It’s only fitting that Korea’s attitudinal pop princess was the subject of PSY’s seduction in “Gangnam Style.” Rapper-dancer Kim Hyun-a stands out from the super-clean K-Pop crowd, having controversially left one group (Wonder Girls) and then joining another, electro-pop unit 4Minute, and setting the tone for the more edgy side of K-Pop with songs like “Muzik” and “Hot Issue.” Her solo singles have been even more incendiary—the music video for “Change” was flagged for 19+ viewers for her pelvic thrusting dance moves. “Bubble Pop!,” meanwhile, placed an impressive #9 on SPIN Magazine’s “Best 20 songs of 2011.”
Even wrapped up for winter, 20-year-old HyunA commands attention. At Cube Café in Gangnam, a coffeehouse for K-Pop fans directly under her music studio, HyunA waltzes in with a thick blue woolen bob-hat, self-styled fur-lined jacket,the tiniest of black hot pants and sunglasses wrapped around her fingers.
An icon of the Korean fashion and pop culture wave that has already swamped Asia, HyunA’s performance in “Gangnam Style” only reinforced her reputation as K-Pop’s leading female provocateur—able to step out alone from the ranks of girl groups with confidence and power to represent a model of a new, modern Korean femininity.
We spoke with the young lady at the forefront of a generation in Korea now dominating their powerhouse neighbors of China and Japan in fashion and in music . . . and who could be the real K-Pop breakout star in the West, too.
ROBERT MICHAEL POOLE: Can you tell us about the concept behind the song “Ice Cream?”
KIM HYUN-A: Just like the lyrics of “Ice Cream”—”ice cream with 31 flavors”—it is a song where the audience can experience different sides of HyunA. [The] producer, Brave Brothers, management, and myself added bright and fun vibe to the hip-hop based song, so people can enjoy it. When it comes to song creation, I throw in my ideas and have it discussed with the producer. The song gets its own characteristic as new ideas are incorporated. Moreover, there is this cute goal of mine to melt all the listeners, just like sweet ice cream.
POOLE: You played a large part in “Gangnam Style.” Why did you decide to mock your own industry?
HYUN-A: It has been watched by 700 million people, and that is amazing. PSY has told the media several times how I got the part in the video—I’ve heard that from the video’s initial production stage, Psy has chosen me to take the female role of the video. I was flattered to hear that. He contacted the CEO of my management company, Cube Entertainment, for the video, and that’s how I became the part of the video. The song does not mock the industry—the song and video of “Gangnam Style” has its focus on the people rather than the industry itself. The song’s success proves that people in Gangnam are confident enough to accept and enjoy the song. All in all, I am happy that PSY’s song is being loved by people all around the world, and I am lucky I am a part of it.
POOLE: “K-Pop” is a catch-all term. How would you truly describe your music overall?
HYUN-A: Currently, K-Pop is represented by music of girl groups and boy bands. Thanks to PSY, now people are starting to realize that K-Pop is not limited to just one genre. In my case, I take part in performance-oriented music and believe it is my call to show the audience something that both their eyes and ears can enjoy. There are many K-Pop artists who are performance-oriented, and I’d like to make a distinctive boundary of mine among them.
POOLE: How would you describe life in the K-Pop world?
HYUN-A: I’ve been doing my best to achieve my dream, and I am still in a process of getting where I want to be. It is very dynamic life—photo shoots with different concepts, flying in and out of Korea for concerts and TV appearances—no single day is the same. I get to experience different things every day. Even though there are times I feel physically tired due to the tight schedule, I enjoy it every minute of it. It is a very attractive industry, in that sense; it makes me challenge myself.
POOLE: How do American and Korean music differ?
HYUN-A: A few years back, I felt that there were many differences, but now I feel like PSY has broken many of those walls. When I see the audience sing along to our songs in other countries, I feel there are no walls or boundaries exist for good songs to be loved. However I still believe there is basic cultural difference exists between Korean and American music. Also there is a difference in languages exists when it comes to expressing emotion. Compared to English lyrics tend to express their feelings directly, Korean lyrics are more poetic and indirect.
POOLE: Who, and what, inspires you?
HYUN-A: [Everything] from ordinary things in everyday life, people’s attention, the life that I had until now, to family, friends, fans… they all are my inspiration, and of course, the stage and the practicing room. The practicing room is where I spend most of [my] time, especially before the single release. When it comes to making choreography for the song, I look at myself in the mirror and give variations to the original choreography until I find the [right] choreography—choreography that fits me perfectly and that can project the performer HyunA in the right way. Since I constantly check the mirror to find the perfect moves, I could say that it is my inspiration.
POOLE: Your image is very confident, sexual, and independent. How close is that to the real you?
HYUN-A: I’ve been hearing that I am very different person on and off the stage. With all honesty, I hear the word “cute” more than “sexy” off the stage, and I get teased by that. When it comes to stage, I try my best to appeal and convey my ideas… incorporate what I want and I am good at on the stage. Since I know what I am doing on the stage, my confidence boosts up and that makes me to feel more liberated on the stage.
POOLE: How do you stay ahead as a fashion and music leader? Do you ever feel pressure?
HYUN-A: I do not feel much pressure, since it is a field that I have much interest in. Nowadays, I love hearing, “Whatever it is, when HyunA does it, it’s different.”
POOLE: What does the word Gangnam mean to you?
HYUN-A: The place where everything exists to enhance [one]self.
POOLE: What is your goal?
HYUN-A: As a professional singer, I want to be remembered as a singer with her own distinctive color, both by the public and the people in the industry, during and at the end of my career. To achieve such a goal, I will give my all to all the projects that I’m involved to produce the best result. Personally, I’d like to become a person who never loses her passion and always has a dream to follow.