Last summer, Chung Ha made a seamlessly successful transition from beloved I.O.I member to adored solo star with her with her feel-good single “Why Don’t You Know” becoming one of the biggest hits and best solo debuts to come from the sensational first season of Produce 101.
After defying any worries and surpassing expectations, the 21-year-old returns to the scene with the exhilarating, electro-pop single “Roller Coaster” on her new EP, Offset. Just like her debut release, Chung Ha proves herself a multifaceted performer, dipping into reggae on the standout album cut “Do It” and commands a classic ballad on album closer “Remind of You.”
But the record’s undeniable centerpiece is its lead single where Chung Ha’s ability to transform the “Roller Coaster” experience into both a sonically and visually thrilling ride thanks to her honey-sweet vocal approach and intricate dance moves — all showing signs to a multidimensional artist who caters special attention to all aspects of her craft.
In a phone interview with Billboard in Korea while in the midst of preparing for her K-pop comeback, the Dallas native spoke excitedly about how she changed for this album, what keeps her going and what fans can expect coming soon.
You showed so many sides of yourself with Hands on Me and that left a big impression on me. How does Offset and “Roller Coaster” further show your changes as an artist?
I can say I got a little more mature than the first album and I put a little more of my choreography in “Roller Coaster” than “Why Don’t You Know.” This time, there’s more performing, there are more dance moves and it’s really fast, really fancy. I tried to put myself into a roller coaster — asking, “How would I feel on a roller coaster? How do roller coasters look like from the outside?” — I tried to really think about that. But there’s also reggae-pop on the track “Do It” and that was really new for me because I haven’t really recorded a reggae song before.
I read that “Roller Coaster” was produced by Black Eyed Pilseung and Jun Goon, who worked on hit songs for Twice, Sistar and Apink. What was it like working with such huge hitmakers now on your solo music?
I was a really big fan of them when I was a trainee, so it was kind of a dream for me. Like, “Oh, if I ever have my debut, I wish I could work with them and have a good experience.” And actually, my mom and [Black Eyed Pilseung member] Rado’s mom are friends and that was really cool because I didn’t know until I worked with him. But it really was a dream for me, they really gave me great advice on “Roller Coaster.” The best advice Rado told me was about being a solo because I can’t really experience a group experience, right? He told me, “If you have a tough time or even if you have a happy time, you have to get through stuff and you have to make your album.” He gave his experience to advise me so I heard his life story, it was really big.
You had writing credits on both albums and you’ve spoken about your passion for choreography. Can you take us through your creative involvement in your solo music?
When it comes to the choreography, I don’t go straight choreography, I go through my feelings. It was more an emotional thing, not something I brainstormed, you know? I just went with what I felt with this album’s choreography. With [my involvement in] Hands on Me, I really wanted to talk with the producers and include a few of my words. I wanted to name it Hands on Me because I wanted to hold my fans’ hands because hands are warm. I explained that to other people, but I don’t know if they understood me! [Laughs] It was a cute try, I guess.
Your story to become a K-pop idol is very interesting and impressive, and I’m really proud that you never gave up on your dream. From being a trainee to girl group member to now a soloist, what’s been your overall experience and what would you say to anyone going through difficulties to achieve their dreams?
I never thought I would debut as a solo. If I ever had a chance, I thought I would debut as a soloist way later, at least seven years or something at a much later time! But it really came faster than I thought. This might sound a little cheesy, but if you think you’re going to regret what you gave up — even 0.1 percent — don’t give up. Because I think that regret grows. Ninety-five percent of me wanted to give up, but maybe five percent of me worried I would regret it and I think that five percent was more of a scary thing for me so I couldn’t give up. Every time I would listen to music or pass by a store and hear music, that would keep me going. I would think, “I just have to go more into it, I’m not done yet.” If you have that little thing, just don’t give up. That’s the only way.
How was reuniting with some of your I.O.I members at 2017 MAMA? The performance with AKB48 which felt like a huge cultural moment.
When I first heard, “Oh you guys are going to gather” and I was like “Yay!” And then I heard, “You guys are also going to be on stage with AKB48” and I was like, “Woah!!!” [Laughs] That’s like a dream stage. When I.O.I was separated, I thought MAMA would be a long shot for me. But I got to do my own stage plus I.O.I gathered plus I got to be on stage with AKB48 and we sang each others’ songs — it was my first Japanese song that I’ve ever sung. It was a very big honor.
What will 2018 bring you and your company, MNH Entertainment?
[MNH Entertainment] is a new company, as everyone knows. I didn’t know my company [before I joined], so it was really new for me too. But they really treat me well and they focus on me well. I can’t share too much, but I think it’s going to be very exciting for all of us. As for me, I want to do a lot of music, focus on music, and do a lot of fan meetings in Korea and, if I can, overseas too.
You think you’ll come back to Texas anytime soon?
I would really really love to. My family and friends are still in Texas. Nothing immediately, but I am planning on it. I’ll keep posting on Instagram and YouTube, so stay tuned.
Anything else to add for your fans? Are they getting a fandom name?
I really thank all the fans who really react and post and give me good feedback. I really get good energy from them. I read all my fan posts on Instagram and even on YouTube. I want to interact more with my fans and I love them so much, I want to see every single one of them. I hope they love my new music. And they’ll be getting an official fan name soon, I promise.