Park Ye-eun looks back on her 10 years as part of Wonder Girls – almost one third of her whole life so far – with no regrets.
“My memories of my 20s is the Wonder Girls,” she said. “It was a dazzlingly beautiful time, [we were like] a family, and they are the roots that made me. I feel very lucky to be have been [a part of] Wonder Girls.”
The girl group, which debuted in 2007 and disbanded in 2017, took the K-pop industry by storm, with hits such as Nobody, Tell Me, and So Hot. Still, all good things come to an end, and when the group broke up, Ye-eun had to decide for herself what she was going to do.
She chose to go solo, joining record label Amoeba Culture, using what she learned from being a part of the group that made history as the first K-pop group to chart on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Using her experiences
“[Our sound was mainly] retro-synth-pop. I listened to and studied a lot of music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s,” she recalled. “[That type of music] is something many people, regardless of their age, can enjoy.”
Ye-eun, 29, said that her experiences of being part of the group, as well as the friendships she made at the time, were the driving force behind the first songs she produced as HA:TFELT (a cross between “hot” and “heartfelt”). The emotions, the ups and downs of her life, and the comfort that being with other girls that she grew incredibly close to for 10 years, can be heard in her music.
Earlier this year, for example, Ye-eun released Pluhmm (Comforting), which she said brings to mind feelings of comfort and joy – even for herself. Other songs, like Hello To Myself, which she sang for the soundtrack of a Korean TV drama, evoke in her very clear memories of how she felt when she was singing them for the first time.
“Hello To Myself, which was written in 2012, is based on a diary I used to write. Every time I hear this song, I remember exactly how I used to feel. It can feel like I’m exposing myself,” she said. “But there is freedom and pleasure in doing that. I think that creating music is like giving birth to a child – it’s a product of me.”
Telling a story in chapters
Love songs are a big part of Ye-eun’s repertoire, but not all of them are about feeling happy about it. If Pluhmm is about the highs of falling in love, then Cigar (also released earlier this year) is about realising that “love is a losing game”.
“When I fall in love, my emotional ups and downs become more extreme, so I thought it would be best to put these two songs together.”
Last year, Ye-eun released I Wander and Read Me. “I Wander is about anticipation and feeling anxious about the future, and Read Me is about the past hurts that I have felt but never shared.”
Both had been written at the same time as Pluhmm and Cigar, but the singer said that they were released earlier because they represent different chapters of her life. One day, though, she added, she hopes to one day be able to share “the full story on a full-length album”.
From big label to small
Going from a huge entertainment company like JYP Entertainment to a smaller, independent one like Amoeba Culture (where she became the label’s first female solo artist in 11 years) has not always been plain sailing, but Ye-eun said she has enjoyed the move her sound has taken from pop to a more hip-hop vibe.
Although she loved her time as part of Wonder Girls with JYP Entertainment, Amoeba Culture offered her something of a fresh start. Her decision to join the label came from the work she did with Gaeko of Dynamic Duo in 2014, and because she loved the overall feel of the company, the freedom she had to experiment with her sound. Her newer songs, she said, take inspiration from the musicians from the same label, like Dynamic Duo, Rhythm Power, and Planet Shiver.
One thing that Ye-eun would like is to see more women write and produce their own songs – and hopefully her presence at Amoeba Culture will go some way to helping that along. “It is true that women [in hip-hop] do not get as much attention as men do, but I do think that is gradually changing. There are a lot of great female singer-songwriters, and I think the public will get used to it.
“I sincerely thank those who are waiting for more of my music,” she added. “I want to make good songs and great music to return the interest and support [people have in me]. I will try not to let them down. I’ll finish the songs that I am working on now so I can hear your reactions soon. Thank you again for all those who love my music.”