Seulgi of Red Velvet on Exploring Her Dark Side As a Solo Artist

Seulgi-of-Red-Velvet - Credit: SM Entertainment
Seulgi-of-Red-Velvet - Credit: SM Entertainment

Seulgi has spent the last eight years as a member of SM Entertainment’s five-piece girl group Red Velvet, known for their fun and upbeat songs that are often innovative and genre-bending. She’s a standout star, with a unique and soothing voice, and she’s been featured on tracks by a wide range of other artists, along with becoming part of Red Velvet’s first sub-unit, Irene & Seulgi, and the SM Entertainment supergroup Got the Beat (alongside bandmate Wendy). Seulgi is often regarded as an all-rounder artist because of her talent, creativity, and artistry in multiple realms — and now, she’s ready to take on the spotlight with her first solo album, 28 Reasons.

She announced 28 Reasons with an album trailer that seems like a Hollywood film at first glance; the songs on the album take on some serious themes of good and evil, influenced by films like Joker. “I worked hard to immerse myself, more than I have before. I think it’s deep and profound,” Seulgi says with a laugh.

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Seulgi spoke in depth about the creation process of her first solo album (which includes a song she wrote herself for the first time) and what it means to her.

We’ve seen different sides of you as part of Red Velvet, as part of sub-unit Irene and Seulgi, and as a featured artist on songs throughout the years — but this is a true solo project. What was the biggest difference you felt while working on your own?

The biggest difference was having to sing a whole song alone. All of the focus is on me. It felt really awkward at first — I felt uneasy and did a lot of re-recording. Even when filming, I kept thinking to myself, “Is this right?” But I was able to overcome that feeling because everyone around me worked hard with me.

Another difference is that when the five of us are together in a waiting room, it’s always loud and fun, so when I’m alone, it feels lonely. I also feel a stronger sense of responsibility. I’ve been taking vitamins to make sure I’m in a good condition each day [laughs.] I’ve been focusing a lot on my condition.

Was there a specific moment that made you decide to go solo at this moment in time?

I think it’s a common dream to want to have your own album. As for timing, I felt like this was the perfect moment. With experience, you gain the ability to be more relaxed, and a better album can be produced, so I’m really thankful that I was able to work on 28 Reasons at this moment in time.

For a long time, I’ve been thinking of when I’d put out a solo album, and been thinking of different dance genres… You never know what type of song you’ll end up working on. Up to this point, I’ve been trying out different music styles and dance techniques because of that.

There wasn’t a specific moment per se, but a dream I’ve held close to heart has now become a reality.

You’ve mentioned in your recent Art Work Drawing video that with this album, you were able to truly do what you wanted to do with more autonomy. What in particular were you able to achieve?

First off, I got to participate a lot. I think that has to be what I liked most. When working on Red Velvet, there are specific concepts that fit the group, and it’s harder to cater to individual opinions. With this album, since it’s my own album, I can do what I’m interested in and what I’m good at, and my opinions were really taken into account. I participated in every meeting and was involved in choosing the direction for the album, from the artwork to lyrics, for the choreography and song selection too, I was asked for my opinion along the way.

In 28 Reasons, there’s a clear theme of good and evil. How did you land on this theme?

My fans have said that I have a big difference on and off stage. I think through that, we naturally came to the theme of good and evil. I have other images inside of me that I want to show, and I think as plain Kang Seulgi, I’ve shown a lot of my good side, so through music, I can show more of a darker side. And I thought I could show those sides in a fun way.

You’re credited as a lyricist for the first time, having written the lyrics for “Dead Man Runnin’.” How did you approach the writing process?

I started by paying a lot of attention to the vibes of the song. The first feeling I had listening to it, the image in my head. It was a song that makes you feel like a villain will appear. How will the villain appear? I made up that narrative and thought of someone who would want to destroy the world. These are thoughts we don’t normally have, right? I got a lot of help from films — Joker, in particular. He was hurt and abused before he turned into a villain. When you hear the song, I think those emotions come to the surface.

I heard it can be quite tough to get approval on lyrics or production overall at SM, but your lyrics made it through a blind test. How did that feel?

I was so surprised. I didn’t think it was going to happen. There are so many talented people, and my vocabulary is more limited… I felt like there was a limit [laughs]. I thought to myself, “This is not easy.”

In the beginning, I lacked confidence, but people around me encouraged me to keep trying to the end and said it was good at the first check-in. “I wrote this much. What do you think?” “It’s really good, keep writing!” From feedback like that, I got the strength to complete the song and turned it in.

My lyrics ended up getting selected with the feedback that there was a clear image to the song. It made me think to myself, “Maybe I can do this again in the future?” [Laughs.] The entire process was more fun than I had thought. Trying to think of lyrics… Participating like that is so meaningful. With this start, I wonder if I can participate more in the future too.

Was there any feedback or advice that stuck with you while preparing?

I had some difficulties when recording. It was my first time trying to sing six songs in full. When recording for Red Velvet, our five voices come out one by one and can be more interesting to listen to, and each voice seems special. Singing alone, certain parts just felt awkward to me. I confided in our producer Yoo Young-Jin, and his advice was to switch up my singing techniques throughout recording. He told me, “It’s possible for a song recorded by one person to feel boring, so you have to challenge yourself in a variety of ways. Try yelling, try making weird noises.” I think from a vocal perspective, Yoo Young-Jin alleviated a lot of my concerns. I tend to sing softly, but these songs are not those types of songs, so his advice really helped me.

From vocals to dancing, art and fashion, you have a strong sense of style and charisma. Where do you get your daily inspiration from?

On a daily basis… I get a lot of inspiration from films. Photos, too. From those types of works. I think of things that could be used for our albums.

Do you tend to bookmark and save those ideas?

Yes, I think it’s fun to find those pieces. Even for my members, I’ll save things that I think would look good on specific members. I’ll save different hairstyles or makeup looks that I want to try. While saving them, I think of what we can add to them, too.

Have your members heard your album yet? Which songs did they like?

Everyone had a different reaction. There’s a song called “Bad Boy Sad Girl” that Be’O features in. I think a lot of people will like that song.

Oh! I really liked that one.

You’ve heard it? I think it’s the most lovely song on the album.

You’re right.

[Laughs.] I think because of that, it feels like a breath of fresh air, and it catches your attention pretty quickly, so my members liked that one too. Wendy reacted really well to “Dead Man Runnin'” too — she really liked that song. Overall, they said that the songs matched me well, which gave me more confidence to take on this round of solo promotions.

What do you want fans to focus on and notice about this era of Seulgi?

I want fans to think, “What is she trying to portray and deliver?” … The entire concept is… since I’m portraying good and evil… I feel like it’s becoming philosophical. I hope it’s entertaining to watch.

From seeing the initial reactions from fans, it seems like they’re already thinking that way.

Yes, you’re right. Like “Why is she making that expression?” [Laughs.] Questions like that. That’s what I intended!

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