If there were ever any doubt that K-pop is going global, one only needs to take a listen to Chung Ha, the multi-hyphenate singer-dancer-choreographer who stormed onto the international scene this year with her song, “Demente.” The reggaeton-tinged single marked the first time a K-pop artist released a song sung entirely in Spanish and immediately won over fans both old and new.
Born in Seoul but raised in Dallas, Chung Ha says she’s always wanted to be an artist for everyone, regardless of genre, location or language. To wit: the songs on the 25-year-old’s debut album, Querencia, run the gamut from hard-charging EDM, to house, hip-hop and flamenco-pop, with hints of Caribbean beats and grime thrown in for good measure. The mixture of styles and inspirations is something the one-time girl group member says she wanted to experiment with when she first launched her solo career in 2017.
“I have always been interested in music from different cultures around the world and I love challenging myself on any project that I jump into,” she tells Rolling Stone. “It’s not exciting to stay within one single concept.”
The idea of movement has always been a part of Chung Ha’s career. After spending the majority of her childhood in the U.S., she returned to Korea to pursue performance life, eventually studying dance in university. Known for her hip-hop moves and off-the-cuff choreography — compilation videos of Chung Ha freestyling have amassed tens of millions of views on YouTube — the double threat eventually won a spot in the 11-piece girl group I.O.I. as the lead dancer and a lead vocalist. After a short-lived run with the group, Chung Ha is making moves once again, this time as a solo artist.
Querencia was released in February and earned raves from fans and critics alike for its diversity in musical styles and melodic themes, from the rapid-fire rap verses of “Bicycle,” to the R&B grooves of the seductive slow jam, “All Night Long.” Chung Ha’s voice, meantime, is one of the most versatile in K-pop, able to transition easily from delicate whisper notes and flirty come-ons, to full-out diva belting, singing effortlessly in Korean, English and Spanish. The performer says it’s a byproduct of living in America, where cultures and genres all intermix.
“I spent my childhood in the U.S., and I made lots of friends from different cultures and backgrounds, which allowed me to be naturally exposed to American pop culture, Latin pop and its Spanish language,” she explains. “The difference among pop music, K-pop, J-pop, and Latin pop is the language. Instead of being timid or afraid because of the barrier that different languages give,” she says, “I want to challenge myself to sing in many different languages.”
While the pandemic stalled plans for touring, fans around the world are eagerly awaiting Chung Ha’s return to the stage, for what promises to be a dynamic live show. And while she may have sung about being a little “demented,” in Chung Ha’s world that’s actually a good thing: whether she’s switching up her languages or her dance moves, she’s always keeping fans on their toes, so they never know what to expect next.