On K-pop artist Lim Kim's new album GENERASIAN there is no hidden meaning amongst the music. There's no subtlety to her message — and that's exactly the point. With lyrics like, "Asian girls sing like me / They singin' like a queen" and "See who's the fucking queen / We Yellow," the 25-year-old enthusiastically turns her back on the mainstream K-pop industry, its big money and its factory-produced sound. Instead of lyrical metaphors she uses her words as battle cries, exploring and centring her identity as an Asian woman.
Originally rising to fame in 2011 from one of Korea's biggest television singing contests, Superstar K3, she captivated fans with her dreamy voice and calm image, mostly singing love songs. She then left her prominent label Mystic Story in 2016 and began creating her albums independently. Her hip-pop style single, SAL-KI, released in May marked the beginning of a new direction for Lim Kim. Some people described the change as a revolution in K-pop. Others were shocked by the aggressive lyrics. Some applauded her for her courage and others lamented the move away from her earlier sound and style. But none of that bothers Lim Kim and her new album is a declaration that she is going to be herself. Coinciding with its release today i-D spoke to Lim Kim about her independent K-pop revolution.
Junhyup Kwon: Is there a message you wanted to deliver through this new album?
Lim Kim: I wanted to show that people are okay with doing what they love. Our society always requires a precedent otherwise they dismiss it as wrong. And I also hope to show K-pop and Asian music's diversity with the fact that there are many colourful artists here. This was the key message I wanted to deliver. Many were surprised because I changed my genre, but what I wanted to highlight is not the genre, but the message.
The album focuses a lot on your identity as an Asian woman, why did you want to centre that?
People all around the world recently talked about the importance of diversity. But as an Asian, I feel that we are being excluded in the discussion. When I lived abroad, travelled, or listened to music, I thought there were not enough Asian role models, especially in the music industry. I didn't understand why there was still discrimination and I felt the need to speak out publicly that we have many wonderful artists in Asia.
When it comes to my identity as a woman, I started thinking about it ever since I debuted in the industry. There is a clear image of what a female singer should be in K-pop. What people care about is the appearance. I was uncomfortable with that at some point. I felt that I was locked up in a small box that prioritises being a good-looking performer above all else and as if I should live in that box forever.
Would you say your dramatic change was for your own happiness then?
Rather than being happy, I think it was just natural. I was taking being myself for granted. I need to live as I am because I can only be just me. I don't understand why our society says we shouldn't be ourselves. I also believe that there must be a bigger happiness beyond being myself. But it will come to us when we live as we are. Being true to yourself is the necessary ingredient.
Some fans were shocked by the change and missed the dreamy voice you were known for previously.
I haven't been shaken by this because I can always sing a song with different voices. I don't stick to an aggressive nor a dreamy concept. Everything depends on what I want to express at each moment. I will not finish my career with this one album. That's why I am open to diverse concepts, genres, and styles. I won't be swayed by others.
Besides, the dreamy voice is not my natural voice, like how I speak. I need to put in extra effort to make that voice. I think our voices are a musical instrument — so the sound can range from thick, thin, soft, aggressive, or dreamy.
To make your new album you raised money via crowdfunding, which is very uncommon in K-pop. Why did you choose that path?
There are two reasons. First of all, I thought it would be fun if we could show people that we have a different way of raising money without getting help from big companies. I wanted to prove that there is not only one right answer. Secondly, we also realistically need money to release the album because labels rarely understand the music I like to make. I thought that I could raise money and share my thoughts and beliefs at the same time.
I realised that there are a large number of people who support me and have thought of the needs of different styles of K-pop artists. I don't think all the donors were just my fans, but they might be people who support my message. Before this it was difficult to tell whether there were people who have the same ideas as me. Through this opportunity, I found that many people are supportive of my current direction.