K-pop idol Sorn: “I want to be known as a very hardworking artist”

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We talk to Sorn about her online presence, her experience pitching CLC concepts to Cube, and the joy of finally getting the creative freedom she deserves. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

By now, most people know that being a K-pop idol isn't all glitz and glamor.

The very idea of calling someone an idol already comes with the expectation of perfection. Coming from the dictionary definition of "someone who is admired and respected very much," the label comes with its own downsides — a mixed bag of unrealistic expectations of how the said idol should or shouldn't act.

There's a whole lot of discourse online about this tendency to expect the world from these performers — most of which you can find in the numerous articles and Twitter/Reddit threads that pop up when you use the key search phrase "K-pop idols are human too."

It's one thing for fans and the general public to discuss among themselves, but it's another for a K-pop idol to acknowledge all of this. So when I heard that I'd be interviewing Sorn, the Thailand-born former member of the girl group CLC known for her unapologetic personality and tendency to share many facets of her life through TikTok and YouTube, I knew it was my chance to ask.

And to no surprise, she delivered. Sorn is well aware of the consequences of living as an idol in the spotlight. Living in South Korea for the past 10 years, she's been on quite a journey trying to figure out her identity as an artist, but has also had to endure a lot of hate along the way. But to her, it’s all part of the job.

What she does know is that she wants to perform. For Sorn, the audience is her friend. She wants to continue to motivate them with her music and performances, to essentially show the world what she’s capable of as an artist. To do this, she’s just decided to power through, even if it means potentially being taken out of context again. And again.

After parting ways with Cube Entertainment when her contract expired last year, she ventured into solo waters with WILD Entertainment, a hybrid management, media, and marketing company. CEO Leonard Lim founded the company with the goal to build a hub in Korea for Southeast Asian creators globally. Lim, who has his own sizeable following on TikTok and frequently appears in Sorn’s content, is confident in her capability as an artist. Alluding to some of the heavier accusations she’s faced in the past, he also says that she’s often misunderstood, with her intention for certain kinds of content misconstrued by the public.

"What WILD is trying to do is show Sorn's true authenticity as an artist without being misunderstood and miscommunicated for what she stands for as an artist," he says to me after the interview, also quick to note that sometimes people can be a bit harder on her because of her self confidence.

And now with the release of her latest single "Nirvana Girl," fans have gotten a glimpse of Sorn's inner world. A pop track featuring hints of city pop and nu disco, the song is both a reflection of her almost 10 years in the industry and a step towards her own self enlightenment.

Below, she talks about her online presence, her experience pitching CLC concepts to Cube, and the joy of finally getting the creative freedom she deserves.

Hi, Sorn! So how are you? How's the Philippines been for you so far?

It's been great. I think the last time I was here was back in 2015, 2016-ish with CLC. Well, we didn't have a lot of time to explore. So I'm really excited to be back. Yeah, it's been great. I sang “Nirvana Girl” for the first time on Wish Bus also. That will be my first ever live singing “Nirvana Girl” live. So I'm super excited.

So why did you decide to call [your new single] “Nirvana Girl?” What's the story behind the title?

So the story was that I was in Singapore. And before I went to the recording studio to create the song, I went to the temple to pray. And my producer thought it's very interesting that I went to the temple or pray because I guess not a lot of people do it. So we decided to take the word Nirvana from Buddhism, to incorporate that into the song. And the verses of the song talks about how for the past 10 years I felt like I wasn’t in control. I wasn't really my authentic self back then. And how I'm trying to branch out from there, get out of my comfort zone. And I'm on my way to be Nirvana Girl, which is the state of enlightenment, I feel I understand myself more. I feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin. Now and what I do. So that's basically the whole theme of the song.

I see. I see. You mentioned the temple. So would you regularly go before?

Well, I do. Every time I film something, every time I record something, every time I do any big projects, I will always pray wherever I am, whether I'm in Thailand and Korea, and Singapore, wherever I travel to, I just find time to pray for good luck. I hope that everything goes smoothly and will then perform with big success and all that just to calm my mind a little bit.

Going back to your Thai roots, I did see that you decided to become an idol because you saw Nichkhun doing what he was doing with 2PM. How do you think you've changed since then?

Ah, I think I've changed a lot. I mean, I think I've matured a lot and I've grown a lot throughout the whole process. I feel like I debuted at a very young age. So I really didn't know much, and I didn't have much experience being an artist. But because I have that 10 years of being in K-pop and just knowing everything inside out, I feel like that really helped me a lot now as a solo artist. I know exactly what I want. I know how to work with a lot of people, I have no trouble expressing myself, I'm not shy [around] the camera anymore, I can really be comfortable with my voice and the music that I put out. I feel I'm very lucky that I was able to go through the whole K-pop journey, because that just helps me a lot as an artist.

Sorn's latest single "Nirvana Girl" is both a reflection of her almost 10 years in the industry and a step towards her own self enlightenment. Photos by NIKKI BONUEL

Yeah, because you're known for being a very bubbly idol, very open with your fans. Related to that, I was actually wondering, since again, you mentioned that you’ve lived in Korea for 10 years. In that time, you've been through so much in the public eye, and the public isn't always very…they're quite critical, I would say.

Yeah, yeah.

But even then you still continue to share so much of your life with with the public or I guess more for your fans, right? I'm curious — why do you still continue to do all these TikToks, all these vlogs, even when there's so much negativity that can come in because of that?

Right. I feel like with being a celebrity or just an artist myself, it comes with the job. It's a job where you put yourself out there and you have to be very personal. And it's easy for people to criticize you, when your whole life is, [or] your whole career is just you showcasing who you really are. It just opens the door for people to just leave negative comments. Sometimes people are not really kind. But I feel like because it comes with a job, I kind of now learn to filter the negative comments and the negative energy out of what I do. Because I feel like if I focus on that too much, then I am going to get really scared to be myself and showcase more of myself.

"I think the reason why I just keep on going, the reason why I'm so personal and I'm so open about myself to my audience is because I feel like my audience is like my friend and a lot of them have been with me ever since before I even started my whole K-pop journey."

But I think the reason why I just keep on going, the reason why I'm so personal and I'm so open about myself to my audience is because I feel like my audience is like my friend and a lot of them have been with me ever since before I even started my whole K-pop journey. So I feel this very deep connection with them. And they do tell me through my DMs and everything that I encourage them to just be themselves and I inspire them in so many different ways in their life and all the content and music I put out affects them in a positive way… Because I feel like I want to be very relatable to my fans, not only to my music, but just as a person, I want them to be able to connect to me, to my music. And also just me being myself and I just want to show people that I'm also normal like everyone else who's watching this interview right now and I want to use that platform in my music to motivate and send a message to people.

I also saw that when you were starting out it was quite hard for you and that you even told your parents you wanted to go back to Thailand.

Yeah, I did. I did. I think when I first started I had my little Facebook page. And I was expressing my thoughts through my Facebook page when I was 15. There [were] a lot of ups and downs because when I moved to Korea I was so young. I didn't know the culture, I didn't know the language. And then on top of that I had to jump into the entertainment side of things right away, which is, as we all know, quite tough. Also being a foreigner in the K-pop world. And the language barrier was also something that I had to overcome quite a bit. But yeah, I'm glad that I did evolve. And I'm glad that I pushed myself. I was lucky enough to become a part of CLC. And that cut to now, I am still doing music, still releasing songs and traveling around the world to express who I am, and my music to all my fans, I mean thanks to them I continued also and didn't give up. And then I'm able to sit here and do this interview today right now.

And I mean, in that way you're representing Southeast Asia.

Yeah, exactly.

Yes. A Thai idol.

Yes. Yeah. I'm proud to be the one to represent my country and show people that Thai people are also very talented.

There are quite a handful of you in the industry right now.

Yes, there is.

Do you guys talk about what it's like being — not exactly like [a] fish out of water — but more of like, being Thai in the K-pop industry?

I mean, we do, we do talk about it a lot, especially newer trainees, because we went through very similar trainings. And after we also became celebrities, artists. After our debut, we also shared a lot of our ups and downs with each other, because we go through very similar obstacles as a foreigner in the K-pop industry. But I mean, all my friends, all the Thai idols you see now are all so talented. And I'm so proud of everyone. We started off together. And now we all became, we made a name for ourselves. We're so proud of each other, we still keep in touch with each other, show support, and we talk to each other very often. But yeah, I'm just really glad that we're able to overcome that and make a name for our country and for ourselves. Because the K-pop industry is quite tough. Even if you ask the Korean artists themselves, they would also say that it's really tough. So imagine that, for a little Thai girl like me way back then.

"[B]ecause I have that 10 years of being in K-pop and just knowing everything inside out, I feel like that really helped me a lot now as a solo artist." Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

As I said, I feel super lucky I'm able to be given that opportunity and I'm just really glad that I was able to go through all that training, and through all of the 10 years of my experience, being in a K-pop group, I think I've matured a lot and I have a lot in my head that I've gained. And it's something that you know, you won't be able to get in college or anywhere else. It's very precious to me, and I keep it really close to myself.

Is there a specific part of the recording process or the concept making for each of your singles that you particularly enjoy more or like the most?

With all the singles that I've done? I think I really enjoy every single song that I've put out. I think the process that I enjoy the most is just putting together a visual for every single song. I'm just a very visual type of person. So even when I started making a song with my producers, I will have put together a visual for them like a PowerPoint presentation telling them that, "Hi, this is what I want my sound to be. This is what I want to look like in whatever song we're going to make." So I really enjoy putting a visual together. And I know a lot of fans know that I'm really into art and drawing and all that. So I enjoy putting that together and making my own little mood board and stuff like that the most whenever I create music.

Yeah, because you're very hands on. Finally, what type of artist do you want to be known as?

That's tough. What type of artist do I want to be known as? Ah, I want to be known as a very hard working artist. Because as everyone knows, I'm super hands on, on every single release that I do. And I have always been very hands on with the concept of music ever since I was with CLC. When I was with them, I [would] also go to the company to [pitch] a concept. I also made a Powerpoint presentation, mood board and gave it to the company with my girls. We gathered the ideas together. And we're super hands on and everything. And I have a habit of doing that from 10 years back until now. I just want to be really known as a hard working artist, and also I want to do a lot for my fans.

Are you the type to use productivity apps?

Oh no, I'm not that intense! I wouldn't have a productivity app or something like that. But I just don't really know how to turn it off at times. I'm just always just so used to constantly telling myself: “Okay, you got to post something today, we got to make something today, we got to think about the next concept, what can I do to become a better version of myself? What can we do better from the last release?” I just constantly have that in my head. So I think that's a good thing too, because that's how I'm able to push myself.

Makeup by LEI PONCE