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[Herald Interview] Sohyang talks singing in ‘Begin Again,’ lesson from battle with pneumonia

After basking in the limelight of “King of Mask Singer” in 2017, Sohyang has kept a low-profile, staying away from the small screen. Over the course of her public absence, she’s battled severe pneumonia, which recurred eight times and nearly took away her voice, and made her certain, at one point, that her singing career would be over. But ironically, it was also those times of despair that helped get her head above water and led her to music variety show “Begin Again.”

“It was as if I was in hell, so painful that I was on the very brink of giving up. I think I couldn’t fully understand musicians who struggled with vocal disorders. I was too arrogant, totally powerless in the face of not being able to sing,” said the 42-year-old veteran singer during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. 

Sohyang poses for a photo during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Sohyang poses for a photo during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Hailed as “Korean Mariah Carey” for her outstanding vocal prowess, Sohyang shared about how she’d been obsessed with her reputation and how she’d considered prayer as something of a magic lamp. “I tried not to, but actually I was caught up in thoughts like, ‘This is me, Sohyang’ and ‘I should be more famous.’ I couldn’t allow any bit of mistake when it came to singing.”

So when she was stripped of the glitz, all she could do was to repent and reflect on her devout Christianity. After endless self-reflection, she realized that the most important thing as a singer was to comfort people, not to remain perfect. She lost a lot of weight while she was sick, but her bubbly voice and energy seemed intact. “It was such a precious gold-like time for me because I learned so much from it,” she recalled.

So when she was asked to join “Begin Again,” the JTBC show that features big-name Korean musicians giving acoustic performances in public, it couldn’t have been a better opportunity to regroup herself. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show, which used to take place across Europe, was shot in Korea. The singer said that she truly liked the idea of being able to comfort exhausted audiences in Korea with music in this distressing times. Singing with other musicians, such as Lee Soo-hyun from AKMU, Crush, Henry, Jung Seung-hwan, Ha Rim and Juk Jae, was also meaningful.

“After everything I’ve been through, I think I grew an ability to empathize with others on a deeper level. I was free of any kind of burden, greed or worldly goals when busking. Since some of the musicians from our team were also Christians, we bonded smoothly. We prayed together before each performance,” she said.

The singer shared that her favorite moment from the show was when each of the peformers broke down in tears while singing the emotional “Road” by G.O.D. “It was an epitome of healing, a whirlwind of inexplicable emotions,” she added. 

Sohyang poses for a photo during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Sohyang poses for a photo during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Having started out as a well-known gospel singer within the Christian community since her debut in 1996, Sohyang became the first Korean artist to sing the American national anthem at an NBA game. She gained further recognition by appearing in a series of music survival programs such as MBC’s “I Am a Singer” and “King of Mask Singer.”

Video clips of her singing have been racking up millions of views worldwide on YouTube. But the humble musician said she hopes to stop climbing the ladder of fame for now. In the same vein, she recently turned down a contract proposal from Sony Music in the US, citing fears of losing her identity and faith as a singer.

“Debuting in US was my utmost goal for the past 20 years. But when I got a call from the US agency, I politely rejected, as I realized that what I wanted most was not becoming famous,” she said.

“I think singers are very susceptible to arrogance, especially when they hear the screaming from crowds on stage. It can make you feel like as if you’ve become God,”

“And I’m perfectly okay with sharing my music via YouTube, which can reach tens of millions of people all over the world without making me feel stuck up. Maybe that’s why I was born in this era.”

Sohyang dropped her new single “Stay” in August.


By Hong Dam-young (lotus@heraldcorp.com)
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