This is the fifth in a series highlighting women and their accomplishments in the various facets of the Korean entertainment industry. ― Ed.
For Oh Yeri, music was a calling she just couldn’t ignore.
She grew up in the church and was in her church band, but she never really thought of it as a career she could pursue. However, it was more than just a hobby.
“It’s more of a way of life. A natural medium for me to really express who I am. And my thoughts and feelings,” the 27-year-old singer said.
So in 2004 while attending university in Brisbane, Australia, she hosted a program for community radio and made the decision to take music more seriously. The day after, Oh quit college, packed her bags and moved back to Korea to pursue music.
She said she always loved Korea and here is where she wanted to start professionally in music.
|Singer-songwriter Oh Yeri (Cube Entertainment)|
However, after auditioning and performing in Hongdae, she once again found herself an ordinary college student at Ewha Womans University when she decided she wanted her degree.
But she was struck once again by music during her studies in 2008. When on a four-week study abroad program in Switzerland at the University of Bern, she came across a group of students in a jam session.
“That’s when it hit me, just struck me. That’s who I originally was,” she said. “And here I am, just an ordinary college student. Again. This isn’t what I had planned for me.”
The experience pushed her to write a song that night about what she was feeling, which she performed for her classmates and professors.
She then took the advice of one of her professors and signed up for MBC’s “College Music Festival,” an audition show with a history of more than 30 years.
With a bit of luck, she ended up winning. After that, the record deals began piling up, so Oh left school a second time to pursue music, this time signing with a large K-pop label.
However, though she is grateful for the experience she had, she felt it was difficult being with such a big label. Before, writing music had been natural and almost an involuntary action. But at the label, she had to be more concerned with what people wanted to hear and mainstream trends, which is not how she wrote her music.
“For me, music had always been … it’s like taking a good dump,” she said. “Right, so when you take a dump, you don’t think, ‘Okay this is the kind of dump I’m going to be taking this morning.’ You just do it, right? But now, making music involved a lot more headwork and that was something that was very unnatural for me.”
Oh left the label and settled in at independent label AMP Media, where she feels she can be more “experimental” and “relentless” with her music. But she is glad that she was able to train at the larger label on how to combine head and heart, which is her ultimate goal as a musician.
More than anything, she wants to be original and she wants to be “real.” The singer says she is inspired by the truth and philosophy, which is really just the journey to finding truth.
“You know, philosophy is really just a process of questioning something to get to the truth. Asking why about everything. And I just love having that approach to everything I talk about in my music, whether it be about love,” Oh said.
Which is a topic she feels K-pop nowadays romanticizes to the point that when people do experience heartbreak, it’s twice the damage because they realize that love is not what they were taught through these songs.
“All these songs make love sound like this beautiful, selfless sacrifice. But it’s really the other way around. It’s beautiful, but at the same time it’s just so greedy. And it’s the most selfish act, human act.”
She said people call her love songs cynical; she says she just puts it out there as it is.
Oh has an upcoming digital single to be released “very soon” as well as a song that was written for her by singer-songwriter YK Lee. But her ultimate goal is to live life to the fullest.
“My goal as a musician would just be to live life, just live every day. And mature as a person. And love someone. And that, all of that, would just manifest itself into music for me.”
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)