KATIESouth Korea's Breakout R&B Star
9 October 2019
If you're a fan of Korean pop music, it's likely that you've already heard of 25-year-old R&B star, Katie Kim. Better known by her stage moniker KATIE, the Bucheon-born artist moved to New Jersey at age 10 for a brand new start.
“It was actually a family situation,” she recalls. “I remember leaving my dog back home and just not fitting in.” Determined to make life on the East Coast work, the young artist enrolled in Berklee College of Music, double majoring in songwriting and performance. While her freshman year would introduce her to jazz and R&B, KATIE would fortuously drop out, later finding success on the South Korean reality television show, K-Pop Star 4.
Her win led to a short-lived relationship with YG Entertainment, after-which, she became the first signee of the newly formed collective agency, AXIS; founded by her creative collaborator SINXITY. It’s here that KATIE’s journey as a solo artist truly begins.
Following the release of her debut EP, LOG, in May, the singer tells YEOJA all about her journey thus far and what fans can expect in the next year.
Back in New Jersey, who were some of your influences in regards to songwriting?
KATIE: I was really into jazz when I first enrolled in college. I was really inspired by Ella Fitzgerald. Once I got there, I opened my eyes to the world of R&B and started listening to a lot of artists from the nineties. Aaliyah, definitely. More contemporary artists would be like Frank Ocean and Anderson .Paak.
Why did you decide to drop out?
KATIE: It was very expensive and I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I was studying part-time for the last year and I was just wondering if it was worth my money. I decided maybe it wasn’t, so I dropped out.
Is that when you decided that, okay, I’m going to make a start on my career now or was it a question of what do I do next?
KATIE: I guess it was a simultaneous decision. Back then, I knew that I had to drop out and I had to convince myself that it was reasonable to start out with my career like that.
Did you start writing music for yourself or were you concerned with trying to find spaces to perform in?
KATIE: It was actually both. I had always been writing notes and leaving voice notes on my phone whenever I get inspiration for melody lines. But I was definitely into searching for performance spaces, like even at a small bar or a jazz club, or wherever. Just open to anything. I was actually happy that I dropped out of Berklee. No regrets. [Dropping out] actually took me a long way, to Korea, with the audition show I participated in. Things just turned around.
I mean you were crowned the winner of the show [K-Pop Star 4]! Did you anticipate that?
KATIE: No, not at all! I actually auditioned knowing that if I get past the first round, they would give out free roundtrip tickets to Korea. I’d never [gone back] after we immigrated and I thought that was a great chance, so I decided to try.
Shortly after winning, you signed with YG Entertainment; the agency home to acts such as Big Bang, 2NE1, and Blackpink. What were those three years like? What vision did you have for your sound?
KATIE: I had a clear path as to how I wanted my music to be and what I wanted for my career. I guess I was trying to find a clear way to figure things out, in terms of what genre people would listen to. I was trying to figure out how to align my thoughts to what the public would want. I was making music with a lot of producers and taking vocal lessons, but it didn’t really align with the company’s idea, and so we decided to part.
After leaving, you partnered with AXIS. What were some of the major differences that you noticed as an artist?
KATIE: I moved on with AXIS because they promised that they would let me have my say and lead my career as I wished it to be. I had that promise and it was granted when I signed. I think that was the major reason I was able to move on.
What advice was given to you when you first moved to label?
KATIE: I’m not sure about advice, but I really loved it because I love the people that I was working with and how they were so open. I don’t know anything about business or how to promote things. They were open to listening to my ideas and working out a business relationship. They measured things out so perfectly.
The label is based in Korea, but you recently moved to Los Angeles. Why did you make the move?
KATIE: Because L.A. is where the scene is. Everything is happening in terms of the music industry, it’s where most of the producers are based. I want to make more songs, meet new people, and network better. I thought this was the better place to be.
For your new EP, LOG, you set up a writing camp in L.A. Can you talk to me about that process? What was it like and what was your input?
KATIE: It happened at a perfect time, back when I was signed to YG. I felt stressed out, like sinking into a dark hole. I felt so stagnant doing nothing, like, what am I achieving here? And that’s when the song camp came up. I was given this chance to work with some of the producers and my A&R asked me if I wanted any specific producers or writers and she gathered some of them. I did all these song camps and they were very successful. Actually, a very healing process for me.
In what way was it a healing experience for you?
KATIE: I didn’t really feel like I was achieving anything when I was in Korea cause I felt like I was going nowhere. But when I came here, I actually did something, I made songs. I got to connect to people through music, which is always a healing process for me anyway.
Who did you work with during the camps?
KATIE: I worked with a lot of people, including Stint. He’s produced for Gallant, NAO, Sabrina Claudio. Sad Money is another producer that I love. Some songwriters like Nikki Flores to Talay Riley, who I all love. I still work with them.
Following these camps, you released your first single, “Remember” in 2018. Can you recall what that was like for you?
KATIE: Well, I didn’t know what to expect cause it was my first debut. I was just anxious about reactions but also very excited about my music being out in the world. I wasn’t really worried. I don’t even remember what I was feeling or going through. It was just so exciting and surreal.
I remember after the release, you took a break, and there was a delay between the single and the extended project. How come?
KATIE: Yeah, actually I was going to have my EP out after like three, four months. After “Remember” was put out, I received a lot of calls from other labels in America. I made a trip there and in the meetings, they discussed wanting to help out with promotion and potentially signing me. I ended up signing with AWAL this year.
On the record, I hear a lot of influences, from jazz to R&B, some synths and obviously, pop elements. What is it that you wanted to express musically with your debut project?
KATIE: I have many influences and I really love my songs. The one thing that I really wanted to avoid—even back in my YG days—was me being kind of embarrassed of my songs, or being too cheesy; like not relating to my story and that the songs would make me feel like a phoney when I’m singing.
But all the songs on the EP are what I really connect with and what I really wanted to express through the genres that I love. So I fused them all in. I included jazz, which is my first love in music, R&B, and some of the “trappy-soul.” All of them made the EP come together.
There’s a lot of discussion on the project about love and relationships. Is that reflective of what you were going through at the time or is that just the general vibe?
KATIE: I guess it’s a general vibe. I wasn’t really into any relationships when I was prepping for EP. I’m not really interested in any relationships cause I feel like music is my priority as of now.
How did the “Remember” re-release with Ty Dolla $ign come about?
KATIE: It was super unreal. I had this team project manager, his name was Jay, and we were working together. He actually managed Ty a few years back, but Ty was in New York and they were just hustling to make a move out here [Los Angeles]. Jay personally reached out to Ty and asked him if you wanted to hop on the track and he was actually interested. So his label and my label talked and yeah, he helped me on it. I was so excited.
If you could have anybody else on this project, who would it be and which song would they feature on?
KATIE: I would take Frank Ocean any day (laughs) but I would definitely love a female artist as well, like, Ella Mai and H.E.R—I’ve seen them both bonding backstage—or any other female R&B artists bonding together. I think it’s wonderful that they’re supporting each other. R&B still isn’t a “main thing” in the pop industry. I love seeing that bond and I would love to be joining the team.
What’s your vision for R&B in the mainstream pop industry? Where would you like to see it go?
KATIE: Just like how hip-hop was. You know, huge in the nineties, kind of died down and now it’s back, it’s “the thing.” I hope that R&B paves a way in the mainstream industry as well. It was huge back in the days. The songs were so great and everybody loved it.
Do you feel like there’s a growing R&B scene where you are in Los Angeles?
KATIE: It’s definitely everywhere for sure. It’s just that being noticed and being heard is the thing that we’re all struggling to do. But I see a lot of inspiring R&B artists popping up and doing well; getting Grammys and stuff. I think there’s a better future for R&B.
I think so too. I want to talk a little bit about the visuals that come with making music and how you come up with creative concepts for your videos, “Remember” and “Thinking Bout You.”
KATIE: Actually, the “artsy” part of my EP wasn’t really my opinion, cause all I know is music. I get help from my creative director, music video directors, and designers that I work with.
They came up with this concept for “Remember” in dark green and gold. We had a lot of male models and rappers hop onto this huge cube to support me. It was actually really about embracing my beauty among this group of men, kind of, showing the aesthetics as I’m singing something not too feminine sounding. I never expected it to be somewhere along those kinds of aesthetics, but it fit.
“Thinking Bout You” I feel is more of a feminine song. For that music video, the colour theme was actually red and silver, which I also loved. The music video director came up with the story of me being in a dark place and reaching out for help. It kind of touches upon death but doesn’t really state it; I go into this tombstone. I really love to express my downsides as well. It came out just the way I wanted.
In a similar vein, let’s talk about your style. What it is that you look to express through clothing? What are you drawn to?
KATIE: I try to look fancy when I take my photos but in my actual life, I’m starting to practice minimalism and finding thrift stuff. Overall, I think I really like baggy stuff that doesn’t really show my body figure too much. I like things big on me and just being free to move around.
Now that your career is taking off, you’re performing bigger stages on wider platforms. For instance, you played the Seoul Jazz Festival this year with Epik High and Aloe Blacc. What was that experience like for you?
KATIE: Actually, I was super worried cause I thought my venue location was too big for me. I thought I would see so many empty seats and be discouraged when I get on stage. When I actually got on stage, I was just enjoying it and the band fully connected with me. A lot of people came; way more than I expected to be honest. They were super supportive and we were just vibing along so well. I think I could have done better and I wish I did, but it the first time I was performing my own songs. I’m grateful for the experience.
Does it feel different to perform with live instrumentation?
KATIE: Yeah, definitely. That’s what I really love. I would definitely choose a band over tracks any time. I was just super excited that this whole band [had] got my back. I felt so supported by them, which was awesome.
How did you feel about the process of making LOG, finishing it, and then releasing it after several delays at YG Entertainment?
KATIE: The process had so many rocky roads. I was super excited one day, super worried and anxious the other day and yeah, so many ups and downs. When it actually came out, I was at peace. I didn’t really look up the reactions or go through all the YouTube views; you know, checking them every minute. I was just happy that my music’s finally out in the world. I enjoy it. Hopefully, everybody else does too.
No doubt! LOG is out now. People can listen to it and they can stream it. Are you already working on a new project or are you just soaking in all the love from the release?
KATIE: No, I’m hustling and moving on! I’ve been in sessions and making more music. I think we’re thinking on having another single out as soon as possible. We’re just planning on working on the whole album for next year; sometime next year.
What kind of vibe do you think the album’s going to be? Or, can you not speak on that yet?
KATIE: I mean, there’s nothing confirmed. I just go into sessions. The label doesn’t tell me what to do, I just go in and tell the producers what I’m feeling these days and what I want to express through my music. I think it’s gonna’ be a bit more personal and more relatable in terms of my life and how I’ve been feeling lately.
How have you been feeling lately?
KATIE: Ups and downs still, but I feel like I’m talking more about dealing with myself than relationships. I feel like a lot of people can relate to it. Dealing with yourself is like the hardest thing and I think everybody goes through it. I hope it can speak to some people who listen to it in the future.
What would you like listeners or potential new listeners of your music to take away from your EP? What is it that you want to leave them with?
KATIE: I would just love if they know a bit of my story. That I was a small-town girl dropping out [of school] because of financial issues and trying anything to do what I love. I’m trying not to lose courage and belief in myself. If you just keep going, in some way, you could still stand up and do what you love. I think that’s the most important thing that I would want to see.