the best part about getting to step into those bold, soulful concepts?
Kim Sejeong: When I first heard this song, it felt as if I was listening to a soundtrack from the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. This inspired me to write lyrics using words with a certain level of sensuality, though the topic does not seem explicit. This is how the topic of the track, “Top or Cliff” took shape. Despite the repetition of lyrics across the three verses, the process of refining the vocals and amplifying the emotions was both enjoyable and fulfilling.
“JENGA” is another song we have to talk about because it’s easy to appreciate its layered and detail-oriented production! Because of that complexity, was there any part of the track that required a little extra effort to execute?
Kim Sejeong: A track like “JENGA” has a very distinct concept, so I found it rather interesting than demanding. It was a song where I started on a creative journey where I imagined how to translate diverse conflicts into music and thought about which sounds could evoke certain images or pictures. As a singer, this was a very enjoyable experience for me.
Now that you’ve been able to dig into your musical roots again – what was one aspect of artistry that you found yourself being the most sentimental about revisiting?
Kim Sejeong: I came to realize how much I missed communicating with my fans through live performances, as well as just me singing on stage. Also, creating an album from songs I had been holding onto for a while was refreshing in some ways. While I love acting and I plan on advancing my acting skills, I feel like I would be incomplete without my identity as a singer. This is why I want to pursue both acting and singing careers.
Lastly, looking into the future, what type of art are you hoping to make next? More music of a particular genre, playing a specific character type as an actor, etc.? Whatever you choose, one certain thing is that the world will be watching!
Kim Sejeong: From musical films or music-centered movies, and stage plays to albums of humorous concepts, my notebook is brimming with dreams and stories waiting to unfold. I hope you look forward to seeing me embark on all these journeys. Thank you!