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[Interview] Heejin Interview with E-Daily "Doldam" (231002)

By Kim Hyun-sik

<Editor’s Note> Through ‘Doldam’ (idol + 談), a segment of one-on-one conversations with idol musicians, we seek to deliver honest stories from them.

Part 1: “Returning as a soloist, happy to have many dreams to fulfill”

Heejin (full name Jeon Hee-jin) is coming back. After promoting as a member of LOONA and clearly impressing her charms and talents upon K-pop fans worldwide, Heejin is poised to release a solo album and mark a new beginning this month.

“I’m already excited. I’m doing a lot of image training, imagining myself standing on stage.”

That was Heejin’s response when asked about how she felt about the upcoming solo launch, as we sat down for the ‘Doldam’ interview at Modhaus, located in the Gangnam district’s Cheongdam-dong in Seoul.

It’s a return to activities after a long hiatus, and so her sentiments and resolve both appeared special. This is Heejin’s first time coming to fans with a new album in a year and four months, the last being the release of LOONA’s summer special mini album Flip That last June.

“I’m sure the fans feel the same way as me. I’m occupying that stage as a soloist, not a member of a team, so I’ve been working to show a more perfect self.”

Heejin was the first member of LOONA, which garnered attention for a promotional pattern that revealed members one by one and progressed from solo to unit to full group, under the concept of “meeting a new girl every month”. While not promoted on broadcasts, her solo single with “ViViD” as its title track was released in October 2016, heralding the start of the project.

Heejin smiled as she said, “I wasn’t sure whether to call this a solo debut or comeback, but our CEO said it should be called a comeback.” Looking back, she then said “I’ve been so busy preparing for the solo debut in September, shooting for the jacket and music video.”

“I have thought for a while about wanting to promote as a soloist. I really like challenging myself in new ways. So even if people say that something is foolhardy, or that it’s not the established path, I don’t want to give up before I even try. I’m the type to just go at it, believing that the attempt itself is meaningful. If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t. Not even trying would be a shame.”

Heejin, who says that her character is one that enjoys challenges and boldly forges ahead, emphasized that she’s been deeply involved across different elements of the solo album production, imbuing it with her color. When asked for a hint that will raise expectations for the solo album, she smiled widely, saying “I think it’s going to be an extension of “ViViD”. The fans will probably be quite excited at that sentence alone.”

“In 2016, when I released “ViViD’, I was such a baby. I think I could carry the liveliness and colorfulness from that time, while showing off a more mature feel. And back then, I was just carrying out what was given to me. But now that I’m coming up with ideas for album design, lyrics, outfits and many other areas, I have even greater hopes for this promotion. I like to draw, so I had this dream of wanting to draw my own album cover or logo, and I’ve been able to produce something similar for this, so I hope you’ll look forward to that too.”

Heejin is set to release that solo album in late October. She’s hard at work on the final touches preparing for the launch. What kind of goals does Heejin have in mind as she embarks on solo activities.

“My goal is to make sure that my music circulates a lot on YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels. I hope to see lots of videos that use my solo album songs as background music. As for long-term goals, I think it’d be fun to be on an end-of-year awards ceremony as a soloist. And I also would love to win a terrestrial network music show, which we didn’t get to do as LOONA. I actually like that I have so many dreams I haven’t achieved yet. Because it means I have more that I can still achieve.”

Heejin also revealed a wish to gradually expand her genre spectrum. “I’m not someone who specializes in rapping so this would be tough right now, but someday when I’m more developed and mature, I’d like to try a hip-hop song. And I like to play guitar too, so I’d like to practice more properly and incorporate that into my music.”

Part 2: “I wanted to stay with the LOONA members, and not be separated”

Only after a convoluted saga of a legal dispute over exclusive contract rights with her former agency was Heejin able to make a new home at Modhaus and prepare for her solo launch. When asked about the time before her new beginning, Heejin began by saying “It truly was a hectic time”.

“There were things needing to be resolved with the former company, and people were directly contacting me and the other LOONA members seeking to hold us accountable, so there was no peaceful day. As I was looking for a new company, I didn’t want to rush into a contract. I believed that this could be the most important decision of my music career, so I deliberated carefully for two months before I came to Modhaus.”

What’s notable is that Heejin chose Modhaus as her new home alongside LOONA teammates Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry. She revealed the backstory: “I had many calls from other agencies, including acting-focused management agencies, but I refused various offers because I wanted to be somewhere with the members, not on my own.” Additionally, she said, “At the time, Modhaus was the only place where all the members could move together.”

“It wasn’t as if the team was disbanded, and those circumstances were not caused by any issues between the members but rather by external problems, unjustly and unfortunately. So I think we had this mindset of, ‘Let’s stay together longer, instead of splitting up.’”.

Due to differing timelines in the conclusion of the legal disputes, not all LOONA members could band together under the same roof again. Among the other members, Hyunjin, Yeojin, Vivi, Go Won, and Hyeju moved to CTD ENM and began promoting as a new group, Loossemble.

“These are members that have a lot of idol experience under their belt, so rather than looking at this like “They’ve split up into cliques”, I hope you’ll respect the thoughts and choices of each of us and support the new beginnings.”

As for Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry, who moved to Modhaus with Heejin, they came together as Odd Eye Circle in July for a new album and promotions. While Heejin is preparing a solo album unlike them, all four will continue promoting under a project called ARTMS.

“Just because I’m releasing a solo album doesn’t mean there’s no relation to ARTMS. I’m planning to meet fans through various activities as a member of ARTMS and also as the soloist Heejin. Recently, I went to Greece, a location that fans voted on, with the other members for a filming schedule. And I’m set to appear in a concert that Haseul unnie is putting on in October.”

As they are four rather than one, the new home doesn’t feel unfamiliar. Heejin brought up a story: “One day in the group chat with the ARTMS members, I was sharing about the hardships of solo album preparations. Kim Lip unnie sent a lengthy message in the middle of the night, about knowing how it must be so difficult to prepare alone and encouraging me. I remember the tears flowing as soon as I read the first line of that message.” She emphasized, “The members are a source of so much strength for me.”

Modhaus also happens to be a company led by CEO Jaden Jeong, who directed the production of the LOONA project. It’s one reason that attention is focused on Heejin’s Modhaus activities to come.

“He’s the person who helped me to debut, and the one who selected the LOONA members. He’s someone I’ve known since middle school, who knows me so well. So I think I’m going to feel so comfortable while promoting. Even before I joined Modhaus, he shared a clear plan of ‘Let’s have OEC promote first and then go into a Heejin solo,’ so I felt reassured.”

Modhaus is home not only to ARTMS but also to rookie group TripleS. TripleS is a group that’s generating interest through a unique promotion pattern, in which dimensions (units) formed by fan votes are continuously generated. Heejin, who has a mountain of experience after starting in the K-pop industry with a solo single, being in the unit LOONA 1/3 and debuting in the full group, also offered a warm encouragement to her agency juniors.

“They have a similar system to LOONA in some ways, so when I look at TripleS I’m reminded of the old days. It’s definitely different from starting out as a full group from the beginning, so I hope they’ll overcome that well and work hard, and I hope they’ll also be close with us, ARTMS.”

Part 3: “Just like IU sunbaenim, I want the best of both worlds”

Heejin, who possesses visuals that encompass clarity and splendor as well as vocal, rap and performance skills, received a great deal of love during her LOONA days while being called a “hexagonal idol”. When this was brought up, Heejin said “I’m so thankful”, while also growing shy: “I’m allergic to compliments, so this is embarrassing.”

“Ever since my trainee days, many people have held me in high esteem, to the point that I felt like I was praised too much compared to what I was doing. And I’ve been putting in the effort to become a balanced idol, not lacking in anything, so that I can live up to those expectations. I think when I promote as a soloist, my skills will be more visible to the public and to the fans. So I’ve been taking careful stock, and improving the places that need improving.”

Heejin also displayed a unique marketability since the early debut days, arising as a blue chip in the advertising space. She starred as a model for many brands, including the popular LG Electronics smartphone and Hi-Mart ads. Heejin smiled, saying “The smartphone ad was well-received, which helped me to receive a lot of offers. I want to keep being active in the ad space.”

Interestingly, while one would expect Heejin to have had a smooth course to debut, she only became an idol trainee after failing almost 20 auditions. Heejin reminisced: “I loved to dance so I dreamed of being an idol since sixth grade, and starting in my first year of middle school, I auditioned at many agencies while commuting between my home in Nonsan, Chungnam and Seoul. But I failed every time, so I was told to give it up.”

“My parents were against me becoming an idol. I think at the time, they thought that being an idol was a light profession. So while they let me attend the dance academy in Daejeon, they didn’t support me auditioning. Actually, my mom knew I was going around to audition, but she hid it from my dad. But when I kept failing, eventually even my mom told me to give it up.”

Fortunately, there were people who supported Heejin’s dream at the time too. Heejin recalled, “I used to go audition with help from my sister who was in high school and a friend.”

“To go to Seoul and back, I needed about 50,000 won in fares. That was a lot of money in middle school, so it was tough to travel to audition without support from my parents. So my sister used to give me the money she’d made working part-time, telling me to use it for the fares. And back when my parents wouldn’t even allow me to attend the dance academy, a friend that I still keep in touch with paid for the academy registration instead, in a story I’m so grateful for. Of course, I did pay back the money later (smiles).”

Heejin, who started the trainee life after a photo she posted to Instagram linked her to her former agency, is now in her eighth year of being an idol. She said, “I often get asked what else I would have done if I wasn’t an idol, and I’m so satisfied with this profession that I’ve never thought of any other work.”

“When I was little, the glamour was what made me dream of being an idol. But after debuting, I learned that I really love the stage. Even when there were difficult things going on, performing relieved all of that. Even during the LOONA tour last year, there were a lot of difficult things externally so I had no time for mental care, but I still enjoyed the stage. I enjoy this work that much, and so I want to keep doing it for a long time.”

Heejin, who says that she’s “a type that needs to do what I want to do”, has gained a great deal of interest in acting this year. She also noted that she appeared in the recently released Web drama Convenience Store Baejjangie as the female lead, Sarang. Moving beyond the “hexagonal idol” and taking steps towards the “jack-of-all-trades idol” who also has acting ability, Heejin said “Before, watching shows and movies wasn’t a hobby of mine, but this year I’ve been studying acting while watching different works.”

“I got interested in acting when I saw “Moon Lovers” one day, as it popped up on the algorithm randomly. As I saw IU sunbaenim’s acting, I realized it was possible to have the best of both worlds, music and acting. After that, I looked up everything that IU sunbaenim and her co-lead Lee Joon-gii sunbaenim was in, and naturally I begin to want to try acting.”

Saying “I’ve been practicing even harder because my acting instructor has praised me a lot”, Heejin expressed a wish to continue challenging herself in the acting side as well. “Apparently idols are well-practiced at humility, and always need to be smiling, so they have difficulty drawing out bad emotions to be angry and shout in their acting. So I actually want to try a villain role (smiles).”

From the solo album planned for late October to attempts at acting. Expectations for Heejin’s future activities in diverse arenas are soaring.

“I feel guilty towards the fans who have been waiting for new activities for a long time. As much as you’ve been waiting, I want to repay you by showing you good things. And I want to meet with more fans, promoting not only domestically but also abroad. I want to tell the fans: “Let’s keep staying together and do this well.””



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