So!YoON! on new album ‘Episode1: Love’: “I knew that gender shouldn’t hold importance when representing love”

The SE SO NEON frontwoman also opens up to NME about her friendship with BTS’ RM and portraying same-sex passion in her music video for ‘Bad’

An “animalistic” evolution, that’s how South Korean musician So!YoON! describes her sophomore studio album ‘Episode1: Love’. Outwardly, it’s an exploration of love and desire, but the SE SO NEON frontwoman uses it as a way of self-reflection, turning self-observed traits into six individuals telling their own stories – as represented by the singer on the album’s cover art.

“In the beginning, I didn’t limit myself to six characters, since the album has 11 tracks. But as I visualised the characteristics of each track, I naturally came to imagine these six characters and how they behaved and communicated,” So!YoON! tells NME over Zoom from Seoul. Through the voice of these personas, the singer traverses various forms of passion, from giving in to a possessive partner, to a hedonistic one-night-stand, to the paralysing fear of opening one’s heart to another.

At the album’s core, however, is its lead single ‘Smoke Sprite’. A sensual and psychedelic collaboration with BTS rapper RM, the song paints a vivid image of lovers desperately calling out to one another in the gap between dream and reality. “Take on my knees / Stuck with you in your dreams / Tell me more, I could die / Take on like a beast,” So!YoON! cries out over a grainy wash of grungy guitars, as the lines between fiction and real life start to blur. What’s left behind is desire – the thread that ties the record together – at its most raw. With a song this sonically and lyrically harmonious, it’s surprising to learn that the pair did not begin working on ‘Smoke Sprite’ with a concept already in place.


“We first met last summer, when he was preparing to release his solo album ‘Indigo’,” the singer recalls. “I was working on my album too, so we were just in the studio, sharing demos and tracks with each other, when we listened to ‘Smoke Sprite’ together. In the beginning, there were no themes or lyrics. Like our friendship, the whole process of collaborating was very natural, and we built [the track] together. Writing the lyrics didn’t take up much time.”

“I wasn’t particularly focused on it being a same-sex relationship, [but] I knew that gender shouldn’t hold importance when representing love”

But from that one song came a blossoming friendship, as the pair spent much of their time “just communicating and getting to know one another”, So!YoON! says, noting how she has learned a lot from how supportive RM has been throughout the entire process. “In this industry, it’s difficult to find support from other artists since everyone’s busy working on their own projects, and being open with another person isn’t always easy to begin with. He was able to support and believe in me during times I had doubts on the project,” she says. “Those words of affirmation can help another person a lot. I want to do it with the utmost sincerity.”

The ideas behind each song – which the singer often refers to as “seeds” – had wildly different roots. Some, like ‘Bad’, were made during jam sessions she says, recounting fond memories of recording the song with her friends in the US. “Some are remakes of another track and another purely started out with a simple voice note melody. I had a lot of demos I worked on in the past year and a half, but I really wanted to go with tracks I was naturally attracted to, so I didn’t think about the album’s overall genre and packaging.”

Credit: Magic Strawberry Sound

Being able to touch someone though mere words alone is important for So!YoON!, that much is easy to see, but her storytelling is more all-encompassing than that. Everything, from visual direction to fashion, begins taking root at the mere thought of a new song. “While making music, I usually also start coming up with how it could also be portrayed visually, and how it would be shown to an audience,” the musician says, adding that visualing these areas from an early stage often helps to build the song itself.

“In particular, this album is very raw and sensual, so it was very important to maintain that level of natural-ness. But if you listen to the tracks without the music videos, they’re very analogue and vintage,” she says, which led her to more abstract, contemporary choices for the accompanying visuals. “I thought to balance [the music] out with experimental modern elements and make it weird – in a good way.”

“I want to constantly have an open mind, and never lose myself in one area”

Take the music video for ‘Bad’, a song about relationships that are “difficult to label as love”. The track is told through the eyes of someone lonely and depressed, boxed into a dull, stagnant world with nowhere to turn to except a paramour who conflates passion with possession. The singer’s languid vocals creep over still shots of tree roots and people posing as statues for most of the video, save for scenes where she and a lover share a passionate kiss inside a glass box. “I’ve been doing bad,” she confesses in the chorus. “But tell me where you at,” she sighs right after, surrendering herself to the woman who is both her salvation and ruin.

When asked about her decision to portray a same-sex relationship in the clip, So!YoON! lets out a thoughtful hum before responding: “You mean, why I kissed a girl? [laughs] There are many shapes and forms of love, and I just wanted to best visualise it. I wasn’t particularly focused on it being a same-sex relationship, [but] I knew that gender shouldn’t hold importance when representing love.”


Although the music video is an exploration of human emotion above all else, So!YoON! shares that she did think of how her vision would be received. “I don’t worry too much about these types of things, but I did think it might be difficult to talk about for others,” she says. “But surprisingly, the backlash wasn’t as much as I had imagined. Maybe the world is changing and heading towards a better direction.”

As its name suggests, the new record is just one episode from the current season of the singer’s life. “I like how, whenever I’m on Netflix, there’s always a short description of each episode for every show. I think as musicians, everyone would have their own seasons as well, and thought it would be fun to create episodes within that,” she explains.

“I’m a rock-based artist, but I’m also a big fan of electronic music. So, in episode two, I think I will actively be using more electronic instruments. I also want to use my vocals more freely, in a more sonic way,” the musician says. While episode one focuses on love, So!YoON! has yet to decide on a theme for its follow-up. However, she adds that balance has been an important theme in her life as of late.

“I enjoy thinking about the balance between being rational and using my instincts. I like to balance these two things out in everything I do,” she shares. “Learning not to be too constricted, too. I want to constantly have an open mind, and never lose myself in one area. I hope to live like this on a daily basis, and that it reflects in my work, my music.”


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