Growing up alone as the only child in her household, JiAnne Kang ’21 (whose stage name is SCARY ASIAN) had a lot of time to mess around with music, from making covers to performing in musicals. The vocal artist from Seoul, South Korea, dabbled in Stanford’s artistic endeavors, such as “Gaieties 2017,” “The Wiz” and a cappella group Everyday People.
“My sound is pretty ‘loud’ both volume-wise and emotion-wise,” Kang said. “I don’t exactly know how to describe it, but I keep it raw. My main influences come from Beyonce — 99.9%. The rest consists of random combinations of well-known pop artists.”
It was Dec. 30, 11:45 p.m. KST, when she suddenly had the idea to write “maybe next year?” All year, she dearly missed her best friends back in the U.S. mainland — Mayuka Sarukkai and Claire Kim. Thinking about them gave Kang plenty to write about.
She said that the song is basically her confession of how much she misses them. Kang found a fitting instrumental on YouTube, wrote it, came up with the melodies, recorded it on GarageBand 2015, filmed it, created the video and posted it on Jan. 1 at 12:30 a.m. KST.
“I was bummed I didn’t make it on time. I was aiming for exactly 12:00 a.m., since the song is about possibly meeting ‘next year,’ which should have been 2021,” Kang explained. “I blame this on crying too many times while recording because I got too emotional. I miss you, UKAUKAUKA and EEK [our group chat nicknames]!”
Kang generates song ideas in different ways, from sleeping to daydreaming. She records whatever comes to her mind — lyrics, melody, how a single bar would be performed on stage and so forth — on the spot through her phone if she doesn’t have access to her computer.
“I never worked with professionals. All I ever had access to was my Garage Band 2015 and a recording microphone. I don’t even own a mouse, so everything literally is made through my fingertips,” Kang said.
During her recording session, she wanted to focus on showing potential. She said that what she puts out does not have a perfect “sound,” but she is pleased as long as it accurately conveys her intentions.
“I wish I was fancy and also wish that someone pushed me to be more experimental, but I think my messages get a bit muffled up when I try to get experimental,” Kang said. “My sense of ‘experimental’ would be playing around with the pan to make sure the backing vocals don’t get in the way of the main vocal.”
It took Kang six months to learn how to achieve that single goal; she started recording in April 2020. Nevertheless, the vocalist trusts her ears a lot. She tries to keep the composition relatively simple because she puts a lot of sounds into her songs.
“My general attitude is ‘if it’s meant to sound that way, it should sound that way,” she said. “Composition will follow.”
Kang’s latest original song is the first track that she is not embarrassed about. She wrote it to sing about people’s sentiments during COVID-19 in terms of missing their friends who were separated.
“I don’t love prescribing what people should feel listening to me, but I hope people feel more hopeful,” she said.
The first verse of “maybe next year?” is about hopelessness. It is being upset about current circumstances.
The choruses are hopeful, and the second verse is emotionally intense for Kang. It’s also about hopelessness, but with a lot of angst and hopefulness all mixed together. Kang had trouble trying to record the buildup to the second chorus because she became emotional, which was evident in her recording when her voice starts to slightly shake. Kang’s raw emotions in her original track complement her authenticity in songwriting.
“maybe next year?” is sung in Korean, and the most important word is “씩씩하게.” It means “bravely” — a non-cheesy word that has a child-like nuance. It has an element of purity and passion that neglects worries.
“This time of our lives may be the one time we could actually try out things we were holding off from, especially in terms of reflecting on who we really are and what we have done so far,” Kang said. “Protect that inner child that you have in you — the young you whose eyes sparkled with passion, excitement and dreams.”
Kang doesn’t exactly know how all her interests will play out but she calls herself SCARY ASIAN for many reasons. Long story short, “scary” comes from breaking the stereotype of being a docile or model minority. “Asian” comes from both the U.S. and Korea.
“In the U.S., I’m automatically grouped as ‘Asian.’ Because of my darker skin and unconventional style, I’m not seen as fully Korean and seen as some other ‘Asian’ when I am in Korea,” Kang said.
In a way, Kang is a minority in both countries. Her stage name reflects how some people could judge her automatically. She said that this is the case for many people. As a vocal artist, Kang wants to tackle these stereotypical and mistaken misconceptions on stage. While doing this, she also wants to incorporate traditional Korean elements.
“I have the vision in my head, but I know it’s going to take a lot of funding. There’s a lot of excitement when it comes to K-pop, but I wished there was more focus on what kind of country Korea is,” Kang expressed. “You can’t fully appreciate the music itself unless you know its background.”
Contact Ron Rocky Coloma at rcoloma ‘at’ stanford.edu.