“Sometimes I have to tell myself, ‘It’s just a job.'”

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“Sometimes I have to tell myself, ‘It’s just a job.'”

Lovelyz were never hugely popular—at least not in the way that newer acts like IVE and NewJeans dominate the airwaves today—but they certainly had a solid foothold in the K-pop industry. Over the course of seven years, the eight-piece group released reams of records, spawning hits like “Ah-Choo” and Destiny, and built a devoted fanbase through their vocal prowess, sassy girl-next-door concepts, and overall pristine reputation.

This all came to an end in 2021 when seven of its members chose to leave their longtime label Woollim Entertainment. Although Lovelyz has parted ways – but perhaps not disbanded, at least not in the “official” sense of the word – with all its members focusing on solo careers, its apparent former lead vocalist Ryu Su-jeong still has a lot of affection for your old life.

“That was almost 10 years ago and at that time talking about mental health wasn’t as common as it is now.”

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back now, it was just a very beautiful experience,” says the 25-year-old NME over South Korea’s Zoom, visibly softening when talking about her former bandmates. “I love that I went through this experience with them, being performers together.”

Su-jeong has certainly come a long way since her debut in 2014, when she was about to turn 17. Last year, she started her own independent label called House of Dreams, and just recently released her first full-length album, ‘Archive of Emotions’ – an intimate, lo-fi look at her new era. Ahead of her first solo gig this weekend, she talks about the journey that got her here.

Ryu Su-jong. Credit: Dream House

Inspired by groups like Girls’ Generation and Wonder Girls, Su-jeong has been aiming for fame since she was in middle school. After two years of auditioning for various agencies, she finally joined Woollim Entertainment in 2012. “There were about seventeen of us when we started,” she recalls. “We had a sort of survival competition every month, and two years later, only eight of us actually debuted.”

“Looking back, the training was rigorous, but it kept us focused on our activities,” reflects Su-jeong, whose grueling training schedule averages 12 hours a day. Life after their debut was just as demanding, Su-jeong adds, gesturing animatedly as he describes a typical cycle: “We were promoting one album, and it was hectic, and we’d also be working on the next album at the same time.”

Despite their busy schedules and intense pressure to succeed, the members of Lovelyz received little mental health support. “That was almost 10 years ago, and at that time talking about mental health wasn’t as common as it is now,” explains Su-jong, who credits her resilience at the time to her sense of ambition and the support of her family.

“Celebrity is such a public thing and people have so much access to me that sometimes I have to say to myself, ‘It’s just a job.’

“My parents are music enthusiasts and my mother is a great singer,” she beams. “They lived far away, so I could only see them on major holidays.” Interns were not allowed to have phones and their bags were regularly searched to make sure they followed the rule. “They dumped all my stuff on a tray, like they do at airports,” Soo-jong recalls, even laughing at the thought. However, unfazed by the close surveillance, she sometimes slipped away to use the public telephones to speak to her parents. “It was like Mission Impossible.”

Although she is now somewhat removed from the harsh idol life, parts of it, for better or worse, have stayed with Su-jeong. She recalls how she and her fellow Lovelyz members were given ‘desired’ target weights – hers was 47kg – and weighed regularly to make sure they were within the range. Every visit to the convenience store was monitored and every purchase verified. “It affects different people differently,” she begins, clearly hesitant. “Some people performed perfectly well, but I binged after I left my role as an idol.”

“I think things have gotten better in the last decade in terms of giving artists personal space,” she says, reflecting on how the industry is slowly moving toward giving K-pop idols more personal freedoms and mental health support. “I’m glad to see my juniors have more freedom.”

ryu su-jeong lovelyz
Ryu Su-jong. Credit: Dream House

During her time in the industry, she also had a hard time separating her public life from her private life. Although Lovelyz fans were largely respectful of the members’ personal lives (unfortunately a rare occurrence for many K-pop fans), Su-jeong shared that there were times when she had to remind herself that it doesn’t define her completely. “Celebrity is such a public thing and people have so much access to me that sometimes I have to say to myself, ‘It’s just a job.’

Lately, it definitely seems like Su-jeong has rediscovered her joy in being a musician. “We’re living in a non-fantasy / We’re just living in reality,” she sings “Non-Fantasy,” her current favorite track from “Archive of Emotions,” her first solo release as an independent artist. “I was involved in writing and composing all the songs on the album, so my favorite song changes all the time,” she laughs.

In a way, Archive of Emotions is a celebration of years spent in the industry. The album’s intimate, mellow concept is quite a contrast to the girl-next-door songs that Lovelyz excelled at during their heyday. “At the time, the innocent image suited our members very well,” she says. “It’s not like I never had thoughts of my own [about the music we were releasing]but I was very focused on the band.”

“In a group, it’s not good to have personal creative ideas, because if you let one person do it and the other person can’t do it, they can feel limited or insecure.” She attributes this group focus to strengthening their relationship with each other over the years, adding that she knew she would one day be able to truly express herself in her own words.

“[This] the project was so deeply personal to me. I wanted to talk about things that could resonate with people my age,” Su-jong adds. “I don’t think much has changed from Lovelyz’s Su-jeong until now. But I know that on this album I am completely myself.”

Ryu Su-jeong’s new album ‘Archive of Emotions’ is out now

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