I’ve listened to serin oh‘s previous singles, but when she reached out about “mm+i,” I heard something different from the R&B artist. She’s been consistently moving and evolving with each track and she highlights the internal struggle of being a third culture kid. I thought it would be great to have her speak about her music, Korean pop music, and being a Korean-American artist.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m a Korean American songmaker, currently residing in Ohio, who is in love with music and cheese.
Your genres of choice are R&B and jazz, how did you discover your preference for these genres?
I first fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald, she was my jazz gateway drug. When I first saw her scatting on YouTube, it opened my eyes to the idea of playing, like really playing as a child does, when creating music.
Although I initially went to college for jazz, I was enlightened to the R&B world and embraced my love for pop music, regardless of what my theory-geek friends said. Which lead me here, now as an artist making alternative pop!
There’s a definite progression from “shower thoughts” and “valenbisi” to “other woman,” with a more expanded production and also trying different vocal styles. “mm+i” sounds like another step forward. Do you think you’ve found your distinct voice yet?
You tell me! Haha, well I think just like my personality, I am growing closer and closer to finding who I am every day. Now that I’m clear on my purpose, my producer Luke and I are hoping to constantly evolve the world of serin oh and bring others on that journey with us.
“mm+i” speaks about the internal struggle and debate coming from the lack of identity, how do you think the listener can become the “main the character of the story and narrator of their own life?“
This is very different from person to person, but I would say it all shares a common thread of reversing your focus from outside in to inside out. For every person there is a different path to self-understanding and acceptance, whether it is finding yourself in a book or out in nature – for me, it was rooting myself in faith.
The Christian belief tells me that we are all handcrafted with life that has a purpose, and that was the launchpad for my curiosity and for this journey into fully living out my purpose.
What’s coming after “mm+i?”
There’s a project that’s been in the works for over a year now – but we wanna take the time to make sure we get it right, as it’s on a scale beyond anything I’ve put out so far.
Before then you can expect some REAL upbeat around springtime and some twists on familiar tracks. I won’t say any more as I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so you’ll just have to get connected on my socials to stay in the loop.
In your bio, you talk about rediscovering your roots through Kpop. Can you explain how this happened?
I grew up on Lee Hyori, 2NE1, Big Bang and even back to DongBangShinGi. When I was growing up, Kpop was still looked at as this exotic genre of music and not gonna lie, even for me, it felt foreign at times.
When I was attending college in Boston, I was able to look at why I resonated with certain parts of KPop while other parts I didn’t connect with. The attitude of building a world around these artists, rather than just a song is what really pulled on my heartstrings.
What do you see is the struggle for third culture kids? How does this impact you personally?
We’re cultural nomads. Us third culture kids don’t really belong to one defined culture and that has definitely given me the skill to be a chameleon in social settings – which can be really useful.
However, I am now in the process of relearning my identity, and learning to distinguish the parts of me that are expected from both cultures from the parts that are truly me. The beauty of it is, I feel like third culture kids are not limited by ethnicity or nationality, but rather brought together by our shared perspective.
The existing Western Korean narrative is very narrow, pulling from popular media like dramas or pop music. Western media and fans seem to layer their own cultural expectations over those of Korean culture. How do you think things can improve? Do you think media, in general, needs to stop “othering” cultures?
Most definitely, and I believe that the way we can break these mindsets is first breaking it within ourselves. There is a trend in recent years of asian-american and asian-australian artists leaving their homes and going to asia to find success – and this success usually ends up coming from fans based in the western countries these artists spent most of their lives in, only they are seen as a foreign and exotic cultural import.
Up until the success of Rina Sawayama‘s latest album, I also believed that in order to become an artist of asian descent who “makes it,” my only option is to go to Korea and find a career in “K-Pop” – which is wild because I’ve lived in the US for 18 years as opposed to the six years I spent in Korea.
If there’s a unified movement of second-generation Asians refusing to be exoticised just to be sold back to their native Western homes as a foreign import, I think Western media and fans will follow suit.
Any favorite Korean artists that you actively follow? Anyone you would want to collaborate with in the future?
My favorites are BIBI and LeeHi and not sure if this would count as a collaboration but if Peggy Gou or Flat White made a remix of any of my songs, I think I would actually faint.
What impact do you think streaming services have on artists who are forging their careers by themselves? Do you think they’re beneficial or do streaming services make music a cheap commodity?
I think it’s a double-edged sword. Because there is no gatekeeper, there is no level you need to surpass in order to release your ideas to the world. Naturally, there will be artists who play the quantity game that algorithmic services have pushed artists in to and ignore the quality.
However, BECAUSE there is no gatekeeper, there is no ceiling to what is possible – artists are limited only by their imagination in a way never seen before in the music industry, and I think that is a gift that we shouldn’t take for granted.
Anything to say to readers?
If you feel like you don’t really fit in – to a group, a title, or a culture, that’s a cool thing. I feel you and always feel free to reach out to me @serinohfficial if you wanna chat with a fellow outcast!