A Case of Public Fangirling: Chungha Has Mastered the K-Pop Equation
A love letter to the woman I want to be
Years and years ago, when my little 12-year-old heart still harbored aspirations of sending an audition tape to Korean entertainment agencies in the hopes of becoming a K-Pop star, I knew I wanted to debut in a group and not as a soloist. While I’ve personally been pretty good at doing things on my own, there was always a bubble of fear that surrounded the (highly improbable) idea of rising to fame as a one-woman unit. To start with, it was 2008, and the successful female soloists on the K-Pop scene were far and few at the time. There was BoA, of course, who had been at it since she was just 13 years old. There was IU, whose singing voice sounded like something straight out of a daydream. There was Son Dambi, who definitely had tracks catchy enough to make it to my mp3 player full of illegally downloaded songs converted from 320p YouTube videos. Off the top of my head, those are the only ones I recall among oceans of groups trying to make it.
As far as K-Pop stars go, having a group is akin to having a security blanket. Sharing the spotlight splitting parts in a song, as well as the pressure to nailing all of them perfectly. More people means more getting the headcount to fill the unofficial prerequisites of every K-Pop group: the wise leader of the group, the spine-chillingly talented vocalist, the ingenious main dancer, the deal-sealing visual. Flying solo, on the other hand, would mean having to give up some of those dimensions––or simply having to fill all those spots alone. And while it sounds like a lot of pressure, there’s one soloist who proves it isn’t impossible.
I think Ariana Grande may have been right when she sang the words “God is a woman.” I mean, if anything, Kim Chungha is living, breathing, dancing evidence. As I read a piece by Jia Tolentino on The New Yorker the other day about how teens online these days always seem to be asking celebrities to step on them or run them over, a part of me couldn’t help but think: man, I’d be honored if Chungha shoved me into a ditch.
And that’s not to say that she would, because she’s obviously sweet––but that’s simply to illustrate the current state of admiration I’m in. I wouldn’t let just anyone shove me into a ditch. No, I wouldn’t let anyone unless it were her.
You see, like many an idol in 2019, Chungha got her start in a survival show. She finished fourth in the first season of Produce 101 (wherein the objective is to form an idol group from the top 11 trainees out of a pool of 101), but it didn’t take very long for the public to recognize that there was potential bubbling behind the girl-next-door exterior. For both visual aid and entertainment, see her response to being asked to dance freestyle during the nerve-wracking first ranking evaluation for the show––in front of two of South Korea’s most esteemed choreographers, no less:
Placing among the top 11 of the show earned her a spot in the project group I.O.I for a little less than a year. While the group, having been borne of a survival show that got the country voting for their faves, was indisputably a hit during its run, it wasn’t until Chungha went solo that she really started getting the attention and concepts she deserved.
Chungha’s early forays into the music scene as a soloist were marked by saccharine pop tracks reminiscent of pool parties and summer flings. While songs like Roller Coaster and Love U were a little too sweet and buoyant to make it to my playlist (which I legally stream now, by the way, just to clear the name of the 12-year-old Limewire user I once was), those eras hold a special spot in my heart since they set the tone for the beauty baddie Chungha would eventually become. First the iconic glittery eye, then the stick-on embellishments and color play, then eventually more daring hair and makeup transformations that enthused the beauty gal in me to no end.
2019 was a turning point for Chungha, with the release of Gotta Go and Snapping solidifying her spot as a musician both in South Korea and internationally. She started channeling a different kind of powerful, shedding the bubbly image she’d built up for a year and a half in favor of a more dominant, boss ass bitch kind of energy. The shift in image proved to be a smart move, too––the upswing in her popularity was made clear with her first music show win and improved music chart rankings. The fact that she’s fluent in English and seems oblivious to how much people like her were bonuses in the equation, all adding up to a charming, wildly talented, beautiful package.
By this point, you’ve probably had enough of my detailed dive into Chungha’s career trajectory and the reasons why I adore this woman, so I’m just going to go on ahead and give you a few starting points in case I’ve successfully enthused you enough to warrant some independent viewing. Find Chungha’s selfies and little life updates on Instagram, music videos and vlog-like content over on YouTube and her music on Spotify. No need to thank me; I’m always happy to steer the people in the direction of their rightful queen.
Art Alexandra Lara