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For Le Sserafim's Huh Yunjin, Everything Happens for a Reason

The K-pop idol on going solo, staying positive and being unafraid to share her truth.

by Crystal Bell

Le Sserafim's Huh Yunjin
Source Music

For her first solo performance this past June, singer-songwriter Huh Yunjin tattooed a garden on her skin. Roses bloomed on her forearms, and butterflies danced among cherry blossoms and woody lavender stems. The impermanent ink looked like the pages of her sketchbook, art that was vibrant and alive. It recalled a quote from one of her favorite artists, Frida Kahlo: "I paint flowers so they will not die." She stood on stage in Seoul's Olympic Park, her hair falling in soft waves and delicate braids, not as an idol donned in artifice but as herself — 21-year-old Jennifer Huh, natural and carefree, singing songs from her diary.

At that moment, she was both a mirror to her past and a canvas of her present. A few months later, she tells W, "I make music so this version of me can stay alive somewhere."

One of those songs, "blessing in disguise," depicts a time of personal upheaval for Yunjin. Last year, she debuted in the Korean idol group Le Sserafim, the culmination of four years of almosts, maybes, and uncertainties. Instead of giving up on her dream to sing, she looked for meaning in her misfortune, now knowing that every missed opportunity led her to Le Sserafim. "It's actually a belief I've had ever since I was young," she tells me over Zoom from her management company's palatial Yongsan headquarters in central Seoul, where she spends the majority of her time. "Everything happens for a reason."

She's dressed casually in full idol-off-duty attire: glasses, no makeup, a knit zip-up hoodie, and a logo halter top from Korean streetwear brand Sculptor. There's a large iced Americano on the table. Her dark hair falls down her shoulders unstyled. "I like everything to be natural," she says. She's not a fan of adhering to one style or aesthetic, preferring to mix and match. She likes delicate, ultra-feminine pieces from Shushu/tong and the bold designs of Diesel. She's most inspired by the rebellious spirit and asymmetrical silhouettes of iconoclast Vivienne Westwood.

After this interview, she'll head to dance practice with her bandmates. Later, back at their shared dorm, she might work on some music, maybe write some lyrics or draw on her iPad or read one of the many books she has in her queue. She finds herself drawn to New Age philosophy. Recently, she finished You Are The Universe by Deepak Chopra and physicist Menas Kafatos, which proposes that the universe is a human construct, a reality of our own consciousness. These ideas permeate her mindset. "You see as much as you feel," she says, describing how things happen "according to your vibrational level.” Happiness operates on a higher frequency, and what you put out into the world will come back to you. It's the Law of Attraction: like attracts like.

Growing up, optimism became an exercise in self-preservation. Born in South Korea, Yunjin and her family moved to the U.S. when she was a child. She felt isolated and disconnected from her roots, and she describes feeling a bit hopeless. "I felt very alone," she says. So she started to focus on the positive to get through the day, telling herself that "if you give a lot of positive, then you will receive a lot of positive." That way of thinking stretches beyond the limitations of logic. But so does art, where things don't need to make sense to have meaning. After school, Yunjin would retreat to her room and escape into a book. Then, she began to invent her own worlds. Her first short story was about a "rebellious vegetarian vampire" who didn't adhere to the laws of vampirism. "She felt alone because she didn't want to consume blood."

Writing became an outlet for her to express feelings she didn't yet know how to articulate. "I don't know if a lot of Korean-American kids feel this way, but my first language was Korean, and then while going to school, I learned English," she explains. English eventually became "more comfortable" for her. "But I still wasn't fluent, so it was like, I'm good at English but also not completely there yet. So there were a lot of things I wanted to express but I couldn't completely." She'd pour it into her creative work. She started painting and drawing. She admired the intimacy of self-portraits. Then, she found music, specifically the gospel of Taylor Swift, the patron saint of brutal honesty.

"More than the story itself, it's how she tells it that really struck me at a young age," she says. Like the way Swift describes the most mundane setting in vivid detail, down to the mud on truck tires and the ambiance of a refrigerator light. Yunjin would listen to Speak Now and write songs with her little sister. They'd film their own music videos, too. "I remember the first song that I wrote," she laughs. "I distinctively remember writing it in my huge sketchbook with Expo markers. It was about a magic carpet." She was 8 and already envisioning a world outside of her own. "In the second verse, I talked about Shrek being in my backyard. So [it was] very creative."

She started singing in the church choir with her grandmother, and in high school, she immersed herself in musical theater and even studied opera. (A clip of her performing as prima donna Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera went viral.) In another timeline, Yunjin would have pursued opera at university, but the universe led her down a different path.

At 16, she left her home in New York to travel halfway around the globe for the chance of becoming an idol. As much as she loved to perform, she wanted to tell her own stories and not someone else's. As a trainee within the K-pop system, debuting is never guaranteed. In fact, it's unlikely. Every year, thousands of young hopefuls audition to join the trainee ranks at various K-pop entertainment agencies. Those that make the cut go through a years-long intensive daily regime of practicing dancing, singing, rapping, music production, and social media etiquette. Consider it an inverted pyramid: trainees who don't pass their monthly evaluations get weeded out until a final lineup is formed.

Le Sserafim attends the Louis Vuitton Pre-Fall 2023 Collection Show on the Jamsugyo Bridge at the Hangang River on April 29, 2023 in Seoul, South Korea

The Chosunilbo JNS/ImaZinS/Getty Images

Yunjin spent years chasing her dream at several companies. She almost gave up entirely. "I lost [my positive mindset] for a while as a trainee," she says. Faced with another rejection, she was mulling over business school back in the States. Then, a call from HYBE in 2021 changed everything. Home to some of the most successful K-pop acts, like BTS and Tomorrow X Together, the company's subsidiary Source Music was putting together a new girl group, and they wanted Yunjin to join the debut team. Not only did they see her potential as a member of Le Sserafim, but they also wanted to nurture her talent as a songwriter, producer, and visual artist. In the year since they burst onto the scene with “Fearless,” Yunjin has contributed to several of the group’s songs and has even released her own material on the side, a rarity for young idols who don’t often get the creative control to tell their stories so openly.

"After I came back to Korea to be in Le Sserafim, I had this realization," she recalls. "Everything had happened for a reason… I needed to go through all of that to get to where I am now."

She recounts her journey in "blessing in disguise," putting a disco sparkle over her inner tumult with a funky bassline and lush synths. "May I have your attention please?" her voice calls out at the start of the track. "This is the final boarding call for all passengers going from JFK to Incheon / All passengers should now be onboard through gate 52." The music video is composed of scenes from her own camera roll, moments in time she captured herself. Yunjin isn't afraid to get personal in her lyrics. She refers to her music as her diary. "When I write, I imagine writing a letter to myself or writing it to someone else." It Swiftian ideology: scribbling soul-baring confessions and sealing them in an envelope, keeping them in a box in the closet—too sincere to ever send.

"I get anxious when I think I could hurt someone," she says. "I want to be a good influence to people… but at the same time, I have this belief that someone out there will resonate with my unfiltered thoughts." Anytime she starts to second-guess her instincts—like swearing in her music—she's encouraged by those around her to be herself. "I'll text our producers and be like, 'Should I not do this?' And they're like, 'Just do it.'"

You can hear her candor in songs like "I ≠ DOLL," which confronts the pressure to be perfect in the idol industry. "Yesterday, I looked like a doll / Today you called me a bitch," she sings over crunchy guitar and trap beats. "When all they see is vanity / They pick apart my body / And throw the rest away." In a vlog from earlier this year, she shared, "Reducing this career and everything an idol does to just their visuals and then judging them for it is such a shame." It's a searing critique of celebrity culture, and it would be a potent observation for any artist to make, but for a rookie idol less than a year into her career, it's relatively unheard of.

"Art is personal. It has to be personal for people to really feel it," she says. "There are a lot of unspoken things that we all feel but also feel like societally we shouldn't say or express. I wanted to make the first punch to dismantle that way of thinking."

She does so naturally, unafraid of the weight of her own feelings. Everything happens for a reason if you want it to. "I'm not trying to be a savior [in the industry]," she adds. "It's just that one person can start something new. I want to bring positive change and make people feel less alone." The way the music makes her feel less alone, too, goes unsaid. It's a song waiting to be written.

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