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[Herald Interview] How Younha ‘rescued’ herself, found her voice again

Once burned-out singer shares how she overcame depression and regained strength to resume music

Ever since her K-pop career began in 2006, Younha has often been described as one of the most talented singer-songwriters of today. 

Due to her chameleon-like vocal abilities and masterful songwriting -- which crossed genres from ballad to rock to jazz -- a renowned music critic once said, “I’d like to advise female musician wannabes to study Younha, who is truly the best musician, equipped with perfect vocal, breathing, tone and stability.”

The songstress, however, stopped crafting her own music after the release of her fourth full-length album “Supersonic” in 2012. In the interim, she was featured in drama soundtracks and worked with other singers, but it took her five years to finally roll out her own work, “RescuE,” her fifth full-length album released at the end of December last year.

Younha revealed that she had to “rescue” herself from darkness -- the reason why she had lost her own voice. 

Younha (C9 Entertainment)
Younha (C9 Entertainment)

“The last three years have been a dark and long tunnel in my life. Music wasn’t interesting anymore. Music I made didn’t sound so good, which made me consider quitting my career. If felt like my ears were blocked with something,” said Younha during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Monday.

“I kept knocking the door, but it didn’t open. I didn’t listen to music at all as I was sick of it.”

She was burned out. Younha originally debuted in Japan in 2004 at the age of 16 under the moniker “Oricon Comet.” And her life has been an endless roller-coaster ride ever since. The prolific musician has released dozens of hits, such as “Password 486,” “Comet” and “Broke up Today,” but without knowing that stress was chipping away at her.

She said that she had been on anti-depressants for the last five years, though she recently went off the medication. Furthermore, she was diagnosed with septal deviation, a nasal disease, for which she had to undergo a surgery in 2016 and take a break from work.

“It’s hard to distinguish true relationships from shallow ones in this industry. And I started to walk on eggshells, too self-conscious of what others thought. I guess such stress has been piling up for the last 10 years,” she said.

Younha (C9 Entertainment)
Younha (C9 Entertainment)

A breakthrough came when she met GroovyRoom, a producing duo responsible for the singer’s latest 11-track album. Younha, who had been cocooned in her own sound, took inspiration from the producer team’s fresh sounds, with a hope to unearth her own recipe.

The result was the lead track “Parade,” a blend of Younha’s breathy vocals and the producers’ trendy and lighthearted song. The entire album, including “Parade,” lacks Younha’s original rock-influenced punky sound, but Younha is not in a rush. 

“I’ve let out all my dark vibes into this album. Releasing it has been a huge mission for me, which I had to accomplish to move onto the next level,” she said.

“Now I want to fill myself with positive energy again. If I recharge myself with enough positivity, maybe I will be able to sing bright and cheerful songs like before,” she added, brushing aside her brightly hued hair, which was also a part of efforts to radiate a positive vibe. 

Younha (C9 Entertainment)
Younha (C9 Entertainment)

Like any other veteran musician who has released hits in the past, Younha also feels the burden of being caught between an outsized past and an uncertain future. But she hopes to move forward with a new strategy: expressing herself as much as she wants in upcoming singles, which she plans to release more frequently.

“I feel huge pressure for my past hits. It got even trickier, as I’m not sure whether people had liked my music itself, or just the memories of them,” said Younha in a relaxed tone.

“But I won’t be obsessed with perfection. I will just hold onto music every moment, as if pouring out my feelings and stories of each moment on a diary.”

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