When you were little what did you want to grow up to be? Some of us strayed and took a new path. While the rest of us manifested that dream into reality, reflecting back to that child who had big hopes and bright eyes for the future ahead with ultimate pride.
We can say that about South Korean-born multi-talent, ARZA, who became a singer, author, and rising entrepreneur for her career after imagining it as a child, fresh from her move to California at nine years old. Though AZRA has been successful in the music space, creating tunes that are breaking boundaries of societal norms that also mixes her love of dance, she continued her work outside the measures. In 2013, she crafted her book The Cupcake Theory, a recipe from her own experiences to help others bake healthy relationships and self-worth. But if that wasn’t enough on her resume already, she expanded her spaces to fashion, becoming the winner of America’s Next Top Model, CW28 New England Division, and defining herself as a businesswoman, through managing her own record label, CLÚ Records.
In our exclusive interview with ARZA, we learn more about her–how her involvement in the arts as a young girl impacted her career later in life, how the move from South Korea to San Jose sparked her love of music, what fuels her music inspiration and her project, ‘Dirty’ and breaking the creative barriers beyond music! Keep reading for all the sweet deets, you definitely don’t want to miss out!
Before we get to your song and music video for ‘Dirty,’ we want to learn more about you! How did your involvement in the arts early on inspire you to lead a career in music?
I think the transition was natural and inevitable. I always knew I belonged on stage and in the performing arts field. It was just a matter of when. This is also what I love doing the most since I was a baby, so it just made sense to dive into music and pursue this passion as a career when things aligned and the time came for me.
What is one of your earliest memories of/from music, especially having been born in South Korea and then moving to San Jose?
I have so many earliest memories none more important than the other. So, I guess I’ll share three earliest music memories broken up into three phases: an ongoing memory that is still being created since I was born, South Korea, and San Jose.
One that’s been a constant running memory till today is singing and dancing in front of the mirror. The difference is when I was a toddler, I was doing this with my mom’s round hairbrush in front of her floor-to-ceiling vanity mirror vs. now, doing the same thing with a real mic at home, rehearsal studios or on stage. Doesn’t matter where I’m at, this will always go on.
In South Korea, sitting next to my mom during her church choir rehearsal as a three-year-old and watching her and other people sing. They would move their mouths very wide while the pianist is playing the piano and the choir conductor is waving her hands. According to my mom, I was so observant and then all of a sudden I started making noises and tried to emulate the scene with my mouth and hands. Another is sitting front row at an outdoor concert at Seoul’s Yeouido Park watching a K-pop boy band perform. There was a thin rope dividing the audience from the performers, and I remember thinking “I want to be on the other side of the rope and be the one putting on a show for everyone.” I will never forget that moment – I remember exactly what I was wearing, which hairstyle I had and everything… Another memory is when I ditched my violin lesson to go practice my first Hip-Hop dance routine to perform at our elementary school spring recital with five other friends. Omgsh I got in so much trouble by my mom for ditching a lesson, but honestly, it was all worth it! ;).
Moving from South Korea to San Jose, my love for music continued… I learned English and also continued learning about my roots as a Korean immigrant through forming two girl bands: K-pop band with two of my very first Korean friends in America and another band with three friends from my middle school from various backgrounds. I also joined the school orchestra, performed in school musicals, and also volunteered to do the morning announcements on school TV (thank you teleprompter). Though I didn’t know the American culture or the language when I first moved here, music and the arts have always guided and helped me assimilate, make friends, build my roots and create a life in the USA I call home.
With that being said, how did this move influence the music you create today?
This move from South Korea to San Jose influenced me in every way and definitely in the music I create today. Sonically, my music combines sounds and influences from American Pop, K-pop, Rock, Musical Theater and Hip-Hop, which are the types of music I grew up listening to and singing. On another hand, being thrown into a completely new country as a kid and having to accept that “your past environment was just a memory” was not an easy transition or a reality to accept as a young girl who was so active, involved in her community, and full of spirit. I had to learn, rebuild, recreate, and ultimately find my voice and place in the “new world.” Thankfully, this transition which also included accomplishing various goals along the way, made me positive, strong, resilient, and insightful. I also learned that anything is possible and that we all have the ability to pave our own paths towards our dreams. This DNA flows through my music. And I call this Substance Pop: a music genre I created back in 2017 with the release of my first EP Freedom, which consists of catchy melodies and heavy beats with authentic, mission-driven messages full of depth and substance.
What is the story behind your stage name?
My stage name AZRA came to me before I even knew how to speak English. It was a cool sounding word at first, like some sort of a superhero or mystical figure… then I thought the name would be good for my future daughter. Then, I started getting images of a little girl inside of me who seemed to be my emotional barometer. Whenever I was sad or doing something I didn’t feel 100% about, I would always picture this little girl in a corner upset and unhappy in the dark, and whenever I was happy and excited I would imagine this little girl being ecstatic and elated jumping around laughing hysterically. After I graduated from college and landed a corporate consulting career at one of the big four consulting firms, this image got stronger… Because though I was excelling in the field, transforming fortune 50 companies, rising up the corporate ladder, traveling lavishly in first class and checking into the nicest suites in hotels all over the country, I didn’t feel completely whole, like I was not addressing something inside of me that wanted to be recognized and come out… and the little girl’s sad images and voices started getting more vivid and loud. Then, when I finally decided to professionally pursue my passion as a singer and leave the consulting career behind to what I call “Obey my soul,” I remember being in the studio one day writing music for my first EP and trying to figure out what my stage name would be. I remembered AZRA and realized that it was not the name I’m supposed to give to my future daughter, but it was the little girl inside of me who’s been wanting to express herself fully doing what she’s meant to do: sing, perform, express herself to serve and touch others.
Moving on to ‘Dirty’ now, we love the premise of not only the song but also not conforming to societal norms. Why was it important for you to write such an empowering song?
It was important for me to write about this premise because I think it’s essential for us to be our own guiding principles and live with awareness throughout our lives. All while not being blind or beat down by the inevitable injustices, corruptions we observe. I also wanted to share, based on my experiences, that there’s always going to be negative and positive aspects in life (people, things, situations, etc) as well as temptations and societal pressures. Thus, it’s essential for us to be ready to embrace the positives, recognize the negativity, choose to rise above it, and be empowered to lead our lives with our own voice.
The lyrics are filled with strength, ultimately how did you decide on the track’s title? What did you want your listeners to resonate with immediately?
The song is all about recognizing the negative aspects of life and having the courage to choose to rise above them and go the other way that is true and authentic to ourselves. So I decided to call my song ‘Dirty’ to instantly remind my listeners to not be discouraged by such things, but instead, do something about them and transform them into empowerment.
The music video is so much fun and yet captivating at the same time with all the choreography. Being that you have a hip-hop dance background, what was your favorite part to shoot?
I actually loved shooting every part. For this video I wanted to incorporate all things I love.
We love how you and ZANE were able to mash your themes together from the song into the music video, it was so neat but why was the movie Kill Bill an influence in particular?
I love Quentin Tarantino’s works, especially Kill Bill. The movie is so bad*ss with strong female characters. All the action scenes, the cinematography, and graphic work leave me speechless. I also fantasize about being in an action movie, so I thought, why not incorporate this badass theme to my bada*ss substance filled music video? ;).
We loved seeing your guest star and pup, Blueberry in the video too! What was your favorite moment that you shared together while filming?
The entire day with Blueberry on set was a favorite moment. He is such a professional and he loves the camera, people, and making others happy. I’m going to have him on every set. He is a gift to us all.
Finally, you’ve done so much in the terms of your career by becoming an author, running your own record label, and working with fashion, what do you have planned next for yourself?
I plan to continue to evolve as a human and find more ways to be balanced, creative and reach/serve more people utilizing my talents and abilities. I want to do this while continuing to work on my craft in music and evolving my sound, building with my team and forming partnerships with other like minded individuals and companies. Of course now that the live music scene is opening back up, I’d love to tour and finally perform for others. Please check out my website at azraofficial.com or IG/TW/FB @theazraofficial for all the updates. More to come! Thank you The Honey POP <3
Thank YOU AZRA! We loved getting to know you!
So what was your favorite part that you learned about AZRA? What did you like most about the ‘Dirty’ music video? Are you planning on reading AZRA’s book? Let’s keep the conversation going by tweeting us @TheHoneyPOP or commenting below!
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Featured Image Source: Courtesy of CLÚ Records & Afnan Acharki, The Honey POP Graphic Team