Meet JUNNY, the «white canva» of K-pop
After Covid, sitting on a couch for a real-life interview might seem awkward. Will I still be able to convey everything I want to? And not get lost in my thoughts? I don’t have anything written down in front of me, but I can totally just go on with the flow, right?
This happened to me less than a month ago when in Seoul, at the REELS Corporation office, I had the chance to sit down for a while with one of the most interesting emerging artists ever: JUNNY. Born in 1996, JUNNY, whose real name is Kim Hyeong-Jun, is a singer and songwriter under MAUVE Entertainment. Born in Vancouver. Speaking fluently in English and Korean, he moved to Seoul in 2018 to pursue his dream career in music. And since then, he never stopped. JUNNY’s name is behind successes like EXO’s KAI Mmmh, NCT DREAM Hot Sauce, WAY V Action Figure, JAY B Fame, and IU Troll. A long career started with JUNNY writing his first song at the age of fourteen and now being one of the greatest writers in the industry, with him being the pen behind famous OST and music hits. During an interview on Arirang in 2020, JUNNY described himself as someone who doesn’t have “a bright personality.” Still, our chat was filled with laughs and so comfortable that it made us forget about everything we went through in the past years due to Covid. That’s who JUNNY really is: a sprinkle of magic dust in the Korean music industry, a natural talent, and one of the most humble people I had the chance to meet, who’s now ready to fly with his wings and start a new journey.
We sat in a studio near Hongdae to talk about his career and Color Me, his last work, which is just an appetizer for what is yet to come.
First of all, can we ask you to introduce yourself?
I’m a singer and songwriter, I go by the name of JUNNY, and I’ve been in Korea for three years now. I’m just doing music and building my career here. I started off as a songwriter, now I’m focusing more on my artistry and my own music as well. Yeah, I’m working hard. That’s who I am.
You came from a very artistic family...
Yes, that’s what they say (he laughed) I never considered that (laugh again)
How did this shape your life, and how has music impacted it?
First of all, as I grew up as you said in a musical family... I have two older brothers, they love singing, they love listening to music, and just growing up with them, wanting to be close to them and hang out with them as a little child, I’ve tried to mimic their singing and what they were listening to... it just naturally got me into the world of music. And my oldest brother is an artist, a painter. He kinda let me believe that if you have the right passion for something, and you really wanna work hard at it, just you know, keep looking up and work on your crafts, he motivated me to pursue this career.
And then you come to Korea...
Yeah. The reason why I came to Korea is because, to be honest, I was in love with Korea since I was a child. I wasn’t able to live here for a long time, because when I was four years old we moved to Canada. So I had this idea, I romanticized it so much. You know, just watching television, tv dramas and stuff like that. Kinda get a sense of “wow, this country, is so unique and I love what this place has”. And I came here, just as a vacation... and I fell in love. I met a bunch of amazingly talented people, luckily I was able to do that and work on my music with them. And I said, “wow, this is the right place for me”. And I just packed my bag and came here.
Maybe we should follow your lead and do the same...
(he laughs) Yeah, I mean. It’s not that bad. (laugh again) It works out. I don’t know, I have this weird feeling that if I was able to go back now, back in time I don’t think I would have the courage to do that but at that time I was at a certain moment in my life where I wanted do try. You know, just take the risk. And telling my parents I was leaving, obviously, they kinda took it... You know. Their baby, their youngest son, wants to leave home and pursue his career. They didn’t really stop me because they knew I was really passionate.
And here we are, and everything is really great. So, let’s talk about Color Me. Which kind of song is it for you?
It means a lot. This song, I mean... I’ve worked on many songs, not mine, like even mine, and you know counting other artists’ songs as well I’ve written a lot of songs in my career. This one means a lot to me because... there are two reasons. The songs I’ve been singing in the previous past, obviously I love those songs, but Color Me is really different to me and feels like taking a really big step into a different genre, a different world, and it kinda feels like when I came here from Canada and taking a risk, you know? And honestly, I had known many songwriters that have worked with me, producers that have been working with me for a long time, and there are songwriters I write other songs with, you know for other artists, and I finally got a chance to get these people together and just make the best song possible and that’s what Color Me was, and that’s why it just means a lot to me. Because, you know, I always separate myself from JUNNY the artist and the songwriter, and from this song, it just branches out this new world having all of these people around me being able to describe what I want and it’s crazy.
And what would you like to make your listeners feel when they listen to Color Me?
First off I hope, I mean, my listeners can feel that “Oh, JUNNY can do this kind of genre as well”. And I want them to feel just my perks as a songwriter and bring it into my artistry and mixing all together without any awkwardness. Just naturally. I want them to feel that this can be a great song for the summer, and it’s very intimate as well and something that I have been able to tackle musically. I just hope they really enjoy it.
You did a duet with CHUNGA. How did the collab is born?
First of all, she was a sweetheart, she was very very nice. The songwriter who worked with me on this song has been working with me for a really long time, Minji, he’s a friend of mine as well and we have written a lot of songs together and happened to know CHUNGA for a very long time and when we finished up the demo, the rough version of this song, I wanted a feature and I wanted a female vocalist. I was just wondering who could she be, featuring this song, and she was like: you know? CHUNGA would be so amazing on this song and it just clicked on me “wow, it would be so amazing”. But I didn’t know how to contact her, and she was like “I got you”. (he laughs) And I sent her a song, and she helped me out. The whole process was so smooth, she was very sweet and when. we recorded together she brought her little dog. The dog is a celebrity you know? A scene-stealer (he laughs a lot) but I was still able to focus on the song. She’s a great singer, super humble, super-nice, and everything worked out really well.
You compose music for a lot of other artists and some of them are K-pop leading acts, how is it?
I was able to do that, you know, last year was a whole year full of songwriting for me. Obviously, when I go by the name JUNNY I have the responsibility to create my image as an artist, but last year was all about songwriting and making music. If I sing it or others sing it didn’t really matter. And just to be able to work with them and vocal direct them, seeing them really appreciate the songs for what it is, it just kept me humble and very thankful. The place I am now is just a privilege, you know? Not a lot of people are able to write songs for others like this so I know it’s something I should be very very very grateful for.
Do you have any fun behind the scenes from the collaborations? I don’t know, some artists you had really fun with...
Ah. Yeah, I have a bunch. There are a lot of interactions but the story I’d really like to talk about it is when I contributed on a song called Mmmh by KAI. I literally imagined like myself dancing like him and being able to look that great on stage and just imagine how and what kind of melody I should sing to, you know, look good. I was just constantly thinking about KAI, literally like “oh, how can he looks amazing while he’s singing this melody” and it worked out. They really like that. And that is one of the stories. Another funny story... there is a song called Sweet Dream by NCT 127 and I wrote that as well along with Minji and there is an opening sequence where - you know the song is called Sweet Dream and there is like a yawning part as an intro. I wasn’t there at the time of the recording but they told me that they literally hat all the members trying to yawn and I did it on the demo. And it’s obviously awkward, yeah? You know, being in the recording booth and “yawn” and they eventually went with my yawn and I found out when the song was released and I was like “this yawn is my yawn” and Minji told me: “yeah we couldn’t get the right yawn” (he laughs, a lot).
Ad who is next?
I would love to give you spoilers. I try just to make music first and see where it goes. I would love to work with as many as many people as possible. I’m just day by day, going through it. And hopefully, I could work with more artists in Korea or, yeah. Definitely, I have a lot in the works.
Which is the main difference between writing for others rather than for yourself?
Mh. Actually, this is one of the questions I really really try my best to answer but... Like I said, I literally imagined myself being KAI you know, those kinda things. Writing for other people is definitely so different, it’s something that... I got to do things that I’m not able to do as JUNNY. And just being able to imagine what to be like for them on stage to sing a song, I can imagine that a lot. And for me, when I write my own songs, I have the hardest time deciding what’s right or wrong. And I think that’s the biggest difference. I’m not saying that writing for others is easy, it’s obviously a very challenging aspect, but there are certain criteria, there is a certain box that I’m inside of this world and I’m able to play around but for me, for my songs, it’s endless possibility. So I’m always continuously asking me “is this right? Is this wrong?” and then I say “It doesn’t matter, this is you” and I think this is the biggest difference.
Color Me is a pre-release of your first full album, what should we expect?
I think a lot.
A lot. This album, I've been working on it for over a year now. Now I'm continuously talking about it but it has been in the work for a really long time. Color Me is just a little aspect of what this album has. As you can see through my discography I have a lot of diverse songs and I try to tackle all the genres. It's basically like a summarization of what my career has been so far, and then I wanted to create an album that contains all these songs that I have to write and release them in like a perfect little package. I think it's coming great and I'm really proud of what my team, my company and we can't wait for it to be released.
And then let's talk about OST. You wrote music for a lot of different dramas, how was your personal process creating them?
Usually, it's a very step-by-step process. First of all, I get the synopsis of what the drama would be, what's the mood, and which character is going to be acting during the song. I kinda want to feel for that character and imagine my world there. Obviously, I don't do this all alone, it's always with talented talented people that I surround myself with and they help me so much and give me ideas and inspiration to make music. Just the process is very fun. Kinda different from when I write just regular songs, with OST the lyrics have to be matching with the show and the mood. Usually, OSTs are very vocal-driven. And just being able to not just sing it but actually write it, it's privileged.
So you are coming to Europe soon...
Yes! And I'm so excited. I can't even express how excited I am. I mean, obviously with the whole Covid situation I wasn't able to perform not even in Korea, and going overseas and seeing actual fans that love my music and just being able to see them eye-to-eye and perform for them. It's so amazing. I wanna do really well, I don't want to disappoint them.
Have you ever been to Italy?
No! And I'd love to go. It's probably one of my top 5 places to go in Europe. I wanna go everywhere as much as we can.
If you could describe yourself, right now, with one word?
Wow, describe myself? Ah. With one word... I say. Just looking back, what I've been through and how I've been living... I think of myself as a white canva. And the reason why is because since I was a child I was never really stubborn, if you know what I meas. Not in a negative way, but you know peoeple that have general idea, a solid idea and what they go to that path and never look back. I was someone that always think about his choices, sway easily. I'm very easily influenced and I imagine myself as a white canva, grabbing information and inspiration and absorbing it and all those things put together just became me.