Sunday, March 18, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Son Seungyeon of Mnet’s “The Voice of Korea” (1)

보이스코리아: 손승연 (Son Seungyeon, or Sohn Seungyeon)

Did you by any chance watch Mnet’s “The Voice of Korea Battle” on Friday, March 16?  There was one contestant in particular that caught my attention, that is, Son Seungyeon.  For one, she’s got the powerhouse voice and two, she looked quite familiar.  Indeed, it took me quite a while to figure out where I saw her – she was that daring lead singer of WMA of KBS’s “Top Band,” a television singing competition series for the rock bands aired from June 4 through October 15, 2011.  The band made it to the Elite Eight before being eliminated.  All the members of WMA were high school sophomores back then. They received criticism that only Son stood out like a solitaire diamond and the band’s performance skills were sub-par. 

At that time, I thought Son was a natural singer, rapper, and performer.  She was really seasoned yet full of fire.  After reading last year’s Voice of People interview with her, however, I changed my mind – she’s such a hard worker who never gives up.  (Scroll down to the bottom of this post if you want to read a full article translated in English.)

Two nights ago, Son teamed up with Oh Seulgi to in fact have a showdown with her.  On the show, Son said she was admitted (through early decision) to Howon University that Oh already goes to.  FYI, the faculty of Applied Music at Howon U is famous nationwide for its contribution in music:  composer/producer/director Kim Hyungsuk, musician/composer/producer/director Jung Wonyoung, singer-songwriter/producer Shin Yeonah (Big Mama), singer-songwriter/pianist/composer Jung Jaehyung, singer Kim Yeonwoo, to name a few.

Son and Oh sang the Korean version of “It’s Raining Men,” remade by Bubble Sisters in 2003, Korean female R&B group.  As Park Sunjoo, renowned vocal coach and singer-song writer, wished, they should’ve competed as a team for none of them deserved to lose.  They are that good, neck and neck.  But Shin Seunghoon, legendary singer-song writer and their coach, picked Son only because she sang according to his instructions all the way till the end of the song.  Oh lost her concentration at the final note of the song and finished the song arbitrarily.  If she had chosen Kangta as her coach, I bet she must have won the battle and survived.  (BTW, I think Oh resembles Shin Hyobum, singer known as "Korea's Whitney Houston," in many ways, especially the looks, voices, and vocal styles.)  Are you ready to watch them sing?  Here they are!  

Mnet's "The Voice of Korea" 
Bubble Sisters’ "It’s Raining Men" (aired on 3/16/12)

And Watch for yourself Son Seungyeon's other performances.  (The video clips are in reverse chronological order.  If you want to watch them in HD full screen, click on the titles on screen or double-click the clips.)

Mnet's "The Voice of Korea"
2NE1’s "Go Away" (aired on 2/24/12)

KBS's "Top Band" - Elite Eight
Steppenwolf’s "Born to be Wild" (aired on 9/24/11) 

KBS's "Top Band" - Sweet 16
Frankie Valli’s "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You
(aired on 09/03/11) 

KBS's "Top Band" - Double Elimination
Toto’s "Hold the Line(aired on 08/13/11) 

KBS's "Top Band" - First Round
Beyoncé's "Deja Vu(aired in July, 2011) 

KBS's "Top Band" - Preliminaries
Deux’s "Go, Go, Go(aired in June 2011) 

Son Seungyeon (2011)

The Voice of People article/interview with Son Seungyeon translates as follows: 

Manminbo (만민보) Meets the Lives of Ten Thousand People
SON SEUNGYEON: “Want to Hear About My Dream?”
Voice of People (01/14/2011)

Written by Jeong Hyegyu
Translated by ONSEMIRO

“My dream is to become a musician.  I want to be a real, true musician who not only sings but uses talents (in the future) to help and nurture other wannabe singers.”

Son Seungyeon, age 19,1 beamed with a smile.  She is currently training under Choi Wonseok, professor at Seoul Art Technical College and vocal trainer of Big Bang and 2NE1.  Son took up singing when she won the Intramural English Singing Competition in her first year of middle school.

“At first, I just loved to hear applause after my song was over – I felt like a heroine of the world.  (It was like) Ah! This is my path (to take).”

Since then, she’s been harboring a dream, in earnest, of becoming a singer.  The first step she took was preparing for an audition held by YG Entertainment.  Her heart was going pit-a-pat with excitement while she was clicking on their website to download application forms.  She had to give up applying for that audition because YB required that applicants provide their career path history.

“What I needed was my career path history. But I really didn't have much experience to talk up.  Since then, I have entered (loads of) singing competitions like crazy to build on my achievements.”

For the past five years, she’s nation-widely participated in over 50 singing competitions held in Mokpo, Gimje, and Gwangju (to name a few) including local youth singing competitions.  She’s visited Gwangju three times (only) for the contests.  At first, she lost every competition she entered and was eliminated, which was too much for a middle schooler to bear.

“I struggle, wondering if I could really sing.  There were plenty of kids out there who could sing like me.   I was so stressed out and argued with my mom too often (back then).”

Thanks to her parents, Son was able to successfully pass through the puberty stage, which is a time when kids have a hard time handling anxiety.  Especially with her mom whose dream of pursuing a career in music had been discouraged by her father, Son was able to overcome the hard times.

“I cried a lot.  I’m the kind of person who's too proud to cry in public but I used to cry a river when I was home.  Without fail, my mom was always there by my side, soothing me.  If it hadn’t been for Mom, I might have given up already.”

She once told her parents that she wanted to go to the U.S., away from school and other worries.  Since she was into R&B and hip-hop, she wanted to have a chance to personally connect with African-American, or black, culture and the “black” voices.  It was more like her thinking aloud though; however, her parents took it seriously and inquired about ways to send her to the U.S., more aggressively than she did.  Even though her wish never came true due to financial issues, she was moved and comforted by her parents’ selfless support and devotion.

She's plunged only into music since then.  She spent six months practicing to star in a stage musical during a winter break in her third year of middle school.  She never failed to enter singing competitions while in high school. The more contests she took part in, the more prizes she won.   A once audition-give-upper with no notable achievements now has morphed into someone with great career path that every friend of hers envies.

But there's still a long way to go before her dream comes true.  For she wants to be a pioneering musician instead of a glitzy, glam pop star.  Even now, she’s making an effort to progress and this is why she’s taking voice lessons from the vocal trainer of Big Bang and 2NE1.  Besides, she’s working on her own vocal style, listening to Beyoncé, Naturi Naughton, or Jennifer Hudson, to overcome her physical characteristics (as an Asian singer) that are a lot different from those of “black” singers and to learn to sing high notes easily the African-American way.

“I didn’t know about Michael Jackson that well (before).  I just misunderstood him – I simply thought he (bleached his skin and) had plastic surgery because he wanted to be white.  But then, I got goosebumps at watching video clips of his live performance – some fans even fainted during his performance.  Of all things, I was shocked that he never sang off-key even while dancing.  So I ended up listening to all of his songs.  I want to be like him.”

Fortunately, she’s got rock-solid supporters like Jeon Hongjoon, Oscar Entertainment CEO, a label Bobby Kim is affiliated with.  She had auditioned twice for Oscar, respectively in her freshman and sophomore year of high school.  She said Jeon had been a great mentor during that time.  He said to her, “Even Bobby Kim put out his debut album when he was almost thirty.  So don’t rush it (and take time) and practice hard.”  She’s still taking his words as gospel.

“I really want to do well.  When I grow up, I want to be a musician who can guide the kids the same age as me now in the right direction.  To be honest, it was real tough:  One day, one entertainment agency came to our school to have a talent search.  But they didn’t really care about talent, but looks only.  Many of my friends with talent in singing have been aggravated by lookism.  I've gone through such pain and anguish, too.  I want to give them hope.”

Son plans to audition for YG in January.  It’d be the first challenge in five years since she gave up applying for the YG audition at age 14.2

“Of course, I’d be happy if I passed the audition.  But now I don’t care that much about the result (of the audition) because my dream is my first priority.  I want to be acknowledged for my music, first of all.  I want to hear compliments like, ‘That fella is da singer!’  When I start my own business, I want to hear people say, ‘I really want to work for her.’  I’ll work hard.  When people listen to my music, I hope they find peace.”

1. NDR/NDT: Son Seungyeon was born on September 15, 1993 so is now twenty in Korean age; but she is still 18 in Western age.  Thus, at the time of interview, she was 17 in Western age.
2. NDR/NDT: She was 12 in Western age.


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