Since her debut in 2004, singer-songwriter Younha has been not only a solid fixture in the Korean music scene but also a musical chameleon of sorts, releasing music that spans genres and continues to showcase her abilities as an artist. Her latest album 'END THEORY,' which includes title track "Stardust," is a shining example of that – incorporating indie-folk, ballad, R&B, and country-pop elements to confront the concept of 'the end' in an impressively well-rounded way.
Younha recently opened up to AllKPop about working on 'END THEORY,' what 'inspiration' means to her at this point of her career, and much more through a recent exclusive interview. Find out what she has to say here!
AllKPop: First, congratulations on the release of your new album 'END THEORY'! What was that album-making process like?
YOUNHA: As seen in my docuseries [‘Stardust Mission’], which documented a full year, one topic would be chosen, then I’d work on it either by myself or together with a team. We worked on a lot of songs, including ones that didn’t end up on the album. This album contains the songs that made the final cut then were arranged to create a flow.
AKP: It's already been 17 years since your debut in 2004. Looking back at your career, how do you feel that you've changed as an artist?
YH: Comparing now to 17 years ago, I think my attitude toward making music seems to have changed a little more sincerely. I’m in the process of realizing that inspiration is not something that comes out of nowhere or something you can find well on your own. If I want an idea to suddenly come to me while I’m just hanging out, usually a lot of things have to be built up, and if I want to be able to finish up something quickly after talking with those I collaborate with, then regular communication is important.
AKP: Ever since "Umbrella," your 2008 hit collaboration single with Epik High, you have had many opportunities to perform on stage alongside the hip-hop group. However, on a recent episode of 'Yoo Hee Yeol's Sketchbook,' you were reunited and able to perform together for the first time in a long while. What was that experience like?
YH: As we’re a group that prepares performances together pretty often, I don’t think there was anything that felt particularly new. We’ve already been friends for about 13 years. Even if we don't rehearse, we don’t restrict each other’s movements. [Laughs] I felt working together was worthwhile because the viewers enjoyed watching it. I’m grateful.
AKP: The ‘END THEORY' album is laid out like a story, with each track on the album labeled like a chapter in a book. Is the order of tracks on the album deliberate? What kind of story do you want the album to tell your fans?
YH: I wanted to try expressing the thoughts and feelings I’ve been building up regarding ‘the end’ in a well-structured way. There were even more songs, not just the 11 [on the album], but I removed the songs I wasn’t satisfied with and dropped ones that didn’t fit with the rest of the tracklist. The songs should not feel similar, and the flow shouldn’t get boring.
Everyone is having a difficult time during this pandemic. I think it’d be good if this album became a 40-minute breather that helped listeners dream of a new beginning. The end isn’t necessarily bad, and even if it is a bad thing, you need to overcome it and move on.
AKP: ‘END THEORY' comes roughly four years after the release of your previous album 'RescuE' in 2017. How does it feel to be returning with a new full-length album after all this time? Also, how long did this album take to create from start to finish?
YH: It took me 11 months to work on the album. However, because I didn’t do anything but work on it all day, every day for 11 months, I don’t think this was a particularly short time. Other albums had a separate person in charge, so I could have some time to myself during preparation, but I couldn't afford to feel excited even at the moment this album came out because I worked on all parts of the music from step one to step ten. I feel like the album only ever left my hand once it was released to the world. I was relieved.
AKP: Each song on ‘END THEORY’ has such range of emotion and tells such different stories that we imagine that it must have been difficult to decide upon a title track. What was it about "Stardust" specifically that made you choose it as the album's single?
YH: As I worked on this album, I studied and did a lot of thinking, wanting to express what I felt about 'the end' as a topic. When you have a start, you always have an end, and you feel the importance of a process because you recognize the end of it. I think it's a hindrance to the listener to come up with a specific interpretation because each listener will hear it differently depending on their situation, but I chose “Stardust” as the title track because I thought it was the most candid expression of this aforementioned preciousness.
AKP: One of our favorite songs on the album is the B-side "Oort Cloud," which has an inspiring message and a bright acoustic guitar-driven sound. Can you tell us a bit more about the songwriting process for the song?
YH: JEWNO, who worked on the song with me, created a country music-esque track, which he developed starting from the topline. Along with the track “Big Picture,” creating a melody for “Oort Cloud” was quite difficult, and there were a lot of things we didn’t like. Then we asked a favor of [music producer] KZ, quickly sending it to him so he could work on it with HOFF. I was practicing in the studio, and when I heard their guide file, I thought, “This is it!” It fit as if the track and the melody had been arranged together. As for the lyrics, I asked [songwriter] danke for a hopeful message from the perspective of the Voyager entering the Oort Cloud, and this also came out so well that I was excited as soon as I received the result. This is a song that no one can help but like.
AKP: If you had to recommend songs on ‘END THEORY’ for different emotions (for example, falling in love or heartbreak), which songs would you choose for which situations?
YH: When you find yourself getting bored of love, “Tik-Tok.” When you’re thinking about the past, “How U Doing.” On a moonlight night when feelings of unrequited love are ripe, “Here.” For your loved one, “Savior.” However, these are really just suggestions. I hope that those of you who listen to these songs during certain moments will have confidence in your decision to.
AKP: While many newer artists might look to more senior or experienced artists for inspiration, it's likely that you've found inspiration not only from senior artists but industry juniors as well. Are there any junior artists who you're a big fan or who you feel inspired by?
YH: Lately, JEWNO, who I’ve been working together with, inspires me a lot. I think that the similarity of our tastes solves many difficulties. I also recently had the opportunity to meet several junior artists on music broadcasts, and without naming any particular group, I admired everyone there, as they did their best to create a great performance from early in the morning. The truth is that inspiration is not something that just comes but is the fruit of this kind of constant effort and action.
AKP: What are your plans after promotions for 'END THEORY' are over? Do you have any particular goals for 2022?
YH: Now that I completed my three-day concert earlier this month, I plan to work on developing a concept for my next song and organize next year's plans. In 2022, I hope I’m able to perform in an even wider variety of places!