CHUU has always known why “person” and “passion” sound so alike, and how each makes the other stronger.
You’re very friendly with staff and crew members right from the first time you meet them, and when you’re trying to save your voice before a performance, you wore something around your neck that read, “CHUU’s saving her voice! Thanks for understanding!” Where did this attitude of being cheerful and friendly in every aspect of your work come from?
CHUU: I like to be loved. I also like to love others. And I like to express that love whenever I feel it. A lot of people thank me these days for going out of my way to show it. I know I’m a little louder than other people (laughs) so I just thought I can bring up the mood of a place, but people are grateful and so am I. It’s like, it comes natural to me to act that way, but other people seem to like it, so I’ll just keep it up. Isn’t that a great thing?
People were talking early on about the good chemistry you have with the production team behind your YouTube channel Chuu Can Do It.
CHUU: I have no idea why people were talking about that so much. (laughs) You can see how nervous I was for that first episode. I was super nervous because there were cameras everywhere and I didn’t know what to do. I had sweat pouring down my back. But I’ve grown so much thanks to Chuu Can Do It. It’s all thanks to that channel that I’m no longer afraid of the camera, and now I feel that I should just enjoy the shoot. I still keep in touch with the writers and producers who took such good care of me back when I was struggling with it. We get together to eat sometimes, too. I try not to waste my energy hating on people who have a negative influence on me, and only hang out with good people. Being with good people creates a positive feedback loop.
I guess your solo debut with Howl must feel different from all the times you were on stage with others.
CHUU: I’m still not really used to being up on stage alone. I used to be part of a group, so I was most concerned with whether I’d be able to make up for that when going on stage. I’ve always been energetic, but I’m still at the point where I have to think about how to portion out my energy for each show appearance. I felt a huge amount of pressure when I got “Howl.” The song’s message is clear, but since it’s just me, the message doesn’t translate unless I put my whole self into the song.
It’s surprising to hear you sound so apathetic in the intro to “Howl,” saying, “Even if the world collapses, / Whatever.” People are used to seeing you cheerful and upbeat.
CHUU: I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pull the song off when I first heard it. I’m not a serious person. I’m more of a cute person. (laughs) So I wanted to do something that would suit me and that I’m already good at. Between the thud sound and the heaviness of the intro, I was really concerned whether I’d be able to convey the seriousness of the song when performing it. I was staying up until five or six in the morning for three or four days before recording the vocals when I finally decided to listen while reading along with the lyrics. Right at that moment, the light shone ever so slightly between my blackout curtains. I think that was the moment I fell in love with “Howl.” I even cried. Is this it? How can I hold onto this feeling? I took a picture of that, but even with night mode on, the picture didn’t turn out. (laughs) This won’t work. I have to find something similar. I found a picture, saved it, and used it as reference when I was recording.
On Instagram, you described “Howl” as “a song that helped me show my true emotions, which I sometimes ignored or couldn’t articulate out loud because I felt awkward whenever I tried to.”
CHUU: “Even if the whole world abandons you, I’m here … Even when God turns his back on me, you’re there.” There were feelings I had tried to ignore just because I had other things going on, and facing those feelings in text form brought me to a realization: So that’s how I’ve been feeling. I guess I wanted to say thank you for always believing in me and being by my side no matter what was going on. By listening to “Howl,” I heard the things I wanted to hear for years and could finally say the things I wanted to say. That in itself made me so grateful for those lyrics.
Has anything changed while focusing on the music’s message?
CHUU: I wanted to make sure the song resonated with fans as much as it did with me. Looking back now, I’m not sure I had any idea how to do that. In the past, I was just busy digesting what I was given and having fun with the fans while on stage, and just feeling happy in that loop. For this performance, I concentrated on telling the story in the song in a genuine way from beginning to end. I approached it as an actor in a movie would and told myself to grab hold of my emotions and act. It’s a little embarrassing to say it myself, but I think it’s fair of me to say I did a really good job getting into character for “Howl.” (laughs)
I saw in a behind-the-scenes video of you recording “Howl” that you would put pictures in front of you while recording. Is that something only you do to get into character?
CHUU: For every song, including “Howl,” I looked up images posted by people from all around the world. I thought I should convey every song in a completely different way, just like all those photos and paintings, to keep it interesting. For example, for singing the song “Underwater,” I found photos from deep in the ocean, photos of the bright ocean, dark ocean, the ocean with a single ray of light in it, and yoonseul (ripples reflecting sunlight or moonlight). I kept looking for ways to make all the different emotions in this album deeper—“Underwater” is about meandering and insecurities, “Howl” is a way for me to shout out, “My Palace” is about excitement and love. I tried to express myself like I was a character in a bunch of different TV dramas.
That reminds me of what you said in your CHUU-log when you were at the artist Yoon Hyungtaek’s FONDNESS exhibition: “It’s so fascinating to see the artist’s emotions embodied in each art.” What do you hope for people to feel when they listen to your music?
CHUU: When I heard the artist’s explanations about his work, I could pick up the emotion in each piece of art. I think albums are the same way. Howl basically contains a whole spectrum of different emotions. It’s something that probably everyone can relate to, with emotions everyone has felt. Someone left a comment that said, “I had a really hard day at work, but I listened to Howl and it was like giving myself a hug.” I love that kind of feedback: My songs gave someone the chance to reexamine their emotions.
Did it give you a chance to reexamine your own emotions?
CHUU: I just like people. When I’m with other people, I enjoy myself so much that all my worries disappear. On the other hand, when I’m alone, I can feel my emotions weighing me down and it’s like I’m wandering in deep, deep waters. I guess I’m just the kind of person who likes the company of people so much that I get lonely easily. There were times I tried to keep myself busy even when I’m alone to distract myself from that feeling. My music reminded me of moments like that, when I was wandering around aimlessly.
How did you come to accept that everything up to and including that moment had been a part of you all along?
CHUU: It took me a little while to figure it out. Ever since I was young, I tried to transform everything to be something happy, even when things weren’t. When I was so worn down that I didn’t have the energy to do that, I couldn’t stand myself. There was a time when I was so full of self-doubt that I told myself I was nothing—a weakling who couldn’t withstand anything. There were so many outstanding people out there, but I felt like I was still at the starting line. And at that time, the other members, my friends, and my family gave me the courage to come face-to-face with myself. I should be the one to love myself, but it was the people closest to me who were helping me to do it. I think I’m more anchored now thanks to them. That was me at the starting line, and I’m still me when I fall down. And I think it’s thanks to the people who loved all those sides of me that I’ve become the layered person I am today.
That makes me think of something the lyricist, Seo Jieum, wrote on Instagram about “Howl”: that it “has the message that what ultimately heals the heart is a person (possibly even yourself).”
CHUU: There can’t be proper communication between people without trust. With so many songs out there, I think it takes a really special one for you to feel a connection with it—a connection to the music. There were moments I got really emotional during TINY-CON. I never really cried on stage before that, other than at my debut concert. But I kept crying while singing “Howl” and “Underwater.” I wasn’t someone who was easily swayed by my emotions, but I think “Howl” has changed me. And I feel like that opportunity brought me a little bit closer to my fans. I get curious lately about what’s on my fans’ minds whenever they say they feel supported just by watching me, and I wonder what sorts of situations they’re going through whenever they ask me with a small smile to write them a little something to make them feel better.
Would you say that you and your fans have a wider range of things to talk about with each other now? You talked about your personal concerns while you were on Running girls on Mnet, for instance.
CHUU: Definitely. I’m not usually the first one to open up and talk about my feelings. It was weird, though—when I was on Running girls, I didn’t even think about the cameras and ended up just talking openly and honestly. Back then, I thought it was completely ridiculous to cry on camera. I really didn’t want people to see me crying, but maybe it was because I liked the people I was with. (laughs) I still miss being with those girls, but we’re so close now that we were talking just today. We all care deeply about each other.
You’re not afraid of revealing your true self on air?
CHUU: I honestly didn’t have the option to think too deeply about it when I was promoting during my debut, so I guess that’s why I ended up just being myself. I told a lot of weird jokes right from the outset (laughs) and developed this comfortable relationship with my fans, so I didn’t feel much fear after that.
This first solo album of yours must be very special for you, then, since it’s an honest reflection of who you are.
CHUU: I want this album to be like a gift that gets people excited for what’s still to come. I mean, it’s great that this album already has lyrics that may as well have come straight from my diary, but I really hope to write my own lyrics sometime, too. I like keeping a diary, so I do tend to write a lot of my thoughts down. I want to sing my own lyrics for my fans once I’ve written lyrics I can live with and are coherent—and that I’m ready to share with the world. (laughs)
I recall that you talked on Weverse Live about how you used to write a summary of your whole day in your diary but now your focus has shifted to writing about emotions.
CHUU: For years I had been writing down specific details like everything I ate all day, where I went, who I fought with, who I had a good time with, and who I made plans to hang out with. I used to just write in my diary and never look at it again—just accept a given situation and forget about things after a time. But then I recently happened to come across an old diary entry from when I failed an audition in high school and wrote about how sad and insecure I felt, and it felt like I was brought right back to that time. That’s when I realized how important it is to keep notes about how you feel for the future. It made me think about how much I was struggling back then and it made me want to tell my past self not to be so emotionally overcome by it.
Whereas you received advice from others three years ago on Running girls, it was your turn to be the voice of solace when you recently appeared on the series Hi, There.
CHUU: I get letters from fans, and quite a few of them say they started to like me more after Running girls. At the time I was worried, like, Why is that? I thought I came across as weak. But the fans said it was like watching themselves on screen and then I felt like we’re all the same people. I try to give to the fans just as much as the girls did to me, and give the people around me the same energy I get from fans. These days I make it my goal to show as much love as I can to the people I see each day. I try not to fear tomorrow and just live for today. I’m going to give it my best shot today. I’ll do what I need to do for today and use my energy to give 100% of my love to the people I see today.
It’s crucial to live for today, but it’s also difficult to do.
CHUU: You’re right. But it’s becoming easier than it used to be, at least. It’s difficult, but it’s better. I don’t have any regrets about doing things that way, and it makes me feel better.
When you were on Running girls, you said, “I never knew how to have my own back and I still don’t really know.” Did you ever find a way?
CHUU: It’s really important that I have my own back, you know. But I think I still don’t really know how. I think the only thing I learned is how to quickly mend my wounds when I get hurt. I have more things to distract me now because I have more hobbies, I’m enjoying getting closer with people, and I fall deeper in love with songs. Even though I face moments that weigh me down, I feel like there are many different things that bring me comfort and help me keep myself centered.
So it’s all about having different things you can lean on and finding a balance?
CHUU: Right. The whole reason I started liking what I do more is because I can do so many different things. I’m really suited to being an idol: I get to sing the songs I want to, dance on stage, be on TV, and do interviews like this one. I’m not even very good at speaking, but meeting and talking with so many different people has allowed me to practice talking about myself. I enjoy the whole process. I guess I recover my energy quickly because I’m getting it back even while I’m using it up.
You’ve done so many different things. What do you see next for yourself?
CHUU: I’m not really the kind of person who sets any goals for herself—I just try to race ahead and see how far I can get. No matter what I’m doing, a goal will just arise naturally, so I want to do everything I can until I’m out of breath because I like what I’m doing now. I come up against difficulties, of course, but I doubt I’d ever have such an amazing life if I were born again. So I’m going to run to the very end. (laughs)
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