Interview: SOMI Talks “What You Waiting For” & Debut Album
SOMI is one of the most exciting newcomers in K-Pop. The 19-year-old, who first came to fame by winning a South Korean singing competition called Produce 101, dropped her debut single last year. “BIRTHDAY” racked up more than 50 million global streams — catching the attention of Interscope Records in the process. Her first release with the label, “What You Waiting For,” arrived in late July and is already a massive streaming success. The song’s bilingual lyrics make it stand out, while the catchy chorus is undeniable.
I recently asked the breakout star about her US debut. SOMI spoke about the inspiration for “What You Waiting For” and revealed that she is currently working on an album. The talented teenager also talked about her experiences on Produce 101 and her stint in a girl group called I.O.I.. Other topics of conversation included promoting music during a global pandemic, staying positive in quarantine and her deep pride in the achievements of our K-Pop artists. Get to know SOMI a little better in our Q&A below.
“What You Waiting For” is so feisty and upbeat. What inspired the song?
This song came from happiness and good vibes. We were working on this song with a lot of positive energy. So maybe that led us to having an upbeat, feisty song. I don’t think there was a specific inspiration for the song. But it might be the late night tacos and chicken wings that we were waiting for.
The track is a mix of English and Korean. Is that reflective of your sound in general?
I try to mix a lot of English into my songs. I think that might be my specialty because I am bi-racial. I want my fans overseas to listen to and understand my music, but I also want my fans in Korea to enjoy listening to music that has a western Pop influence to it. My goal is to have both Korean and fans overseas united, and listening to my music. I think I will continue to mix languages in my music as I continue to express myself.
Are you working on an EP or album?
Yes! We are working on an album. We have been bouncing ideas around. I expect to move forward with that project very soon. I can’t wait to get started.
What is it like promoting during a global pandemic? How have you adapted?
It’s challenging to be honest. I do want to travel to other countries to meet my fans in person, but for now we will have to do this online. I am still very grateful to be interviewed and connect online with my fans, but I just wish everyone to be safe and healthy.
How are you staying mentally positive during quarantine?
I try to come up with new ideas for the album. I try to come up with melodies. Self quarantine and social distancing is giving me time to think about myself, and how better to be a human being. I’m doing a lot of work from home, and doing 10 min ab workout routines lately. Also getting time to spend with my family at home.
What was the biggest lesson you learned on Produce 101?
Stage experience for sure. I went on stage a lot. I performed in front of a lot of people under pressure. During that time I was a trainee. For me to be on stage was like a dream come true. So for me, performing on stage then was an unforgettable point in my life. And to be a little more honest, I think Produce 101 taught me life lessons.
Do you have fond memories of your time in I.O.I.?
Of course. I miss those days. We used to order late night deep fried chicken all the time. We used to go shopping together too. Being up on stage with I.O.I., I felt powerful. I felt confident and energized being up on stage with them. It was always fun. It was like living with a bunch of sisters.
Who are your biggest influences as a solo artist?
I grew up listening to Cyndi Lauper and Rihanna. Cyndi lauper is my biggest influence. I want to sing with my voice, have my own style and set trends like she did. Having the coolest hairstyle and fashion – Just like her music.
Is the US market a priority for you moving forward?
The word, ‘US market’ kinda feels OFFICIAL to me. I just want to have the chance to explore and to expand my music and have a lot of people get to know K-Pop and SOMI’s music. I feel blessed to be signed with Interscope. I have this chance to expand my music and reach, and I’m going to do that by writing more and finding the best fit with music that represents me.
How do you explain the massive — and growing — popularity of K-Pop around the world?
I am very proud of this because in Korea, we all start as being trainees. The amount and time of being a trainee might be different depending on the traineeship, but it is also very difficult to even become one in the first place. I trained for two and a half years. It is very challenging being a trainee, not knowing when or if my dreams will come true.
Once you become slotted for a group as a singer, you practice everyday for that one song. We practice for hours and hours until it’s perfect. It is a very, very long, arduous progress. Seeing K-Pop grow in popularity around the world makes me proud of the efforts of every K-Pop artist, because it finally feels like we are getting rewarded for all the difficult times.