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Among countless idols, there exist artists who create art or express themselves. Moreover, artists who succeed in their solo careers expand on their own art. Xsportsnews focuses on highlighting a member as an “individual” artist with the “Idoltist'' interview series. The fourteenth guest on Idoltist is Heejin who is back with her first solo album. <Editor’s note>
Heejin, who released a single as the first member of the LOONA debut project in 2016 at the age of 16, has made a “comeback” with her first mini album.
It has been seven years since the release of her single “ViViD”. In the middle of last month, we met Heejin who was having a “hectic day” preparing for the release of her first mini-album “K”, and between a solo “debut” and “comeback”, she decided that it would be called a “comeback”.
Even while the recording had to be wrapped up, Heejin said she was headed to the “end of the end”, revealing that she was “making revisions to improve the quality of the album”, indicating that she was making every effort she could until the very end. She said, “I didn’t like how I recorded the title song, so I made the request first, and I was even recording revisions until two days ago.” She added that after this, she “felt much more calm about it”.
She is filled with experience, given how long she has been active. When debuting, if you could call what she had the “determination of a newcomer” - doing whatever she was asked, now she records until she herself is content. Heejin said that “I put forth many of my own opinions and participated a lot in the album creation too”. She took part in writing the lyrics for four of the six songs in the album as well. Then in the recording, unlike before, she revealed that she had a good time experiencing new things: “I directed as well, changing lyrics on the spot.”
A comeback after seven years, one could feel as much, if not more, pressure than debuting. In addition, going from doing activities as a twelve-member group, to standing solo. To this, Heejin said “You can’t ignore the synergy among the members. Being used to the stage being packed even with us just gathered up, my biggest feeling was that I had to fill up the stage even by myself,” revealing how she had no choice but to be even more strict with herself.
With the revealing of members with solo and unit activities, it took two whole years for LOONA to gather as a whole. For Heejin, the starter of this, she may be a member whose identity is that of LOONA’s. Despite it being a first step while still being deeply covered by the group’s colors, she did not feel “worried”. She said that “many people remember me more as LOONA’s Heejin than just Heejin”, saying, “Ultimately I’m LOONA too”. To that, she added, “I think of it as part of a whole, so rather than thinking ‘I better start anew’, I think it would be great if you remembered me as LOONA’s Heejin too.”
Along with the release of her debut song "ViViD," which was also the start for the group's first revealed member, the singer Heejin, the start of her new solo also took place in October. Heejin's birthday is also in October. This October was also a very eventful month for Heejin, with 2023 marking the 7th anniversary of her debut. For idols, the “7th anniversary” is usually when contracts end, and a time of many concerns. Heejin also mentioned this, arriving at a clear conclusion. "As my 7th anniversary came, what I thought was that I was still too sprightly."
“I still have a lot to show, and there are many things I want to do, so I gained confidence”, said Heejin. “I want to show the spry mindset of starting new, that I’m inexhaustible.” She hoped that October this year would be a month in which Heejin would be shown. Regarding October: “I hope it ends up being the most rewarding month this year. It’s busy but I think it’ll be a month that I was happy. I hope it ends up being like that.” She then became sure: “and it will”.
Heejin, still displaying confidence and energy, celebrating her 7th anniversary despite being 23 years old, as she put it, is still in her sprightly years. She has started life in this scene early, she said that, regardless, “I think there are great advantages”.
"People around me ask, ‘How do you handle not even having friends from high school?’ Or 'You never even got to go on a school trip, right?' But I don't think these are things that you have to experience. Many people have lived like that, so that’s natural, and so many people find it unfortunate (for others who don’t have those experiences), but I’ve done what I wanted to do, and in fact, I was happy doing that”, giving a glimpse into her passion that has not been extinguished after all this time.
Heejin who has thought "I'm glad I became an idol” while looking back on her past as time passes, has released her first mini-album "K" on the 31st of last month, continuing her career as an "idol”.
She has officially started her solo career about seven years after debuting as LOONA in 2016. As such, with great affection, Heejin deeply got involved while working on this album. Jaden Jeong, CEO of her current agency Modhaus who was involved since the early planning stages of LOONA, told Heejin, "when the time for her solo comes, I want to have her do this concept no matter what," and ‘K’ is the result.
The album title means "Korea". As the Kpop market has widened, Korean elements have been incorporated into the contents of the album, and one can meet a Heejin exhibiting Korean beauty wearing a hanbok in the teaser and MV. The album was also noted to be an extension of “ViViD”, her debut solo single. Heejin said, “I’ve likely developed a lot”, adding, “because I know what I was lacking then, I am confident. Compared to back then, I’m less worried. If I felt difficulties from 1~10 back then, this time I think I’ll be able to go through things in a relaxed state,” certain in having made up for her past shortcomings.
She has grown enough to now proactively give her opinions. "I think I tried to show you ‘Heejin’" she said, wanting to show her “bright image”. So, she left some traces throughout the album. She participated in the album design, wrote the text for the album’s content, and picked out images herself. She took part in outfit selection too, but contrary to wearing trendy cropped tees and jogger pants per the CEO’s opinion, she offered photos of styles with oversized tops. Explaining all of this, Heejin expressed that “the album itself is Heejin herself”.
Heejin’s thoughts were incorporated from recording to performance, even song creation. According to her, “(the title track is) an easy-listening song, so I focused on the idea that it ‘couldn’t feel boring’, and made sure the rhythmical parts stood out”, revealing her focus during recording. For the performance to go with the song, she said, “taking care of the performance too, I focused on parts where I could show visuals,” showing her confidence saying “I’ll take both parts”.
Excluding the intro she participated in four songs as lyric writer. For the song she did not participate in she said that “the lyrics came out too fast”. As lyric writer, she revealed behind-the-scenes stories for each song. The title of “Algorithm” was decided before lyric-writing began. Heejin described the theme of the song, “with the developed Internet and everything being connected via algorithms, content about you that appears even when I want to forget you”, saying that “the CEO wanted me to write about ‘algorithm’. It was such a modern term so I concerned myself over how I would write that out, so I think it took a long time (to write).”
“When I first got the song ‘Video Game’, the animation ‘Wreck It Ralph’ came to mind”. So Heejin, who said “I worked quickly”, said “I got this song sometime in July. This thought came late at dawn one night so I wrote it quickly in just one day. I think if you read the lyrics you’ll see why ‘Wreck It Ralph’ came to mind”.
For “Addiction”, which was almost a title track for a younger group in the agency, Heejin revealed “I apologize (to TripleS) as I received this song after asking to hear it”. The lyrics came to mind as unexpectedly as she was eating late-night food. Heejin said, “I think I’ve developed a habit of eating late-night food at 3AM or so. I wrote the lyrics while thinking “am I addicted to late-night food?” (At the time) I was drinking zero-calorie cola, and I connected that to love writing the lyrics to the song”, raising interest in the song.
She worked on “Nokia” with TripleS Park Sohyun and CEO Jeong. Thanks to this, she learned that “Nokia” was “a widely used phone all around the world”, and the lyrics, “like a phone that’s discontinued and is no longer around, you’re not by my side” hold the meaning behind the breakup song.
She is highly satisfied that she directly worked on the album. Last year, in the introduction to her solo song “Honestly”, there was an honest line about “while doing group activities, there were lots of times where my voice had to fit the song’s direction”. This time the song was matched to Heejin’s voice. Another reason for her great satisfaction was that “it’s three minutes with just my voice”. For the same reason, it was more difficult. Heejin said, “Before, I would only focus on my part, but now I need to focus on everything over three minutes while recording. This was also part of why working on this took longer”, noting that she recorded revisions for the title track six times.
Over many interviews, she has mentioned her low-pitched voice as one of her charms. Regarding this, she said “When I was young, I used to have a complex about it, but after time, it seemed more like an attractive feature. It isn’t common, so there is a part of that which is a bigger plus for me”, adding, “I’m not low-pitched when I sing, but in lower-register songs, I can comfortably handle the lower notes”. Other than her low-pitched voice, a charm of “solo Heejin” that she confidently stated was “a face you won’t forget after seeing once”. She added that it’s “an image that leaves an impression at once”.
Even after debuting as LOONA, Heejin was thrown into survival shows where she continued to prove her skills such as Mixnine or Queendom 2. Thinking about her time at Mixnine, she said “back then (even looking at myself), I thought, ‘did not seem to have any thoughts about enjoying the stage.’ I only thought that I had to win.” Despite pushing herself, the driving force that protected her was the “stage”.
While saying that “it’s always the case that the preparation process is too complicated and tiring”, she added “after the performance, that becomes lots of energy. Even in tight schedules, when standing onstage, even if it is draining, things become clear mentally”. Heejin, who says that in that moment, she reaches ‘peak’ condition, saying “activities play a role similar to oil. It feels like relieving stress from work by working.”
Maybe because she’s so serious about work, Heejin earned the descriptive “hexagonal idol” through her well-rounded skillfulness. That’s how committed Heejin was in places unseen. She reminisced about the past, saying “I don’t know why I used to go that far, but I spent every day at the company office or at the dorm. Never went anywhere on the weekends, and always stayed in the practice room until 3 AM. The dorm and practice room were close by, so I remember going in to practice whenever I couldn’t sleep.”
Continuing, she said “During album preparations, too, it was just so natural for all the members to stay until sunrise. I think that’s how we lived. No one made me do that, but I just lived like that on my own. At the time, I did feel some doubt like, what’s going to change when I practice?” There may not have been immediately visible change, but those times accumulated to craft Heejin’s hexagon.
Looking back upon such hard-fought times, the first thought that grazes Heejin is pride. “The albums accumulated one by one, and I definitely feel the gradual improvement. Those were such precious times for me. With each passing day, I’m glad I chose to be an idol.”
“(Being an idol) was a big dream of mine, and I think the job satisfaction is high in every way. Because it keeps me joyful mentally. If you don’t want to do something and someone makes you, you really don’t want to do it. But this is what I want to do, so I endure even when it’s difficult, and I feel that it comes back with big rewards, so it’s satisfying. I hope the fans would know this too. That I’m not just making this up.”
Recently, idols have grown deeper in their fan interactions through various content and messenger apps, and they are exposed to the public for longer. It would be important to separate work from the self. Indeed, Heejin said “I always do think that Heejin at work and Jeon Heejin in everyday life need to be different. I think I’m really positive when I’m working. That’s not to say my everyday life is negative, but it’s simpler. I think what’s important is to not show too much of myself normally. Office workers look different when they’re in the office (compared to other times), right. I think I try to show better things about myself (when I work).”
Though she’s at her seventh anniversary, the path ahead is longer than what’s in the past. Asked how she would like to polish that path, Heejin said “I think this solo album is going to help set (the direction)”, but added, “I filmed a Shorts drama recently. I’m still lacking, but I want to show lots of different things as an idol, while also taking on the challenge of acting.”
As solo singer Heejin, the goal is a music show win. She said, “Even as LOONA, we’ve won M! Countdown, but never won on a a non-cable station. I think the fans would be really happy too if I were to win on a non-cable show with the solo album. I’d also love for (my song) to be background music on trendy Shorts or Reels. I’d like to hear it often on those.” Then she emphasized, “It would be great if I also won the music show at the same time,” drawing laughter.
As Jeon Heejin the person, she would “like to remain this way, as an entertainer”. Saying “I may resist many things and shed many things, but even decades down the road, I would like to be a Heejin who remains in the entertainment industry,” she expressed a wish to continue working in many areas.
“I really really really put a lot of work into preparing this album, so I’d love it if you enjoyed it too. Please promote it too, and I hope you’ll love it. And with this album as the beginning, I’d like to meet you in many places going forward.”
When you think of Heejin, you can’t leave out the LOONA promotions which were her beginning.
After experiencing the dispute over their exclusive contracts, the members had to scatter to their respective places. Among them, starting with Odd Eye Circle (Kim Lip, Jinsoul, Choerry) who are in Modhaus like Heejin, Loossemble (Hyunjin, Yeojin, Vivi, Go Won, Hyeju) and soloist Chuu all debuted. Looking at the members who debuted earlier, Heejin said she felt “half-nervous, half-excited”.
When she went to the Loossemble showcase to cheer them on, she got to watch the members she once worked together with from somewhere other than the stage. Odd Eye Circle had done unit activities before, but because Loossemble was a new combination, Heejin confessed that “I felt complicated and strange. I felt sad but also wanted to cheer them on.”
As she’s embarking on solo activities apart from the members, she says she feels the biggest difference in practice. She said, “We were a big group of 12 people, and we were so close with each other, too. We’d all order a huge amount of food and take breaks to eat, and during break times, we’d chat away loudly. (This time) it’s just me and the dancers. By now, I’m relaxed (around the dancers), but at first, the awkward air made me realize the mood was very different.”
She also said that LOONA felt less anxiety about the future after they won second place on Queendom 2, the survival program. But anxiety found them again through the dispute. Heejin was frank about how she felt then: “Even in those unstable circumstances, we talked a lot with each other. That we wanted to keep our team together. It’s really regrettable, isn’t it. It’s not the members’ fault, and there was no animosity, either. There were just things that we could not control, and that made us all feel disappointed, that we couldn’t let it end like that.”
Modhaus, which she selected after long deliberation, is led by CEO Jeong Byeong-gi, who was in charge of producing the LOONA project. Heejin fielded contact from many companies, and she expressed that she “wanted to keep the team together” in meetings. Heejin, who calmly confesses that “Other members would have received lots of contact like this too,” was able to muster up courage and prepare for her new beginning thanks to this current agency where she got to stay with the members.
At Modhaus, Heejin is joined by Jinsoul, Kim Lip, Choerry, and Haseul as ARTMS. She’s releasing a solo album, but the members dependably have her back in various content. Because of that, she shared much conversation with ARTMS and the LOONA members during her solo preparations. She said, “So many members reached out to me. It was too frantic on my own, so I wasn’t really good about sharing the things that I could have shared beforehand with the members. While preparing frantically, (Kim) Lip unnie sent me a long message that ‘It was busy and frantic and hard even preparing as a group, so it must be really hard on your own’. I cried the moment I read the first line. I guess I must have been really exhausted then,” smiling.
After reading another interview which mentioned this, Hyunjin reached out to her next. Heejin said, “(Hyunjin) reached out with a long text saying, ‘No matter what, you can do this well even by yourself.’ She’s a same-aged friend, and we’re really close with each other, so both of us find that kind of thing to be cringe, but I was grateful she still reached out first.” However, Heejin drew laughs when she said she didn’t reply to Hyunjin in kind with a long text, saying “I do remember texting things like, Isn’t the tour tiring. I’ve been watching. Thanks.” Revealing that her MBTI is a T-type, she added, “I wasn’t so detail-oriented as to do that (reply with a long text), but I should reach out one more time.”
Along with the members and their tight-knit friendship, she won second place on Queendom 2 and went on a world tour, but environments and circumstances changed greatly in a short time. Heejin spent the time of change “frantically”. She told us frankly: “I needed to figure some things out myself, and basically had no rest. Back then I felt no stability. As an idol, the fact that I wasn’t part of any place took a big toll on my sense of stability. To be honest, I remember it was difficult. So I think that’s why I’m even happier and feeling more stable now.”
It didn’t happen from her own will, and she never got to tie it off. From being revealed as the first member to the turbulent days, the time spent as LOONA left “an immense sense of belonging” on Heejin. She said, “When I debuted as the first batter, everything was scary. I joined expecting a group, and then they told me to debut by myself, and as I gained members one by one, I felt a great deal of belonging.”
“I feel like I’ve made forever friends. I know this is cliche, but I can’t compare them to anyone else, even closer than family. I can call them up whenever to meet up if the times align, I can confess how I’m feeling inside, and we can relate and comfort each other. It was not wasted time, not at all. Even back then I was always so happy, and every moment on stage was precious. I am the way I am right now only because I went through that time as LOONA. I don’t think this thing is over yet. Whenever it may be, if there is something that we can do, we’re gonna do it.”
When asked what LOONA means to her, Heejin thought for a very long time before replying, “My everything.” Heejin chose her words carefully, lest fans become sad if she used past tense in her response; she showed her affection, saying, “That’s what I keep thinking about. Everything. My everything. And when I think about it, I get really sad. And happy at the same time. I hope people will remember. It’s the thing that I want them to continue remembering.”
As much as Heejin showed her depth of feeling for the team, the ARTMS members by her side frequently cheered on Heejin during her solo preparations. Adding on, the members also expressed these words of affectionate encouragement to Heejin, setting out solo again.
“I think Heejin really has a diversity of charms. I hope many people will learn about Heejin’s charms and come to love her through this album!” (Haseul)
“This is Heejin’s first solo song in a really long time, and I think her maturity compared to her debut is what stands out. I’m looking forward to Heejin’s relaxed and energetic performances, and this is her first solo promotion, but I will always be cheering her on from behind! So I’m hoping for a great promotion!” (Jinsoul)
“This album’s coming out after a really long time, so Heejin took a lot of care and put in lots of hard work. I hope lots of people will pay attention to the grown-up Heejin’s pretty showings, and I hope that Heejin and the fans will get to laugh a lot and have happy moments through this album.” (Kim Lip)
“Our first LOONA member and multi-talented Heejin unnie. Thanks so much for always showing off awesome and pretty sides of yourself, and you’ve been so cool all this time, and I hope whether it’s the stage or wherever, you’ll keep flying around even more than before. As a fellow member, I’m going to cheer for this promotion more than anyone else, so fighting for the solo promos! Thanks and I love you so much. Everyone, our Heejin unnie’s music is really good so I hope you’ll listen to it lots and adore her!” (Choerry)