Huh Yunjin Is Full Of Big Ideas
The Le Sserafim member is one of K-pop’s most authentic new songwriters — and is now readying her next solo release.
In another life, Huh Yunjin would've lived in New York City. She'd have a business degree and work in an office somewhere, a highrise near Times Square in sight of the Broadway lights. She'd live in a tiny apartment and pay $8 for an iced matcha latte with oat milk, spending her weekends going to shows, sifting through racks for secondhand finds, and studying the pages of a human sciences textbook. These are the what-ifs that raced through her mind as she watched a young woman wearing headphones and a plaid jacket exit a cab on Fifth Avenue near Washington Square Park.
“It looked like she was late to class,” the 22-year-old singer tells NYLON on a sunny October afternoon several days later. “I thought, 'Oh, in a different universe, maybe that would have been me.' I think about that a lot, especially now."
If not for the handsome bodyguard standing watch by the door and the small team of staff sitting beside our Instagramable table near the window, it would be easy to forget that this is Huh Yunjin, K-pop star and one-fifth of the chart-topping girl group Le Sserafim. Sipping a Vietnamese iced coffee at Lê Phin, a quaint cafe in the heart of the East Village that attracts artists, NYU students, and young professionals, she looks like any other 20-something you'd find strolling down East 10th Street. Her recently dyed ginger hair falls in glossy waves past her shoulders in stark contrast to the low-key look she's put together: white baby tee, dark oversized flannel, sweats, and Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1s. “Did you know that when jellyfish die they dissipate in the water and there's no remnants left?” she says as a tangent after I point out the small jellyfish plushie hanging from her purse. “They leave no trace behind. That's crazy.”
As a member of Le Sserafim, Yunjin is a supernova of charisma and attitude, but in person she's friendly, grounded, and full of stories. Over the past year, she’s been quietly establishing herself as an adept songwriter who wants to change how the world looks at idols. Following Le Sserafim’s debut in May 2022, she released her first solo single, “Raise Y_our Glass,” a lo-fi admission of vulnerability that stood out among a sea of mainstream releases. But that was nothing compared to her pointed January 2023 single, “I ≠ DOLL,” a song that confronted toxic idol culture and was a shock of intimacy in an industry where performance and spectacle are paramount. (“Idol doesn’t mean your doll to f*ck with,” went one of its most piercing lyrics.) For her, those songs were just her daily journal entries. “When I'm writing in that mindset, that's when I get my most natural and authentic lyrics down on paper,” she says.
Lately, however, Yunjin has been feeling a little uninspired. In town with her bandmates for a few press opportunities before making her way to Anaheim, California, for Le Sserafim’s first stateside performance, she’s hoping this East Coast detour will help stir up some fresh creative energy. “It actually started on the plane," she says, referring to the swell of new ideas. She jotted down thoughts about her future, lyrics, and potential creative threads to follow back in the studio. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is actually kind of crazy. I'm going home.’”
Yunjin is technically an upstate kid, raised just several hours north of NYC in the small town of Niskayuna, where she began her journey in storytelling. Born in South Korea, she navigated growing up in the U.S. and her identity through stories, immersing herself in works of fiction and Taylor Swift's entire discography. (Upon landing at JFK, she cued up “Welcome to New York.”) As a kid, she wrote short stories about teenage vampires and girls on the margins, and developed a delicate but evocative way with words.
When she was recruited to be a part of Le Sserafim in 2021 by Source Music, a subsidiary under HYBE, the record label of megastars BTS, it was partially due to her songwriting: the company believed in her potential not only as an idol but as an artist who had something real to say. It was the opportunity she’d been waiting for after years of bouncing around several talent agencies and participating in star search competition shows to no success. Now, in the 19 months since Le Sserafim’s debut, Yunjin has created her own body of solo work and become a major contributor to Le Sserafim’s catalog with composing and songwriting credits on several of their songs, including their latest English single, “Perfect Night,” which topped the streaming charts in South Korea.
“The environment that I'm able to work in is very free in terms of expression,” she says of her label, to whom she attributes this creative burst. "I'm thankful for that because I'm naturally a very expressive person."
“I've been trying to be very present and sit with my feelings.”
Her songwriting process typically begins with recording her ideas on her iPhone’s Voice Memo app before sharing them with her small team of producers at HYBE. Generally, she says she receives positive feedback, though she thinks she “should get more criticism.” Lately, she’s been trying to balance her solo writing with her writing for Le Sserafim, which she says comes with its own unique challenges: “You have to be concise, but I'm very bad at that.”
One thing that’s been helping her is writing raps — “That’s my new challenge,” she says. Specifically, she's been studying SZA's cadence and masterful wordiness, the way she turns melodized syllables into a steady stream of consciousness. On a recent episode of Korean music talk show The Seasons: Long Day, Long Night With AKMU, Yunjin even performed a bit of SZA’s hit “Kill Bill” on her guitar. “Whenever I listen to her music,” she says, “I'm like, How did she think of that?”
As we step into the chaotic afternoon rush at L Train Vintage on First Avenue, Yunjin begins to tell me her next big idea for a song. It came about through candid conversations with Bang Si-Hyuk, the founder and chairman of HYBE, who suggested she consider writing about how she's feeling now. “A lot of music that I've written is about my past experiences,” she says, “So when he was like, ‘What about talking about how you feel now?’ that was a really big question for me. Since then, I've been trying to be very present and sit with my feelings.”
Riffling through racks of heavy outerwear and sturdy Carhartt jackets, she tells me about reading the book Journey of Souls by hypnotherapist Dr. Michael Newton, which theorizes, among other things, that a single soul can live many lives. It made her think of all the versions of herself: the teen in black skinny jeans, the trainee with the go-getter attitude, the fearless pop star with the fiery red hair, the singer-songwriter who wants to shake the industry.
“That's the song that I was writing on the plane here,” she says. “It's about loving all the past versions of myself and letting go of them, because they had to let go of themselves to be me.”
Photos courtesy of Source Music/HYBE.
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