Wonder chats with the Thai pop star about the path to “Nirvana Girl,” adjusting to a solo career and words for her younger self
Back in 2011, I was a little K-pop fan hoping to see Southeast Asian talent shine in the world of Hallyu. On the opposite side of the screen was Chonnasorn Sajakul, a 15-year-old Thai contestant in a reality TV show trying to make that dream happen. Back then, Southeast Asian K-pop idols were a dime a dozen. So to have seven out of 11 contestants hail from our region? I wanted one of them to win badly. True enough, one of them did. After weeks of rigorous training, harsh critiques and making it to the end, Sorn went on to sign with CUBE Entertainment. A few years later, she debuted with the girl group CLC in 2015.
Fast forward to now, where roads are forked and paths are forged individually. The members of CLC have parted ways, and Sorn’s a year and four singles into her solo career. With more creative freedom over her art, it looks like Sorn’s reached the point of artistic comfort. From the dizzying anthem of Sharp Objects to the cosmic dreaminess of Scorpio, she redefines her pop star image: bolder, fiercer and unapologetically her. She then shakes off the labels and expectations with Nirvana Girl, an infectious and upbeat pop release. It’s a little different than her previous singles, signaling that Sorn’s exploring new ground with her music. And in this journey, she brings former bandmates Yeeun and Seungyeon along for the ride.
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Wonder sits down and catches up with Sorn in between her promotions for Nirvana Girl in the Philippines. The conversation happened soon after her appearance on the iconic Wish Bus, where a number of her fans surprised her with their warm support. “I was super excited because we didn’t give [them] a heads up. So, I wasn’t expecting anyone to really show up,” she shares. Sorn was excited as she performed live for the first time, which doubled when she saw her fans outside the bus. “It was really fun, and it was great to see my fans’ reaction because I’ve never performed in front of them before,” she describes. “So, being able to get that real-time reaction was amazing.”
Scroll ahead to read our full conversation with Sorn about the path to becoming Nirvana Girl, adjusting to a solo career and looking back at her 15-year-old self in K-Pop Star Hunt.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Wonder: Nirvana Girl tells the narrative of self-discovery and shaking all the labels off. But we’d like to hear it from you, what’s the story behind it?
Sorn: The verses talk all about how it felt when people were controlling and telling me how I should be, pointing me in different directions and I didn’t really feel like I myself. The course of the song gradually changes into a transition where, now, I feel more comfortable with myself. I’m more authentically myself as an artist. So we use the phrase, “on my way to be Nirvana girl,” which is a state of enlightenment. I feel more comfortable, like I understand myself a little bit more, but I’m still not there yet. So, it basically tells the story of me being in a K-pop group and reaching my solo career.
But what I want people to take out of it is [this]: whatever you’re doing and you’re trying to do, one day you’ll be more comfortable with yourself. I’m just hoping more people will be able to step out of their comfort zone and then be on their way to be Nirvana Girl, just like I am at the moment.
W: Do you have a favorite lyric?
S: My favorite lyric is in the first verse. Because it says, “Everybody wanna tell me who or where or what I’m doing / Everybody wanna pull me in some kind of new direction.” This is basically what I felt before. So, I thought that was really interesting and very ballsy for me to just start the song off with that sentence, and I feel like it’ll really hit home for a lot of people who hear the first verse.
W: Nirvana Girl sounds like an upbeat, carefree pop track. A little different from the cosmic and dreamy Scorpio. Can you walk us through the creative process for the song?
S: So I was thinking of putting a show together, and I started looking at the list of songs that I’ve released. Obviously, we don’t have that one bop, pop or dance song that everyone can easily groove to. So that’s why the concept of doing a poppy summer song came out first. I was imagining myself being onstage with all my fans and I said, “There’s not that one song yet that people can actually easily dance to.” So, that’s why we came up with the concept.
After that, I knew exactly what I wanted myself to look like even before the song came out. I’m more of a visual person. So I made a moodboard and got super inspired by Dua Lipa because I’m really into her these days. Like, obsessed. So, I wanted to use her concept too and incorporate that into my new single, and then Nirvana Girl came out.
W: Your former CLC groupmates are also involved with Nirvana Girl. Yeeun came on board for this song, and Seungyeon choreographed the dance in the music video. What’s it like reuniting with them for this project?
S: It’s been great because I feel like I constantly complain about how I feel kind of lonely without them this year [as] I do my own thing. And then, all of a sudden we’re just working together, which is a dream come true for me. Everyone’s been wanting to find an opportunity to kind of come together again, and I’m just glad I’m able to be that person who reunites some of us together.
It’s been a very meaningful project. It was really easy to work with [Yeeun and Seungyeon] because I’ve been with them for half of my life. All the behind-the-scenes processes of [the project] went very smoothly because everyone knew exactly what they had to do. We just know each other so well that I don’t have to explain to them what they need to do.
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W: Speaking of CLC, you’ve been flying solo for a while already. Did you find it difficult adjusting from promoting with a group to your current setup?
S: I mean, there are ups and downs. It’s a little bit lonely when I have to come up with concepts for songs. I don’t really have someone who’ll share the stage with me if that makes sense. I do have a big team and a new agency, and everyone’s been super supportive in every way. But at the end of the day, the person who’ll share that energy with me on stage is just me and myself. It’s just been kind of difficult having to fill in the six other missing energies that I used to have for the last seven years.
I mean, it’s been great because now I can be super creative with whatever I do. There are a lot of things I want to do, and having this opportunity just to keep pushing out music has been great. I still have the support of all of my members so even though it’s lonely, we still have each other. We just give each other feedback here and there. I also learned a lot being with them, that’s why I can keep releasing new music.
W: Let’s throw it back even further. When you auditioned for K-Pop Star Hunt, did you ever expect to reach this part of your career?
S: No! Because when I joined the competition, it was just something I did during summer break. So just entering the show on its own and up until now, sitting here, doing this interview and talking about my 15-year-old-self, has been crazy. But I feel like it’s kind of, like, meant to be. In life, everything happens for a reason. There was a reason why I entered that show, why I flew to Korea and why I didn’t give up on continuing in the K-pop world as a trainee and when I first started with my debut.
W: So if you could go back in time and meet younger Sorn, what would you tell her?
S: I would tell her to be less shy, to speak up more and step out of the box a little bit more. I grew up in a foreign country and worked in the most hardworking and intense music industries that we all know, which kind of put me in a box. That’s why I feel like when I thought of releasing my own solo music, people would say, “Oh, I didn’t know Sorn could sing,” which still amazes me until today, that people didn’t really recognize my voice as much? I feel like if I can go back and tell myself, I would be like, “Hey. Don’t be too scared to show yourself and just [stand] up for yourself a little bit more.”
While life doesn’t offer us do-overs and reset buttons, it’s evident that Sorn values the lessons she learned throughout. Despite some things turning out differently than expected, Nirvana Girl is an indication that Sorn’s slowly and finally coming out of her shell and on her way to fully embracing herself. And in the simplest of definitions, isn’t that some sort of enlightenment, too?
Can’t get enough of Sorn? Same here—we get it. Watch her show off her vocals and play a bite-sized version of Wordplay with Wonder right here:
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Listen to Nirvana Girl on your go-to music streaming platforms.
Art Macky Arquilla