‘Eenie Meenie,’ New Music, ATEEZ Collab

March 11, 2024
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It’s dinner time in South Korea when Chung Ha pops up for a Zoom interview at her management company’s Seoul office. Dressed casually in a white T-shirt and a cozy beige hoodie, she’s eager to discuss her new two-song digital single album, EENIE MEENIE, released earlier this morning. But first, she apologizes for her English-language skills, which are actually flawless — right down to the nondescript accent that makes it difficult to identify where she’s from.

“I grew up in Korea and the United States,” Chung Ha, 28, tells Rolling Stone. “I was born in Korea, went from kindergarten to second grade in the U.S., and then I came back to Korea for second to fourth grade, before returning to the U.S. from fifth grade to eighth grade, and then back to Seoul to become a [K-pop] trainee.”

This upbringing meant that she became bilingual at a young age. But perhaps even more importantly for her future career, Annie Kim — as she was known to her classmates in Texas — was immersed in different genres of music that would influence the songs she would write.

“Growing up with both cultures really helped me expand my musical tastes,” she says. “Whenever I was in the States, I listened to hip-hop, country, and pop, too. And then when I was in Korea, I listened to trot (which is an older style of Korean pop music), ballads, and of course K-pop. I got to the point where I was like, ‘Hmmm, I want to try it all.’”

With EENIE MEENIE, Chung Ha says she’s eager to show that musical duality to her fandom, HAART (a portmanteau of her name and the word “start”). “I’m Ready” is a gift for fans who loved the searing vocals showcased on her earlier songs “Dream of You” and “Stay Tonight.” But in the accompanying music video, she adds in a new twist: Her bold vocals are complemented by waacking, a 1970s dance style that was popularized in Los Angeles’ gay clubs.

“This is my first time waacking [in a video],” she says. “Of course I’ve vogued before. But this time, I wanted to do something that I hope will surprise my fans a little.” 

Which leads to “EENIE MEENIE,” a bass-heavy collaboration with ATEEZ rapper Hongjoong. The song’s title may lead listeners to believe they’re going to hear a simple nursery rhyme, but the lyrics reflect on exploring options rather than settling for the obvious. (“Not sure what to choose?/You can pick anything/Trust your heart and make your move.”) Chung Ha sings in a lower register than she was initially comfortable with, which adds a sexy and mysterious tone to the title track.

While Chung Ha has collaborated previously with artists like Danish singer Christopher and Puerto Rican rapper Guaynaa, joining forces with Hongjoong was what she needed to get out of her comfort zone, she says.  

“Hongjoong has a very cool vibe and his rapping skills are crazy,” she says. “He elevated this whole track. For me, I had a lot of melodious songs in the past where I just sang. I had never recorded in a low tone before for my title tracks. They were always sparkly and bright. But for this one, I had to sing and rap and also whisper. This time, it’s more serious. It was really challenging, tricky, and fun.”

Chung Ha’s career began in 2016, when she competed on the debut season of the reality variety series Produce 101. She was selected from a pool of 101 young trainees from 46 different entertainment companies to be a part of the short-term group I.O.I. After the 11-member girl group disbanded the following year — as per the conceit of the show at the time — the artist says she opted to go the solo route and test her own abilities. 

She had a successful run, winning first place on the Korean music program Show Champion, appearing as a featured singer on Ravi’s single “Live,” singing on the soundtracks of the popular K-dramas Dr. Romantic 2 and Record of Youth, and getting cast on the reality series Law of the Jungle in Wild Korea (a Survivor-like show with Korean celebrities). In 2021, Chung Ha released her first full-length solo album Querencia, which made year-end best-of lists from several publications, and earning a Song You Need to Know rave from Rolling Stone for the Spanish-language version of “Demente.”

“Demente” tied into her desire to learn more about different cultures. So when she took a one-and-a-half-year hiatus before her current comeback, Chung Ha contemplated going back to school to study psychology — which would also tap into her desires to better maintain her own mental health — and to expand on her foreign-language skills.

“I really want to be more engaged with my Spanish-speaking fans in the same way that I am with my Korean and English-speaking fans,” she says. “I feel like the language that most of my fans speak after English is Spanish.”

While she’s aware that some fans worried that her career break would be permanent, Chung Ha says that was never her intention. 

“I knew that I had to have a comeback eventually, because I had promised my fans that I would,” she says. “This is what I love to do. And the timing worked out, because then Jay started calling.”

She is referring to former 2PM member Jay Park — a solo artist and K-pop idol himself — who knew she hadn’t renewed with her previous management company and wanted her to sign with his boutique label, MORE VISION. 

Asked why he was so interested in wooing Chung Ha, Park tells Rolling Stone, “Chung Ha’s versatility and potential add an extra layer of excitement to her presence in our roster. She undoubtedly stands out as one of the best performers, and we believe in her ability to captivate audiences across various styles. I’m confident that her journey with MORE VISION will be nothing short of remarkable.”

One of the advantages of having a K-pop star as your boss is that he understands what you’re going through as an artist, she says. Chung Ha says that she and Park — who was born and raised in Washington state — speak comfortably with each other, often in Konglish (a combination of Korean and English loan words).  

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As our interview winds down, I ask Chung Ha what she would tell her adolescent self, who wasn’t sure what country she would be living in as an adult, much less what her career would be.

“I don’t think I was ever lazy, but I would tell little Chung Ha to be fearless,” she says, laughing. “She was scared of everything and worried about so many things. But because she was worried, I think she tried even harder. So I don’t want to comfort her too much. But I want to assure her that she has and will have great people around her.”Pondering the question a little more, Chung Ha adds, “Oh! I want to tell her to study English more, because she will have a lot of English interviews coming up in her future.”



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