You’re in for a ride from the first whistle in NCT 127’s “Pilot.” The sixth song in a repackaged album that crossed a million sales before it even dropped in October last year, it could have been easily overshadowed by the K-pop boy band’s mega popular title tracks. Instead, it has taken on a life of its own—much memed, a concert highlight, and on heavy rotation on TikTok. Listen to it once and you’ll find yourself unconsciously singing it at the gym, in the shower, during a meeting—quick tempo shifts and all.
One of the people behind this earworm is JUNNY. The singer-songwriter has a knack for getting songs stuck in your head, writing and composing for some of K-pop’s biggest names: NCT, members of EXO, and singer IU, just to name a few.
Four years after leaving his hometown Vancouver and moving to Seoul, South Korea, JUNNY is ready for another big move: from behind the scenes into the spotlight. He already has his own hits, like the addictively mellow “Thank You” and “By My Side,” (each with over 22 million streams on Spotify) and his 2021 collaboration with GOT7’s Jay B, “Nostalgia.” But on Aug. 12, he finally released his first studio album blanc after months of preparation.
“I’ve written many songs but not for myself. This year I wanted to really focus on me,” he told VICE in a video call from Seoul. “I realized that I love being a songwriter but I really enjoy [being an artist]. This is the best thing ever to me.”
Now that it’s his name on the records, JUNNY sees the album as the first chapter in his career.
“I wanted to be as personal as possible. I wanted to describe what I’d been through, and who I am, and what I strive to be in the future,” he said.
That story starts with the ethereal first track “mercury,” a breathy two-minute song that abruptly ends—in a good way. It leaves you wanting more in a fade-out that continues into the next track’s intro. The album then goes back in time, all the way to when JUNNY was a freshman in high school falling in love for the first time. The trip down memory lane heightens by the third and title track, which was written after a bad case of writer’s block and an hours-long conversation between JUNNY and his producer about his life back in Canada.
“It was more like a therapy session and I’m just talking about my life. And then [my producer] pauses and says: ‘You know what you just talked about there? That’s the song that we need to write today.”
In 30 minutes, they had “Not About You,” a retort to an ex made cheeky (instead of mean) by an addictively synthy hook.
“That’s the beauty of writing songs. It can take forever, it can take weeks or months, or it can just take five minutes. It won’t matter,” JUNNY said.
Music has consistently been a part of JUNNY’s life, from his first live performance of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” during a Christmas recital at 8 years old, to learning how to play guitar and writing songs in high school, and then finally choosing to study music in college. But it was only after some of his songs went viral on SoundCloud that he got the confidence to move to South Korea when he was 22 to try and make it in the country’s now-globally popular music industry. It was his first time living alone and working in a small, empty studio writing six hours a day.
“I just had to get the hell out of there,” JUNNY recalled. “So, I worked really hard.”
A big break came during his second songcamp with K-pop giant SM Entertainment, where he worked with well-known composer Park Geun-tae and songwriter minGtion on the song “Made In You” performed by EXO leader Suho.
JUNNY said that a piece of himself is in every song he works on, even in projects like this where he worked with an idol, a team of writers, and a large entertainment company.
For instance, the R&B ballad “From Home” is performed by members of NCT in a mix of their native languages (Mandarin, Japanese, English, Korean), but seems to draw from JUNNY’s musical influences (Usher, Ne-Yo) and own experiences of leaving home.
“That was one of the most personal songs ever because it relates to the members that came to Korea [from] overseas… I’m just like them, you know, having to adjust to a new country and being in a different culture,” JUNNY said.
With blanc, he’s sharing even more of himself. JUNNY kicks off his first North American tour in September, visiting various cities including Los Angeles, New York, and of course, Vancouver. It’s not just a homecoming, it’s a dream fulfilled.
“I made the decision to focus on my own artistry. That’s the main reason why I came to Korea in the first place,” JUNNY said. “This is what I want and that’s what’s most important to me.”