Singer Kristin Kim, also known as Sobae, recently released “Elevate“, her fourth single this year. She started a mini web series on YouTube titled ‘Sobae’s Balls‘ last month, asking her listeners to be a part of the inspiration for her new track.
But Sobae wasn’t always working on her music full time, she was initially a reporter who worked in a climate change foundation in South Korea and would only pursue music part time. So what happened? Read on to find out as she answers my questions in this interview segment about “Elevate”, collaborating with Mad Clown, being an independent artist, and more.
I was lucky enough to come across an episode of ‘Sobae’s Balls’ on YouTube last month. “Sobae’s what?” was my first reaction when I saw the video. I clicked on the video immediately, a dozen questions buzzing in my mind. I didn’t know what was awaiting me at the time.
Sobae never planned to be a singer. Before pursuing music as a full-time job, Sobae was working as a reporter in Chicago and D.C. and then in a climate change foundation in South Korea. “They were fulfilling jobs,” she admits in Episode 2 of ‘Sobae’s Balls’. “But they were suppressing my creative desires.” She would rush home everyday after work to write songs and record demos, and fervently post them on SoundCloud. One thing led to another, and one day ILZO & CO. reached out to her, asking if she wanted to be represented by them and pursue music full time.
And that was only the beginning.
The “balls” from her YouTube comes from the fact that singer Sobae made a ‘ballsy’ move by switching her career path and doing something super brave. After all, it’s not an everyday thing to leave your desk job to become a full-time musician, and Sobae is unapologetic about being the ‘millennial that your parents warned you about’.
Sobae released three singles prior to “Elevate”, debuting with a jazzy, trippy “Switch Up“. The song catches attention immediately as you listen to it. It has a calm and chill vibe to it infused with a neo-soul melody; its lyrics, on the other hand, are straight to the point.
“Saw you lookin’ me up on LinkedIn,
Boy, you here for business or pleasure?
Don’t overthink it, Kendrick said it best,
Just need my women and weather.”
Sobae is talented, there is no doubt about that. She writes, composes, and helps arrange her own music. And she’s an independent artist, so it goes without saying that aside from being a good singer, working hard flows in her blood.
But one of the things I was most curious about was Sobae’s introduction to music and when she started to be passionate about it.
- What are some of the earliest memories of you recognizing your passion for music?
“It’s challenging to pinpoint one specific moment, but my parents claim they have video evidence of me singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star‘ from when I was a one-year-old“, she recalls. “Since I was a child, I would sing in the shower and into the mirror pretending the hairbrush was my microphone. I also consistently tried to partake in any singing or performance-related activities. It felt like a natural hobby to me at the time, but I never have guessed I’d end up pursuing it professionally.”
Sobae next released “Homegirl” featuring EXY of WJSN. “Homegirl” is a modern anthem for 21st century girls, possessing a catchy tune and foot-tapping beat.
“This one’s for the homegirls, the ones that do you wonders.”
The video includes 50+ alter-ego versions of Sobae dancing, singing, drinking, and chilling. “They are a literal depiction of multitudes that exist in every homegirl I dedicate this song to“, she explained. “To merge so many conflicting desires and represent ourselves honestly is a challenging task but a real, beautiful struggle that every woman can relate to.”
After touring 20 North American cities in the ‘We Want You Tour‘ with two of the hottest rappers in South Korea, San E and Mad Clown, Sobae released “Holiday“ featuring San E, this time singing in Korean. The video was shot, directed, and produced by her on basically zero budget (independent artist, indeed).
- Describe touring with San E and Mad Clown in a few words.
“It was a dream come true!” she exclaims. “To be able to perform across 20 American cities in a span of 30 days was challenging, but extremely rewarding. San E and Mad Clown are two of the biggest names in the hip-hop scene for a good reason — I learned so much from them on tour, and they continue to be close mentors and friends to me.”
- Suddenly changing your career path, going on tour, performing live, and shooting music videos, how overwhelming has it all really been? Do you have any regrets?
“This entire adventure was motivated the fear of regret“, she says, with complete sincerity. “So no, I truly have no regrets. The uncertainty of this path I have chosen is terrifying, but I find comfort in knowing that I am trying my best everyday and feel grateful to be doing what I love.”
One thing that was clear: Sobae doesn’t believe in regrets, which is something both inspiring and unique. A lot of us obviously have big dreams and pet passions, but we generally don’t have the courage to chase them.
- What is something no one knows about being an independent artist?
“It’s unglamorous! We really need to build everything from scratch with limited resources. But at the same time I also feel like that is the edge that differentiates us from a sea of ‘perfect’ content“, she says.
Then came time for “Elevate”, Sobae’s aforementioned fourth single. She began the series ‘Sobae’s Balls’ on YouTube before release to increase interaction and her bond with the audience, and to invite them to be part of the creative journey and inspiration for her new song. She holds Instagram Live sessions, gives virtual hugs, and even gives shoutouts to some of the people who send her inspiration, comments, and messages. She connects with her viewers on a personal level, something we don’t see very often, and makes them open up about their struggles, triumphs, memories, and worries.
- What was the main idea behind “Elevate” and what was the message you wanted to convey?
“I started the web series ‘Sobae’s Balls‘ leading up to the creation of ‘Elevate’, in which I asked viewers to ‘join me on the creative journey of creating my next track.’ Many people shared their thoughts, ideas, triumphs, worries, stories with me and I realized that people often forget to hit pause and give themselves some credit. The main message I wanted to convey is captured in my lyrics, when I ask: ‘Can’t you see what I see in you?’ It was a true blessing to be able to have sincere conversations with so many colorful, amazing characters, and I thought that everyone can use a little reminder that they are enough, and that they deserve to be loved for exactly who they are.”
- Is there a specific person you refer to or talk about in your songs? Like in “Switch Up” and “Elevate”?
“Yes and no!” she says. “As much as being a singer-songwriter is a daring adventure for me, I use Sobae as a character shell to vicariously experience things that I myself probably would never dare to do.” She continues, “On the flipside, it’s quite hard to draw a distinction between my true self and my singing-songwriting self, so I think it’s fair to say that my lyrics are reflective of my personal experiences and thoughts.” After a pause, she asks, laughing, “Did I do a good job of answering and dodging your question at the same time?”
- Who are some of the singer(s) that you look up to and are inspired by?
“There are quite a few, but the first name that comes to mind right now is Little Simz. I look up to her and aspire to be an artist like her because her authenticity shines in every single piece of her work. She also once mentioned in an interview that she prefers being called a ‘real model’ as opposed to a ‘role model’. That’s something I agree with. I may not always get it 100% right, but I will always strive to deliver my truth.”
- What is one goal you have for next year (2019)?
“I have released four tracks now, all with the same underlying tone but with slightly different styles“, she says. “I hope to create more music to develop my musical identity, and, fingers crossed, put together my first EP or album.”
- Do you think it would have been easier to work it out as a K-pop idol, given the fact that it is the mainstream way to become a singer in Korea?
“Absolutely not“, she replies. “I respect all the K-pop idols for their countless hours of training, practice, putting up with the strict K-entertainment hierarchy … but that just isn’t for me. While many idols have been able to grow into their true selves, I also feel that such a system can diminish an individual’s character“, she says. “I intend to build my own brand of unique content by remaining as authentic and sincere as possible for anyone who is willing to watch and listen.”
And lastly, a quick rapid fire set of questions.
- Your favourite colour?
“Yellow, because of the warm, positive, and healing energy it has to it.”
- A Korean series/drama you’re binge watching?
“Oof, unfortunately I don’t watch much Korean TV!”
- Favourite male and female celebrity? Any reason why?
“Lakeith Stanfield and Ali Wong, because they are unabashedly and unapologetically themselves.”
Thank you to Sobae for the interview!