HA:TFELT writes her most honest story yet with ‘1719’: The singer’s first album comes with a book about her most difficult years

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HA:TFELT writes her most honest story yet with ‘1719’: The singer’s first album comes with a book about her most difficult years

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Singer HA:TFELT [AMOEBA CULTURE]

“I wish my father would die,” reads the first line of a storybook that goes with singer HA:TFELT’s latest album.

Singers often talk about “showing their emotions” or “sharing their past,” but few have been as raw and honest as the singer for her latest project. To accompany her first full-length album “1719,” HA:TFELT created a storybook containing the stories behind her new songs and details of her life between 2017 and 2019.

The book, titled “Concealed Thoughts and Emotions,” is meant to “reveal the stories of HA:TFELT’s family, love and a breakup that she hasn’t told before,” but readers must truly be prepared before opening up the pages.

“I initially began the book because I thought that knowing the background stories of each song would help listeners understand them to the fullest,” HA:TFELT told the Korea JoongAng Daily during an interview held last Thursday. She was calm and poised during the interview, striking a perfect balance between honesty and modesty. Her book was enough to speak for itself, but she did not hold back when answering any of the questions she was asked.

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For her first full-length album “1719,” top, singer HA:TFELT has created a storybook to go along with the songs, with pictures and writing by the singer herself, above. [AMOEBA CULTURE]

“For me, it was for therapeutic purposes. I’ve been going to counselling for about a year now, and the therapist recommended that I start writing. I wasn’t sure whether I could write or whether writing was for me, but when I started, it all just poured out. It was the beginning of untangling the complicated emotions that I had inside of me.”

The new album, HA:TFELT’s first full-length album since her debut, contains 14 tracks that tell the story of her life over the past three years. The title “1719” has three meanings: the years 2017 to 2019 in the singer’s life; the time between 17:00 and 19:00 when the sun sets; and the ages 17 to 19 when people usually go through their most turbulent years of adolescence. For the singer, it was when everything changed for her.

Born in 1989, HA:TFELT debuted in February 2007 as a part of the five-member girl group Wonder Girls with the stage name Yeeun and became the leader of the group in 2015 when former leader Sunye left the group after her marriage.

When Wonder Girls officially disbanded in 2017, she left her longtime agency JYP Entertainment and joined Amoeba Culture, where she kicked off her career as a solo singer-songwriter with the stage name HA:TFELT. Having debuted at 17 as a member of a girl group, she never really had the time to experience the life of a responsible adult, which made her transition to being a solo artist harder than anything else.

“I think I was really tired,” she said. “I’m really not the person to talk about how I feel, not even to the other members or my family. But in 2017, for the first time, I didn’t have to take care of anything. Even my mom got married again and my sister and little brother started taking care of themselves. I was freed from my responsibilities, but that made me feel like my role had disappeared. The little girl who was always suppressed inside of me wanted to lean on other people - but that was all over.”

The year 2017 was also the year when her father, who was a minister at a church, was charged for embezzling 20 billion won ($16.2 million), having used the singer’s reputation as a guarantee. Although she was proven innocent, reports revealed that her father had long left the family and the singer was the one taking care of her family.

Rather than talking around her wounded past, HA:TFELT starts her book with the story of her father - the hate she feels toward him and the guilt she feels for the victims of his crimes. The emotions were clogged up inside of her, and only when she expressed herself was she finally able to feel free.

“The book is organized in chronological order,” she said when asked why she started off with that particular story. “It happened in the beginning of 2017. I did think about putting it at the end of the story, but it was the biggest thing that happened to me. It was the incident that led me to break down inside, so I figured that starting with it would be the smoothest way for the story. But the reason I could do it was because my family was very supportive. They wrote me long letters, and that allowed me to do it.”

Every song on the album has a special meaning to HA:TFELT, and she found it difficult to decided on just one lead track, so she chose two - “Satellite” and “Sweet Sensation.” While the two lead tracks are casual listens with a trendy synth pop touch, HA:TFELT recommends checking out track No. 1, “Life Sucks,” to those who’d like to understand the depth of her agony and pain.

“After I finished everything, it felt almost chilling,” she said. “I wrote a life plan for myself when I was really little. I wrote that I would publish my first autobiography when I was 30 years old, after I become incredibly successful. I didn’t think it would be about how hard my life was. I’ve realized how life takes you to places you never expect, but then also to places that you plan for yourself as well.”

Of the things she planned as a child, the singer considers her biggest accomplishments to be debuting, holding concerts, touring and publishing a book.

Still yet to be crossed off from her list is holding a solo concert and making it big in the United States. Wonder Girls did perform in the United States in 2009, but HA:TFELT’s goal is going to the Billboard Music Awards and the Grammys.

In her 14 years as a singer, she says that she has definitely changed, but mostly for the better.

“I thought when I was younger that I would succeed if I tried hard enough. I also thought that people didn’t succeed because they didn’t try hard enough. But I’ve realized, after meeting other people and learning of their lives, that Wonder Girls were just lucky and timely.

The other girl groups who didn’t make it as far as we did weren’t any less desperate or diligent. I’ve become grateful of my days as [part of] Wonder Girls, because that’s what’s gotten me here as a solo singer, and rather than just chasing one goal, I’ve come to think about the people around me and the things that make my life richer.”

For the younger stars and aspiring singers who started their careers looking up to Wonder Girls and HA:TFELT, the singer offers similar advice.

“There’s no one way,” she said. “My path isn’t the answer, nor is the path taken by singers before me. We all have our paths. Don’t try to fit yourself into a mold. People try to look for someone before them to take on as a role model. Then you start comparing yourself to them. But that just keeps me from paving my own way.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]
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