[YOUR PLAYLIST] Two girl groups later, Hezz is rebranding her solo career

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[YOUR PLAYLIST] Two girl groups later, Hezz is rebranding her solo career

If you were to make your life into a movie, what song would be playing in each scene? Everyone has a story, and the same is true for K-pop stars. In “Your Playlist,” K-pop artists share what the soundtrack would be for different moments in their life with the Korea JoongAng Daily.
Singer Hezz, formerly known as Hong Eui-jin, is back with a new name and a new style.
The singer best known as a former member of girl groups Sonamoo (2014-21) and UNI.T (2018) launched her solo career in March and has now updated her brand. Her latest single “Churup!,” which dropped on July 26, is her first release as Hezz.  
“I’d never expected I would take an alias,” she said, “but I realized shortly after debuting as a solo artist that Hong Eui-jin spelled out in English is a tad bit long. A director at my new agency Mellow Entertainment came up with the name Hezz — replacing the J in my initials HEJ with zz, so it has a better ring to it. Now you can call me Hezz!”
Her new song “Churup!” is a summery love song, likening romance to a juicy fruit. In contrast to her two previous solo singles that were tranquil ballads, “Churup!” is an upbeat number that showcases Hezz’s bubbly vocals and dance moves.
“Now that I’m a solo act, I have to do everything I used to do together with my groupmates alone,” she said. "Filling up the three-minute stage performance all by myself is quite a challenge. I’m always studying ways to make my performance ever-changing and never dull.”  
The day after her comeback as Hezz, the singer sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the JoongAng Ilbo building in western Seoul. She talked about her new identity, her eight-year career and the music that has kept her company throughout the ups and downs of her life. 

 Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) poses during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on July 27. [JEON TAE-GYU]

Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) poses during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on July 27. [JEON TAE-GYU]

Dreaming K-pop
“I don’t think there was a certain moment that I started wanting to become a singer,” Hezz said. “It was so natural to me since I was young, that it was practically the only path I thought about."
But there is one song that’s ingrained in her memory — the '90s electronic disco track "Wa" by Lee Jung-hyun, known for its eccentric choreography. 
"The song came out when I was about four," she reminisced. “Lee sang with a small mic attached to her pinky, so I took the lid of a pen and put it on mine. It’s all on my childhood home videos. I’m dancing, singing and twirling. I’ve never thought of having another career ever since. I even saved my number on my mom’s cell phone as ‘the future BoA.’”
Hezz’s first opportunity to have a glimpse into K-pop's highly competitive auditioning and rigorous training came when she was in the sixth grade, when JYP Entertainment was touring Korea hosting auditions and made a stop in her hometown of Gwangju, South Jeolla.
Promotional image for "Churup!" [MELLOW ENTERTAINMENT]

Promotional image for "Churup!" [MELLOW ENTERTAINMENT]

“I was so lucky to make it to the finals,” she said. “I didn’t pass the finals, but I was just happy to be on stage. I still remember that my first-ever audition song was ‘17171771’ by Jaurim. It was an experience that made me realize that this is definitely the path for me."

When dreams come true
After a little under four years of training, she made her first debut at the age of 18 in late 2014 as a member of girl group Sonamoo.
The member lineup for Sonamoo had been determined a year in advance, but the debut being confirmed was merely the beginning. The members of Sonamoo practiced together after school every day from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. the next day. Hezz says the practice room had no clock on the wall. 
“We called it the ‘chamber of time’ because we had no idea how long we had been practicing,” she said. “We didn’t even have phones as trainees back then. We just knew it was some time in the early morning when practice was over, then went straight to school."
Girl group Sonamoo [TS ENTERTAINMENT]

Girl group Sonamoo [TS ENTERTAINMENT]

During their training, K-pop trainees undergo a monthly evaluation to see how much they have improved and if they’re ready for an official debut. Hezz reminisced on her final monthly evaluation.
“The final evaluation was to see if we were truly ready,” she said. She chose to sing Gain’s song “Bloom,” a subtle dance number known to flaunt high notes vocally — a similar style to Hezz's music now.   
“The judges gave me really positive reactions. They told me that the music style suited me really well, and if I were to release solo music someday, I should do something like that. That moment stayed in my memory.”

Highs and lows
Hezz is a K-pop veteran and has been through her fair share of ups and downs in the industry. Years after debuting as Sonamoo, she challenged herself once again when she appeared on KBS’s audition show “The Unit: Idol Rebooting Project” (2017-18). The show featured already-debuted idol group members who had seen lukewarm success in their initial groups. 
On the show, Hezz finished in first place and formed project girl group UNI.T (pronounced unity) with the eight other female finalists of the show. But UNI.T was only active for five months and wasn’t able to leave a significant mark on the K-pop scene.  


Sonamoo officially disbanded last year after its agency went out of business, but had already been on hiatus for years. It was a difficult time of uncertainty for Hezz, but she says the experience inspired her solo debut song, “The 8th Spring.”
"It was the eighth spring after my first debut, and I looked back on my career as I was off to a new start,” she said. “What I wanted to say through its lyrics was that all the hardship eventually passes by. Seasons come and go, and spring eventually comes again.
“I think a large part of life is about timing and luck. So nowadays, when things don’t go my way, I simply think ‘I guess this is my phase for now.’ And that acceptance gives me comfort, because I still believe that another spring will come. It’s just that this flower — whatever I'm working on at that point — hasn’t bloomed yet.”
While she enjoys indulging in emotional ballads like BOL4's "To My Youth," she turns to upbeat songs like DAY6’s “Time of Our Life” whenever she feels like she has to get out of her negative thoughts.
“Sometimes, we kind of get addicted to sulking and feeling sorry for ourselves,” she said. “It's like going down a spiral, getting buried in thoughts like ‘Why am I like this?’ or ‘Why do these things keep happening to me?’ I was like that too. Then I read a quote that went, 'Don’t focus on your weaknesses.' It felt like someone hit me in the head to get me out of my negativity and start doing the best I can do."

The fans: my cup of tea
What has kept her going and giving her all for the past eight years are her fans — whether they were fans of Sonamoo, UNI.T, Hong Eui-jin or Hezz.
“There have been both good and bad moments, and then there are some moments that remind me, ‘Yes, this is exactly why I’m a singer,’” she said. “For our final music show appearance as UNI.T, we were performing our song ‘A Memory Clock.’ The fans had prepared in secret and surprised us by singing along to the entire song. It gave me chills. I thought, ‘These are the moments that I live for.’ That’s why I can never thank fans enough."
The singer calls her fans hongcha, the Korean word for black tea, also taking inspiration from her last name Hong.
“My fans came up with the name," she said. "Like brewing teabags, their presence permeates in my life."
"When I try to put myself in their shoes, even I have to question if it's possible to stay tuned and support me despite the long hiatuses I’ve had. I can’t believe they haven’t forgotten about me and waited for me. I can't wait to repay my gratitude to my fans. Like the Sonamoo song, I want to be ‘The Giving Tree’ for them.”
Her former groupmates are also her biggest supporters.
“For this comeback, Sonamoo and UNI.T members told me that they love to see me dancing again,” Hezz said. “They’re so happy for me. They gladly said yes when I asked them if they could film a TikTok challenge for ‘Churup!’ We’ve filmed some of them together. We have a lasting bond that I can rely on."

Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) poses during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. [JEON TAE-GYU]

Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) poses during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. [JEON TAE-GYU]

The future ahead
When asked to describe her new identity as Hezz, the singer answered, 'That's a very good question."
"It's a question I'm really asking myself a lot these days," she said. "I actually still don’t know who I am that well. It's my New Year’s resolution every year — to get to know myself better. But it has been an ongoing question mark." 
After pondering on how far she's come on her journey of self discovery, she replied, “Maybe three steps out of a hundred.”
"I recently developed a habit of writing down my thoughts and feelings to help with that journey," she said. "Interviews like this always lead me to discover the sides of myself that I hadn’t thought too deeply about. From now on as Hezz, I'm going to keep working on being more confident and unapologetically myself. I hope fans enjoy seeing that!"

Hezz's Playlist

01. Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) - Churup!
02. Jaurim - 17171771
03. Lee Jung-hyun - Wa
04. Gain - Bloom
05. HyunA - Bubble Pop!
06. Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) -  The 8th Spring  
07. The Pussycat Dolls - Don't Cha  
08. BOL4 - To My Youth
09. Taeyeon - INVU  
10. UNI.T - A Memory Clock
11. Sonamoo - The Giving Tree
12. DAY6 - Time of Our Life
13. BoA - No.1
14. IU - Unlucky
15. Hezz (Hong Eui-jin) - I Knew I Love

BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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