Yuju on her rebirth as a soloist: “Obviously, I’m really worried about doing this alone”

The ex-GFRIEND vocalist opens up to NME about her former bandmates, collaborating with rapper Mad Clown and making “new memories”

Long hailed as one of the strongest vocalists in the K-pop industry, for her mesmerising voice and gentle yet commanding stage presence, a solo career was always on the cards for GFRIEND’s main vocalist, Yuju – we just didn’t realise how soon it would actually come. After over half a decade as part of the beloved girl group, GFRIEND would regrettably and abruptly disband in May 2021 under still-unexplained circumstances

But Yuju wasted no time in the aftermath, quickly securing an exclusive contract with the Kang Daniel-founded KONNECT Entertainment – a company that’s quickly shaping up to be a powerhouse in the industry, with former 2NE1 star CL and hitmaker Chancellor also under its roster. The idol then dived headfirst into her now-released debut solo mini-album ‘REC.’, earnestly penning and producing the majority of the project’s five tracks.

Shortly before NME’s conversation with the gifted musician, the former members of GFRIEND had taken to social media to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the group’s debut, mere days before Yuju was set to embark on her own musical journey. “This whole time, as I was preparing for this album, my members have given me a lot of encouragement,” Yuju says.

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“I think I’m going to miss them a little more once I start my [solo] promotional activities,” Yuju adds with a warm smile, sharing that her former bandmates have been a steady pillar of support while she was working on ‘REC.’ and preparing to make her solo debut. “But they’ve always been with me, and will continue to be with me, so we’re looking forward [to this release] together.”

Despite her years of experience as a performer, Yuju confesses that the idea of going solo is still very daunting. “Obviously, I’m really worried about doing this alone. Before, I always had my members with me, but now I have to do everything by myself,” she notes, adding that the thought of standing alone on stage was “difficult and scary”.

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Yuju. Credit: KONNECT Entertainment

Yet, underneath all that anxiety is a palpable feeling of bubbling joy and anticipation from Yuju – of putting out new music into the world, of what’s to come, of all the possibilities – who has faith in all the work she has put into ‘REC.’. “I’ve spent such a long time preparing for this mini-album, so I’m trying my best to look forward to it and see where it goes,” she says. “I’m so excited to have this fresh, new start with my very own album and songs.”

“My goal is actually very simple,” Yuju tells us, when asked about her hopes for her solo career. “Just like how I’m releasing this debut mini-album now, with each future project, I want to move forward with the same mindset and spirit that I have had from the start.” This mindset of growth shines through in ‘REC.’, which she has meticulously crafted with dedication and great care, while introducing more mature, sensual elements to her sound.

“This game was meaningless / I am so exhausted and tired / Take off the last leaf and fly away, so long,” she sings mournfully on the bridge of her debut solo single ‘Play’, layered with a deep, tragic sense of pain and heartache – unlike anything her former girl group had ever put out.

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“The word ‘놀이’, ‘Play’, itself usually has a very fun and light meaning. But on the other hand, in terms of interpersonal relationships, it can also have a hollow and empty connotation,” explains the singer, explaining that the frivolity of “play”, when applied to romance or friendships, can incite emotions that are much more heart-breaking and poignant. “‘Play’ is a song with this sort of dual meaning as its main point,” the musician tells NME.

Yuju goes on to recount her experience working on the record, revealing that she had not expected to become so deeply involved in its production. “At first, I didn’t really go into it thinking I had to ‘touch’ every single song [on the mini-album],” she admits. “It just came to me really naturally.”

“I’d started with just one or two songs, then it became three and four, and so on,” explains the idol, sharing that her A&R team had also encouraged her to venture further into the world of writing and composing. ‘REC.’ also notably includes a collaboration with South Korean rapper Mad Clown on the track ‘Cold Winter’, which Yuju informs us she had written over three years ago, during her GFRIEND days.

“This whole time, I had thought that if I were to release this song someday, I’d definitely want to work on it with a rapper,” she reveals of the pensive, laid-back offering. “I had worked with Mad Clown many years ago, and at that time, I thought we had really good chemistry,” explains Yuju. The collaboration in question was a 2016 performance of the rapper’s single ‘Fire’ at the fifth Gaon Chart Music Awards during which the singer had only been 18-years-old. “So, I decided to work with him [on ‘Cold Winter’] and we ended up having a really great time.”

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Yuju. Credit: KONNECT Entertainment

While recalling the past, Yuju inevitably reflected on her short-lived girl group days, looking back on it with a sort of earnest wistfulness. “I’m going to share a little episode with you: I really felt the difference when I was getting into the car alone,” Yuju says.

“It’s been such a long time since I’ve sat in a car by myself,” she explains with a laugh. “Every time I got into the car with my members, it was always so noisy and everyone would be talking and scrambling [to get on] – but this time, it was so quiet and calm.” While the bond between the former members of GFRIEND evidently remains stronger than ever, this is bittersweet to hear, as if being reminded of deeply cherished but long gone childhood memories.

But, perhaps, this “quiet and calm” is exactly what Yuju needs as she sets out on this new chapter of her life and career. “I am so thankful to all of you who have waited such a long time for my album to come out,” she says, addressing her fans directly as we wrap up our chat. “I hope we can all enjoy this release together, and make some new memories.”

Yuju’s debut mini-album ‘REC.’ is out now.

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