[INTERVIEW] 'Singer-songwridol' Jeong Se-woon is back doing what he does best
The one and only “singer-songwridol” of K-pop, Jeong Se-woon is back after almost two years to do what he does best — sing, write songs and be an idol all at the same time.
Singer-songwridol is the nickname bestowed upon Jeong by his fans who take pride in the celebrity’s ability to sing, compose, write lyrics and pull off all the other gimmicks of the so-called K-pop idols, as they’re referred to in Korea, that he has flaunted over the years.
Jeong debuted in 2017 as a solo singer-songwriter under Starship Entertainment — better known for its roster of idols including the likes of IVE and Monsta X. But Jeong’s journey in the entertainment field began long before, in 2013, when he took part in the third season of SBS’s audition program “K-Pop Star” as a young musician and again in the second season of Mnet’s “Produce 101” audition program in 2017.
Being a long-time constituent, but yet somehow always an outlier, of the glamorous K-pop market meant that Jeong was always forced to think about who he really is and what kind of music he wants to and can show the audience.
“I think I found myself, who I am as a person,” Jeong told the press in an interview on Wednesday at his agency Starship Entertainment’s headquarters in southern Seoul.
“I was just born a thinker, plus the ‘singer-songwridol’ nickname meant that I do everything as singer, songwriter and idol. I thought very hard about who I am and how I don’t truly belong anywhere, so this album is about how I adapt to every different situation and react to the change around me.”
Thus came “Quiz,” the singer’s sixth EP released Thursday as his first album since “Where is my Garden!,” which was released in May 2022.
He took part in making all of the eight songs, either by composing the music or writing the lyrics, staying true to his moniker just as he always has. But for this album, he teamed up with some of the most well-known artists both in and outside of Korea to break out of his shell.
For lead track “Quiz,” he collaborated with indie singer-songwriter Sunwoojunga to create a laid-back medium-tempo pop track that’s still Jeong Se-woon but perhaps a little different from the songs from his past, which were less pop and more folk or R&B.
“A quiz is a riddle, and I hoped that people would feel curious about me,” Jeong said. “Whether it be my music, what I do or just me as a person, I want to be a singer and person who can make other people wonder about me. I myself am a very curious person — I think the staff are quite fed up with me, actually. Anyway, I think that really showed well in ‘Quiz.’"
He also teamed up with producer Park Moonchi for track “Always” and U.S. pop band Nightly for “Sharpie.” It was his first time working with an overseas team, but one major new challenge he took upon himself was “Glow in the show” — the first all-English song that he wrote and composed.
“Working with Nightly was so fun, even the video phone calls using my very broken English,” Jeong said.
“I wanted this album to be full of new things in all ways possible. That’s why I even cut my hair short, which I hadn’t done ever since I was in middle school. I wanted all these changes to make people feel like they couldn’t see what’s going to come from me next. And working with an overseas artist and writing a song in English was part of that effort."
Creation is always fun, but a collaboration allows Jeong to think about himself in a more objective light and improve in some unimagined way, the singer said.
“I like to objectify myself,” he said. “But when I work alone, I can’t help but just focus on what I like and fail to see myself in a different light. Working with someone else helps me do that and push my boundaries by adding what they can do to what I can do. I can always learn something from their technique, or even just their attitude.
“But still, I think you have to be well-established in your own capabilities in order for you to learn from someone else,” he added.
Staying true to the idol part of his nickname, Jeong also incorporated easy-to-follow hand gestures as choreography for “Quiz,” which he hopes to use as the key moves for his online “Quiz” challenge. He’s a shy introvert, but he’s willing to ask literally anyone and everyone he meets, even hip-hop musicians, to join his challenge, he said.
“In the year and eight months I took off from the K-pop scene, the world had changed so much,” he said. “Now, it seems like video challenges are a must. I know that I need to promote my music, and the agency recommended that I use some kind of choreography with my hands. It’s also less awkward than just standing still doing nothing on television music shows.”
His singer-songwridol identity still has him pondering who he is from time to time, but that belonging-nowhereness can always be turned into opportunity rather than risk, especially since the domestic music market is sharply divided into dance-based K-pop stars and karaoke-guru ballad singers.
“I keep on doing what I do thinking, ‘Shouldn’t there be at least one person like me?’” he said. “There are bound to be people who like my music, which is why I keep on doing this. And on the flip side, I could be the unique edge in a very polarized music market. I know that it’s a risk, but I also believe it’s an opportunity for me.”
Still, this in no way means that he’s arrogant. In fact, he says he’s “fully aware” that he “really hasn’t achieved anything” and will always keep on trying harder to study, to learn and see himself improve as a person and musician.
“The only wish I have is that I always enjoy and like music as I do now,” he said.
“There was a time when I was younger, especially when I was competing in the ‘K-Pop Star’ show, I started feeling differently about music when I thought that it was going to become my job, not just my hobby. I started music just because I liked music and I liked playing guitar, but writing a new song for every single round made me feel like music was a difficult thing.”
He took time off from writing songs for years after “K-Pop star” and strengthened his ability by training himself and studying music harder so that he could stand proud in front of his music — and fellow musicians.
“As much as I loved being on ‘K-Pop Star,’ I just wished that it would be over,” Jeong said. “I do like looking at myself in an objective light, but I was so little and dumb in front of all these professional musicians. I couldn’t wait until I got the time to really study what music is and like it again. And I did. It turns out that truly knowing what you’re doing feels so much fun.”
For the new year, Jeong’s goal is to study English — getting one step closer to his ultimate goal of mastering five languages — and to keep on liking music.
“I hope I like music in 2024, too,” he said. “I still like it so much, and I hope that continues to 2024. And for now, I’m only making my own music, but I hope to make my own brand or label one day.”
To find out more about Jeong Se-woon, visit Celeb Confirmed
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]